Teenage Girls Embracing Unrealistic Body Images


Teenage girls can be prone to bouts of obsession over their own appearance. Obvious statement done for the day!

Over the weekend a couple of pieces of research came across my screen that seemed to add another dimension to the typical teenage concern with body image. When considered in isolation they seem odd. When considered together they are cause for concern, and the object of the concern is not just adolescent girls.

Botox Use Amongst Teens

Botox use is one of the top five cosmetic procedures performed on kids 18 and under in the U.S.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, approximately 12,110 Botox injections were administered to patients 18 years old and younger in 2009. That is an increase of over 47% from 2008, when a total of 8,194 Botox procedures were performed.

Botox is a legitimate treatment for certain medical problems like muscle spasms, migranes, and twitching eyelids. However doctors report that most requests for Botox from teens were for non medical cosmetic reasons.

Amongst the reasons teens had for using Botox were supposedly overly square jawlines and “gummy smiles”. Dr Samuel Lam, a facial plastic surgeon in Dallas interviewed by the Times, says that he has done 100 Botox procedures on teens for nonsurgical facial reshaping. “A lot of teenagers tease each other about things that as adults we may not consider as important,” he said.

Aspiring To Be Unreal

Teenage girls aspire to look like airbrushed celebrities.

In a survey of 1,078 girls, conducted by the Good Surgeon Guide, 87% assumed that the majority of celebrity images were airbrushed.  Nearly two thirds (62%) also believed that most female celebrities had undergone at least one cosmetic procedure.

The poll was conducted due to the success of the Girlguiding airbrush campaign in England calling for the media to be honest about the use of airbrushing on celebrity images.

When asked the question ‘which celebrities do you aspire to look like?’ the top 10 most popular answers were:

Katy Perry – 69%

Frankie Sandford – 64%

Cheryl Cole – 61%

Beyonce – 57%

Britney Spears – 54%

Abbey Clancy – 53%

Fergie – 51%

Nicole Scherzinger – 48%

Victoria Beckham – 46%

Rihanna  – 44%

However despite acknowledging that the images of these celebs are airbrushed, and the celebrities themselves have probably had cosmetic work to enhance their look, an amazing 62 % of girls who responded still aspired to look like their celebrity idols.

“Although we are all aware that airbrushing happens, it doesn’t stop us beating ourselves up for not looking like the women in the magazines,” said Good Surgeon Guide founder Christiana Clogg.

Is it any wonder then that procedures like Botox injections are on the increase amongst teens?

Teenagers know the images are artificially enhanced.  Teenagers know the bodies are artificially enhanced. Yet they still aspire to look like these images. So they take measures available to them to attain their aspirations.

What a Wacky World!

Our culture has now got to the point where our teenage girls actively desire a look that they know is artificial.

This goes beyond the unrealistic hope that Barbie dolls promised for generations.

Girls know the standards by which they are measuring their appearance (a problematic concept in itself) are unrealistic, yet they are prepared to have risky procedures done to obtain the standard.

As if the challenges of adolescence aren’t complex enough?

Our culture has managed to blur the lines between the unreal and the real.  What is more, we have normalised the pursuit of obtaining the unreal by providing unchallenged access to body altering procedures for young people.

Never has it been more important for parents and adults to be pro-actively seeking to affirm young women and empower them to be confident about who they are.

There are libraries dedicated to this pursuit, but let me leave you with two simple proactive steps adults can take to assist our young women:

1. Provide safe, accepting, and affirming relationships, which convey unconditional acceptance and holistic appreciation for who a young woman is.

2. Model and encourage critical thinking about issues of objectification, respect and media literacy.

A couple of writers who I find help stimulate and inform my thinking on such things at the moment are Amy Jussel at Shaping Youth and Rachel Simmons.

Image by colodio

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