The Distorted Mirror of Body Image

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6209957186_6056085224_zBy Glynis Bell

Have you ever been in a fun mirror house at a fair or amusement park?

I remember loving to go into them when I was young. I would stand in the mirrors making funny faces and waving my arms wildly and seeing my reflection being distorted. Sometimes it would go from skinny to fat or tall to short. It was all in fun back then, but in today’s ever changing and often cruel world, many of our young girls are struggling with image distortion with their own bodies and it usually doesn’t involve a fun house mirror!

When it comes to young ladies and having positive body image, honest conversations need to start at a very early age. Have you ever seen one of the pageant reality shows where young girls start as early as 11 months participating in beauty contests? It’s often disturbing and sad to see toddlers in a full face of makeup, false everything, spray-on tans, hair done, fluffy dresses and high heels. At this impressionable time in their lives, they are starting to develop a sense of what “beauty” is or should be. As they grow and mature, these childhood teachings and experiences continue to be a part of their psyche both good and not so good.

Girls’ images of themselves are shaped in large part by what they see around them in the media, on TV, on social media and the internet. There is never a time when they are not being marketing to and told how they are supposed to look, dress or be. Consider that female models in the U.S. average a size 0 and the average woman is a size 14 or larger. It’s no wonder that young ladies can start to develop a complex about that what is a “perfect” body image. It has also been noted that when it comes to body image with young girls and clothing, marketing to them takes on a sexual tone and it’s much harder for girls to develop a healthy, non-sexualized relationship with their bodies.

The facts are disturbing as nearly half of the nation’s girls are unhappy with their bodies. According to the Center for Disease Control and the National Association of Eating Disorders, by age 6 girls start to develop an obsession with thinness and start to express concerns about their own weight and shape. Even in their homes where their family follows healthy eating and exercise habits, there are still societal pressure influencing girls today. But on a good note, girls are playing more sports, dancing and participating in martial arts and gymnastics. These activities can help them develop a healthy relationship with their bodies.

As mothers, mentors, aunties, sister friends, teachers and concerned women in our community, it’s imperative that we talk to our young ladies about having a healthy body. Not so much about how it should look, but more on the importance of being healthy, confident and self-assured with themselves and their abilities. Equally important is their development of self-love and what major role it plays in their well-being, self-esteem and overall outlook on life.

As a philanthropist and advocate for women and young girls, I published my first book earlier this year entitled Fierce & Fabulous-A Young Ladies Guide to Inspiration and Positive Self-Image. The book is a guide to help teens, tweens and young adults embrace the bodies they have, how to dress it appropriately for any occasion and to respect themselves and demand others do the same. I conduct workshops with young ladies (and men, too) around the state and it is amazing the feedback and response I receive from my audiences.

I also teach an interpersonal psychology class at the community college. I very much enjoy my interaction with my young audiences and find our young people need love and affirmation and they need to be listened to and heard. I also know that they have questions and are curious about lots of things and that the internet shouldn’t be their only go-to source for information and answers.

I believe that each one should reach one and teach one. If we do our part to have conversations, honest conversations with our young ladies individually and collectively, we can change their thinking, their actions and positively affect their development and lives.




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