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Communities that care: Talking about negative body image

One of the concerning issues facing youth today is negative body image. According to statistics found on, more than 90 percent of girls ages 15-17 want to change at least one aspect of their appearance and 25 percent would consider having plastic surgery. Up to 12 percent of teen boys are using unproven supplements or steroids. Furthermore, 80 percent of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat, and 42 percent of first- through third-graders want to be thinner. Adolescents who experience negative body image are far more likely to suffer from eating disorders.

What exactly is negative body image? Negative body image is a distorted perception of your shape — you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are. It also includes:

▪ The conviction that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure

▪ Feeling ashamed, self-conscious and anxious about your body

▪ Feeling uncomfortable and awkward in your body

Kids learn many of these ideas through media messages. The media perpetuates body dissatisfaction among our youth through its messages and the promotion of ideal body images in both males and females. Today’s youth face more media exposure than their parents did, and these youth have the additional influence of social media that didn’t exist when their parents were kids.

Dove’s Project Self-Esteem shows a series of studies that demonstrate some of these body image issues and how the media distorts the images that are published in magazines and on billboards. In one video series, a young woman — who is not a model — is shown going through makeup and hair styling and then being photographed. The photographs then go through a series of editing where eyes are enlarged, the neck is lengthened, the cheeks made to look thinner to the point where the end product is so altered that it no longer even resembles the original “model.” In fact, the average American woman is 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, while the average American model is 5-foot-11-inches tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women.

Join us for Straight Talk on April 19, where Melanie Lynch will talk about negative body image and what parents can do to help their children develop healthy attitudes about their bodies. She will also talk about how we as a community can help our youth maintain a healthy body image in a looks-obsessed society.

Denise Herr McCann is division director at Centre County Youth Service Bureau.


What: Straight Talk: Body Image

When: 7-8:30 p.m. April 19

Where: Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College