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Is Beauty The Beast?

By Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D.

Many girls struggle with body image disturbance. Parents can help correct those distortions.

“I never thought about how magazines influence my feelings about my body. I look at the models and sometimes read the articles. I’m interested in fashion and want to stay in style. But lately I’ve been obsessing on different body parts. It seems no matter what I do, I don’t look like the models I see. I’ve been feeling depressed. My mom is worried because I started dieting. She says I’m not fat.”

Many teens I see in therapy struggle with body image disturbance. Their bodies become their enemies—not good enough to win them acceptance or popularity. They falsely believe that a “killer” body is the key to love.

Adolescence is a time girls reorganize internally while trying to conform externally. Their style has to be uniquely their own while conforming to a certain look. Girls are acutely aware of the physical appearance of other girls. Comparisons abound and are not limited to peers. The glamorized icons of pop culture set the standard. It is easy to feel less than perfect.

Despite all the efforts of the women’s movement, girls still give others tremendous power over feelings of self-worth. Those who don’t have good self-esteem and lack self-worth are particularly susceptible to negative pressure from peers and media.

While parents still constitute the single most important influence in the life of a teen, media influence. For many teens, media fill in the gap. For teens who don’t have strong parent connections, media become the teaching parent. Teens try to imitate attractive models whose photos have been airbrushed and computer altered. When they don’t match the glamorous photos they regularly stare at, dissatisfaction with the body results.

Early on, girls learn the lesson that appearance matters. This message reinforced by magazines and other media is internalized and often leads to preoccupation with beauty and the perfect body. Salmons et al, (1988) conducted a school survey of children ages 11 to 13 years. Most girls worried about the shape of their stomachs and thighs. Other studies have documented the preoccupation of young girls with dieting despite the fact that they aren’t fat.

Our culture says perfect bodies are to be worshipped. The American body has been glamorized to idol proportion. But parents can influence daughters to accept their imperfect bodies. Try these suggestions to help correct those distortions:

· Educate your daughter about the use of computer altering, make-up, hairstylists and airbrushed photos in magazines. Teens need to know most people don’t look like those photos without a lot of extra help.

·Compliment your daughters for things unrelated to beauty and looks.

· Moms, don’t criticize your own body for its imperfections in front of your daughters and stop your endless dieting.

· Help your daughter find her true identity in Christ by filling her with the Word so she finds her identity in Christ.

· Work on the internal parts of her character development. Inner beauty goes a long way in life and doesn’t fade with age.

· Limit exposure to unhealthy media images as much as possible.

· Show your daughter how to maximize her physical appearance without becoming obsessive and spending hours on make-up and hair. Good grooming differs from obsessing.

· Talk to daughters about the dangers of body image disturbance as a precursor to eating disorders.

© Linda S. Mintle. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Linda Mintle not only specializes in the treatment of food, weight and body image, but is also well-trained in marital and family relationships. Her training includes two post graduate externships in marriage and family therapy—one at the Family Therapy Practice Center in Georgetown with internationally known therapist, Marianne Walters; and the other at Eastern Virginia Family Therapy Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Learn more at Dr. Linda Helps.