Young Girls care more about Body Image

Young girls today are more concerned with their body image and how they look than in the past. The constant bombardment of images in media, films, on catwalks and even in video games, along with the use of airbrushing convey a look that in many cases is never real but it is highly influential.

nine out of ten said they weren’t happy with how they looked

In an age where looks appear to be everything, we are all increasingly surrounded by images of female beauty that are often unrealistic and unattainable.

Research has shown that young girls are most likely to be influenced by the media as they spend more time involved in media-related activities. They are more impressionable and open to influence.

Bliss magazine asked 2000 girls aged between 10 and 19 how they felt about their own bodies and nine out of ten said they weren’t happy with how they looked.

Two thirds thought they needed to lose weight. Research from girl guiding U.K shows that girls under ten are linking body image and appearance to happiness and self esteem.

In Research undertaken in 2004 of ninety-six adolescents and 93 adult females in Mumbai, India also showed similar results. This is clearly a worrying trend.

The media, both written and visual bombards us with images of perfectly honed and made-up models, not to mention skinny, scantily clad models that have been airbrushed to the nth degree which adds to young girls’ insecurities about their own bodies and also gives a false impression of beauty.

Most parents with young girls are finding it increasingly difficult to find age appropriate clothes for their children due to the trend for dressing girls older than they are. Low cut tops, short skirts and figure hugging clothes seem to be the predominant styles available for girls these days. Access to the latest technology is one of the reasons that children seem to grow up a lot faster, however, the media in general is not allowing children to be children, especially girls.

The fashion industry plays its part in contributing to girls’ perception of themselves and what they should be wearing as the trends from this industry influence the high street and there is a blending between adult and children’s couture, such that it is becoming harder to differentiate between the two.

The problem is becoming an issue in the Indian sub-continent where the media and Bollywood are playing a role but not yet as influential as in the West. Size zero has been banded around as the ideal look for models in India. For example, Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor donned this look for her role in ‘Tashan.’

Some designers in India however agree that a wider choice in body type amongst Indian models could help. But most follow the herd. Thin is the win-win formula for today’s models with very few exceptions.

With Indian models following suit of the Western models, this is clearly not a reflection of real society as a whole and their images can contribute to eating related disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia in young girls, especially those idolising models and stars.

Parents can help counteract these negative influences from the media by helping their young daughters value themselves for who they are and not how they look, and by emphasising that a range of body types is both normal and attractive.

Complimenting children for their creativity and character rather than their looks is more important to their development.

Helping young girls understand that perfect bodies are not the ideal can go a long way to help them develop self-esteem and confidence. However, sadly another trend making its way as being ‘acceptable’ is cosmetic surgery and this is introducing further complications in young girls beginning to think they can ‘fix’ their bodies to be perfect when they are older.

A sea-change is occurring and there are individuals around the world who are trying to protect children and teenagers from unrealistic ideals regarding body image.

In the U.S, Seth and Eva Matlins have been campaigning for commercials and magazine’s to be accompanied by disclaimers if models have been significantly airbrushed or photo-shopped. They believe there is a need for a ‘Self Esteem Act’ which will make it illegal for the media to use such images without retraction.

In India, there was the story of Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan being furious with Elle ­magazine after her picture was allegedly airbrushed to make her skin look lighter. The former Miss World claimed her image was ‘digitally bleached’ and its understood that ‘Aishwarya’s first reaction was disbelief.’ A sign that even stars know when enough is enough.

In the UK this year, the Advertising Standards Authority banned two heavily airbrushed ads starring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington, following complaints launched by Lib-Dem MP Jo Swinson.

High street retailer British Home Stores (BHS) had to withdraw a range of padded bras and sexy knickers for the under-10s after complaints from parents.

On a more positive note, Debenhams is taking a stance against airbrushing by using unenhanced pictures of models in its flagship store windows to launch its new swimwear lines

A British government-commissioned study has proposed putting disclaimers on digitally altered images of models, warning consumers that the too-perfect woman staring at them from inside a fashion magazine is, in fact, artificially perfect. They have also decided to meet with advertisers, fashion editors, and health experts to discuss how to curb the practice of airbrushing and promote body confidence among girls and women.

The government is also due to launch an online ‘one-stop-shop’ to allow the public to voice their concerns regarding irresponsible marketing which sexualises children, with an onus on regulatory authorities to take action. The website could help inform future government policy by giving parents a forum to raise issues of concern regarding the sexualisation of young people.

It is important that young girls are given a chance grow into healthy adults without worries and hangups about how they look to early in their life. The role of parents, government, retailers and the media are key factors to help make this happen.

Rashmi is an office manager and a mother. She has a keen interest in alternative therapies and the rich cultural heritage of India. She loves to travel and write. Her motto is 'happiness is a way of travel not a destination.'

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