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Teens and Body Image: Why Aren't We Protecting Our Daughters?

Posted by Barbara Greenberg, PhD

Israel has done it. India has done it. We, in the U.S. haven’t yet followed suit. I’m referring to Israel and India’s refusal to let underweight models strut down the runways and serve as role models to impressionable daughters. Israel and India should serve as excellent role models to us as we accept the fact that the majority of our teenage daughters dislike their bodies.

Just listen to these heartbreaking and staggering statistics: In the U.S., by age 13, 50% of girls report being unhappy with their bodies. By age 17,8 out of 10 young women are unhappy with their body weight. And getting older does NOT make things better:  Among women over the age of 18, 80% report being unhappy with their bodies.

Here in the U.S. we bombard our daughters with media advertisements of emaciated and sick models who are modeling unrealistic body weights. Why are we doing this to them? Why haven’t we protested loudly? We know that many of these models have eating disorders themselves. When we become mothers, isn’t it our collective responsibility to protect our offspring? Are we shirking a major responsibility?

My guess is that many of us, as adult women and mothers, aunts, and other important role models in our girls’ lives, have also bought into these unreasonable feminine ideals. That is so sad. I suggest that we join forces and re-visit this whole idea of what we and our daughters have bought into. Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder with one of the highest mortality rates. The life you save may be your daughter’s.

Perhaps we should think of exposure to these emaciated models as a form of bullying. Maybe that would serve as a call to arms for all of us.

Should we be doing something in this country to make sure that images of underweight models aren’t the norm on catwalks and in fashion magazines? And how do you talk to your teen about media images and body weight?


About Barbara Greenberg, PhD

Barbara is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual with Jennifer Powell-Lunder PsyD and the co-creator of the website

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