It is not easy on a teenage girl in this day and age. The media overall and magazines in particular put so much pressure on girls by creating an unrealistic body image, which causes girls to become dissatisfied with their own bodies. “Body dissatisfaction is the discrepancy between the real perception of one’s own body and one’s ideal body” (Jones, Buckner, & Miller, 2014, p. 1). Magazines “Photoshop” images of people’s bodies, which has young girls envying body types that are unattainable in most cases. Too many girls are constantly obsessing over the idea that they have to be thin and flawless to be beautiful. Girls need to be taught in their most crucial years of development that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. With the proper education and support in high school, girls can learn how to live a healthy lifestyle and love their bodies.
One of the most common reasons girls develop negative body image issues is due to the media. Yvette Amblo is a school counselor for Burlington High School. She works with many girls throughout the school year who struggle with body image issues. Amblo said that teenagers see movie stars and celebrities in the media, and they want these star bodies — the perfect body. (Y. Amblo, personal communication, November, 21, 2014)
According to Dr. Renee Engeln, who is a psychologist and body image researcher at Northwestern University, “Our sense of what’s real, what’s possible, when it comes to beauty, is warped by our over exposure to these images. Instead of seeing them for what they are, which is extremely rare, we start to see them as typical or average” (Engeln, 2013, October). Teenage girls have the wrong perception of the perfect body. Engeln makes great points in her TED appearance here:
(Engeln, 2013, October)
As a teenage girl, I envied the bodies of girls that I saw in magazines. I was not happy with my body, and I wanted to be thinner. I was not overweight at all. I was actually at a very healthy weight for my height, being 5 feet 9 inches tall. I was constantly worried about what I looked like and if my clothes made me look fat. I did not need to lose weight, I just needed to understand how to be healthy. Being skinny does not mean a person is healthy, and I did not understand that, I just thought I had to look like the girls in magazines, perfect and flawless.
Since I was not completely happy with my body, I did other things to make myself feel beautiful, like dress in a way to highlight my best features, and I began wearing makeup at the age of twelve. Engeln (2013, October) said, “Women are much more likely to hate their bodies. Women spend more money on beauty. They spend more time on beauty. They’re at ten times greater risk for anorexia and bulimia. Women are more likely to get more commentary on their appearance.” Eating disorders are a common risk for girls who feel they are not thin enough. Luckily my body image insecurities never developed into an eating disorder.
At Burlington High School there are counselors in the school to assist students with body image issues that could develop into an eating disorder. The counselor identifies the needs of the student and gets them connected with an outside source so they do not have to talk about painful personal issues and then go straight to a class. (Y. Amblo, personal communication, November 21, 2014). According to Jones et al. (2014), “The school nurse is in place to positively influence health promotion, healthy lifestyles, and positive peer interactions. The school nurse may be an oasis for students seeking support as they deal with body image issues.” During my interview with Amblo, she said that Burlington High School has an extremely supportive and helpful nursing staff.
On top of having supportive school counselors and nurses at Burlington High School, there also are programs to teach students the importance of health and fitness. The state of Vermont requires that students are educated on healthy eating guidelines by taking a basic nutrition class. (Y. Amblo, personal communication, November 21, 2014) Amblo said that Burlington High School has an outstanding health class that students have to take their freshman year, with a large part being devoted to nutrition and exercise.
I remember taking a health class my freshman year at Burlington High School, but I do not recall it having a huge impact on me. I did not know the proper way to balance out my diet, and I often ate unhealthy foods at the snack bar for lunch, which left me feeling guilty. Vermont schools changed food guidelines in 2008 to follow updated dietary guidelines. Meals would consist of healthier food types, with portion sizes consistent with daily recommendations (Vermont Department of Health, 2008, October). It is very important that young girls have access to healthy food. If I had access to healthier foods, and had been better educated on the proper meal guidelines, I would have had a better relationship with food and felt less guilty after eating.
Last, physical education and the importance of being consistently active is a critical lesson to teach young girls. When I was a teenager, I did not like physical education class. I sat out as much as possible because I did not enjoy the activities and wasn’t offered other activity options. A British study on what motivates adolescent girls to exercise revealed that “internalization of girls’ motivation towards exercise was associated with adopting health reasons for exercise from respected sources, and exercising as a means of seeking and meeting personal challenge” (Gillison, Sebire, & Standage, 2012). Learning what the benefits of exercise were and having a choice in fitness activity would have helped motivate me as teenager. I did not know that there were many different ways to get in shape and tone up. If Burlington High School had more physical education options when I was a teenager, I could have selected an activity that interested me.
In Vermont Schools, students are required by Vermont law to take 1.5 credits of physical education. This was the same when I attended Burlington High School from 1998 – 2001. Since the changes updated in 2008, “The curriculum builds students competencies in their own physical abilities and thus improves their self confidence” (Vermont Department of Health). The Center of Disease Control (2010) reported that “19.4% of adolescents attended daily physical education classes in an average [school] week.” This percentage is low, and the next step Vermont needs to take is to make it mandatory that students participate in physical activity through all of their school years.
Based on my research and interview with Yvette Amblo, it appears that Vermont has taken many steps in the right direction to help young women, along with young men, learn the importance of how to live a healthy lifestyle, and also to provide support to girls who struggle with body image issues. Burlington High School has many resources now for girls when it comes to overcoming body image insecurities. If I had the support and opportunities that are in the school now, I may not have struggled for so long to find confidence through a healthy lifestyle. As long as Burlington High School, along with the State of Vermont, continue to teach the young women of Vermont how to be healthy and active, they will learn to appreciate and love their bodies.
Center of Disease Control. (2012, September). Overweight and obesity: Vermont overweight and obesity profile. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/stateprograms/fundedstates/pdf/vermont-state-profile.pdf
Engeln, R. (2013, October). Renee Engeln: An epidemic of beauty sickness. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63XsokRPV_Y
Gillison, F., Sebire, S., & Standage, M. (2012). What motivates girls to take up exercise during adolescence? Learning from those who succeed. British Journal Of Health Psychology, 17(3), 536-550. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8287.2011.02053.x
Jones, L. E., Buckner, E., & Miller, R. (2014). Chronological Progression of Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness In Females 12 to 17 Years of Age. Pediatric Nursing(1), 21-25.
Vermont Department of Health. (2008, October) Vermont nutrition and fitness policy guidelines. Retrieved from http://healthvermont.gov/family/fit/documents/nutrition_fitness_policy_guidelines.pdf
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APA cite in text as: (Emmons, 2015)
APA cite in full References as: Emmons, J. (2015). Promoting positive body image in young women. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-ml
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Joanna Emmons: I grew up in Burlington, Vermont. I received my high school diploma in 2002 and started attending the Community College of Vermont in the summer of 2014. In 2012 I found my passion was in health through nutrition and exercise. I plan on finishing my associates degree at CCV this summer, and transferring to Bastyr University of natural health to pursue my bachelors degree in nutrition and exercise science. My goal is to help people change their lives by living a healthy lifestyle, and understanding how important nutrition and exercise really is.