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Article Archive >> Good Health

Helping young girls find the beauty within

Helping young girls find the beauty within

(ARA)- Ninety percent of American women have been on a diet at least once in their lives, experts say. In fact, it's estimated that one out of two women are dieting at this very moment. Could that be you? And if so, are you aware that it may be more than pounds you're losing?
"The way a mother views her own body definitely communicates to her daughter and at a surprisingly young age," says Dr. Jim Longhurst, a psychologist for The Montcalm School for Girls in Van Wert, Ohio. Longhurst cites studies showing that by age 10, between 50 and 80 percent of girls have determined they need to lose weight and are either thinking about or beginning a diet. Are we creating an unrealistic and unachievable longing in our daughters?
"Well, the media is certainly contributing to the problem," says Longhurst who notes that there's a direct correlation between a girl's dissatisfaction with her body and the amount of television she watches. According to ANRED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness on anorexia nervosa and related eating disorders, models 20 years ago weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Today, models weigh 23 percent less and many fall into an anorexic weight range.
"We are holding up an ideal that is far from ideal," says Longhurst. And it starts early. Consider the Barbie doll, one of the icons of the toy world. ANRED points out that if Barbie were a real woman, she'd have to walk on all fours because her legs and famous "tiptoe" feet couldn't support her impossible proportions.
What can we do to protect our girls? Longhurst suggests that parents and especially mothers look deep inside and really examine how they themselves feel about their own body image. "It's hard because we are a culture that values appearance," says Longhurst. "But it is our job as good parents to make sure our girls understand the concept of inner beauty."
The real issue, says Longhurst, is self-esteem. As head psychologist for The Montcalm School for Girls, Longhurst has seen firsthand what can happen when a young woman's self image is scarred. The school treats troubled teenage girls, many of whom have dealt with eating issues in the past. "Our treatment philosophy is built on a strength-based model," says Longhurst, explaining that "strength-based" means looking for a girl's positive traits and abilities and using them as a starting point for healing.
"Very often, this happens when a girl steps outside herself to help someone else and we give our girls many opportunities to do this." The result, says Longhurst, is rewarding to watch. "They're amazed at the positive impact they can have on others. It's an esteem builder that is real and lasting."
The Montcalm School for Girls is part of Starr Commonwealth, a child and family services organization with nearly a century of experience in treating troubled youth and their families. For more information about the Montcalm School for Girls or its parent organization, Starr Commonwealth, call (866) 244-4321 or visit their Web sites at www.montcalmschool.org or www.starr.org

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