Chances are, if you have teenage girls they are noticing one thing as they flip through the pages of glossy magazines: the models with a thigh gap.
It's just the latest way for girls and women to scrutinize themselves… and it's at the
center of controversy surrounding the unrealistic messages to teenage girls about their own body image.
Take a look at what happens to this model, who is very fit and slim, after she's photoshopped in this ad: her head is bigger than her waist. Seriously??
In 2006, the ongoing Dove Campaign for Real Beauty released a short film, Evolution, showing the transformation of a real woman into a model, to demonstrate how unrealistic perceptions of beauty are created.
A stark contrast to the 2013 revelation that the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch -absolutely- caters to an attractive crowd, carrying nothing larger than a size 10 for women, even when the average women is a size12-14.
Michi Macias is 14 years old.
“I don't think that's a good advertisement at all. I think it's telling girls that you shouldn't be wearing our clothes if your thighs touch, it promotes them to feel like they are overweight.”
Her friend, Elizabeth Carter, is also a rising freshman at Grovetown High School.
“We hear other people saying, 'Oh, I wish I were skinnier, I wish I looked like this,' and you think, 'I wish I looked like you.' “
Elizabeth, Michi, and their friend Holly Newsome sat down with me recently to talk about the pressure they feel to look a certain way.
The latest obsession, according to some teens, is ITC: Inner Thigh Clearance… and girls are starving themselves to achieve it.
14-year-old Holly sees the pictures all over social media.
“Girls worry about stuff like that and I see it on Instagram all the time. But there's some things that people can't do, like some girls aren't ever gonna have perfect thighs because they're just not built that way.”
ITC often depends on how your hip bones are set. Wide hips mean you're more likely to have a thigh gap. If you have narrow hips, this thigh gap may never be possible, even if you starve yourself and do massive exercising.
Struggles with body image pressures have plagued young women for decades.
“20 years ago the typical teenage patient for me was someone who was probably 16. 17 or 18. Today, I'm seeing girls 11, 12 and 13.”
Dr. Lemmon says that's a red flag, because it has physiological implications.
“If you go to an elementary school you see girls starting puberty in 4th, 5th grades- so once they get to middle school they're far into that.”
Elizabeth worries about competing with skinny, ITC girls.
“You know, a guy's not gonna go for me, I'm not gonna get a boyfriend in high school and I'm gonna be by myself. Are they gonna go for the skinny girl who has the perfect beach body and I'm gonna be left there because I didn't have the skinny little legs and arms and a flat stomach?”
Michi knows firsthand how cruel other girls can be.
“These girls started a whole twitter trend about me, something about how fat and ugly I was, my stretch marks, and I was like 'how could girls be so cruel?' ”
Grown girls can be cruel, too: consider the female sports writer asking whether a veteran NBA cheerleader was too chunky?
According to Dr. Lemmon, the average woman in the United States is between 5'4″ and 5'5″.
“145-155 pounds… not 5'11″ and 118 pounds or something like that.”
Dr. Lemmon says parents have an opportunity to start a new conversation with their daughters when fads threaten self-esteem, and put too much emphasis on physical appearance.
“Things like how well you do in school, how responsible you are and how dependable you are, the fact that you're an athlete and a Girl Scout… those kinds of things are important, too.”
Experts suggest the following tips for parents, if you are concerned about your teenagers… and body image:
1. De-emphasize appearance and thinness
2. Promote self-confidence
3. Model healthy nutrition and exercise
4. Encourage realistic expectations
5. Question advertising campaigns, speak out
TIPS FOR IMPROVING BODY IMAGE:
Some people think they need to change how they look to feel good about themselves. But all you need to do is change the way you see your body and how you think about yourself.
Recognize that your body is your own, no matter what shape or size it comes in. Try to focus on how strong and healthy your body is and the things it can do, not what's wrong with it or what you feel you want to change about it. If you're worried about your weight or size, check with your doctor to verify that things are OK. But it's no one's business but your own what your body is like – ultimately, you have to be happy with yourself.
Identify which aspects of your appearance you can realistically change and which you can't. Humans, by definition, are imperfect. It's what makes each of us unique and original! Everyone (even the most perfect-seeming celebrity) has things that they can't change and need to accept – like their height, for example, or their shoe size. Remind yourself that “real people aren't perfect and perfect people aren't real!” (They're usually airbrushed!)
Make goals for yourself. For example, if you want to get fit, make a plan to exercise every day and eat healthy. Then keep track of your progress until you reach your goal. Meeting a challenge you set for yourself is a great way to boost self-esteem!
When you hear negative comments coming from within, tell yourself to stop. Appreciate that each person is more than just how he or she looks on any given day. We're complex and constantly changing. Try to focus on what's unique and interesting about yourself.
Build your self-esteem by giving yourself three compliments every day. While you're at it, every evening list three things in your day that really gave you pleasure. It can be anything from the way the sun felt on your face, the sound of your favorite band, or the way someone laughed at your jokes. By focusing on the good things you do and the positive aspects of your life, you can change how you feel about yourself.
Where Can I Go if I Need Help?
Sometimes low self-esteem and body image problems are too much to handle alone. A few teens may become depressed, and lose interest in activities or friends. Some go on to develop eating or body image disorders, and can become depressed or use alcohol or drugs to escape feelings of low worth.
If you're feeling this way, it can help to talk to a parent, coach, religious leader, guidance counselor, therapist, or friend. A trusted adult -someone who supports you and doesn't bring you down- can help you put your body image in perspective and give you positive feedback about your body, your skills, and your abilities.
If you can't turn to anyone you know, call a teen crisis hotline. The most important thing is to get help if you feel like your body image and self-esteem are affecting your life.
For more advice on a healthy body image, and talking to your kids about the subject, check out Nemours' Teens Health by clicking here.