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Cover Girls – How the Media Influences Teen Self-Image

You don’t have to look very far to see image after image of flawless, statuesque, unblemished, and usually very skinny women wearing the hottest trends in clothes, shoes and hair accessories. They’re plastered all over the magazines. This may seem harmless, but did you know that these images of can be very powerful in influencing your daughter’s self-image?

A lot of magazines, particularly the ones made for teenagers, are filled with features about how to look good and about what society generally accepts as “beautiful.” Three things about these magazines can affect young girls’ body image:

• Articles on appearance (usually about how to apply makeup, how to dress for particular places and occasions, and how to look like your favorite celebrity) usually mention the latest trends in fashion. For example, celebrities are currently crazy about headbands with dainty, sophisticated details, and most celebrity features have photos of them wearing this new fashion staple.

• Advertisements, usually for beauty and hair products, which feature women who appear underweight.

• Photos that are usually altered so that wrinkles, fat, pores and other “undesirable” qualities will disappear.

Being a teenager is a lot more work than it seems. It is a very confusing period filled with changes and challenges, and teens are confronting them on their own for the very first time. It is also the quintessential period where an individual feels the need to “belong” and to be “accepted”. Teenagers, in their search for self, tend to latch on and emulate the most accessible images. Oftentimes, it’s magazines that they turn to.

Recent studies on adolescent psychology have found that these media images may be negatively affecting how teens perceive themselves. In one study, 70% of teen girls agreed that magazines strongly influenced their opinion of what was the ideal body type. Knowing that they cannot compare to such unrealistic standards, many teens end up feeling inadequate and frustrated, and this can eventually lead to depression.

It’s not just true for girls. Research is beginning to show that teen boys are affected by the images they see in the media as well. A survey on high school and college students revealed that both genders generally felt worse about their own bodies after reading fashion, sports, health and fitness magazines.

While we as parents may not be able to stop the proliferation of unrealistic images in the media today, we can help guide our children towards a healthier, more positive self-image. It is important to be a good role model. It will be hard to teach them that they are wonderful just the way they are if they see that we dislike our own bodies. It is also very beneficial to make them realize that there is so much more to a person than physical attributes. What’s inside counts, too. Let her know which qualities you love about her. It could be a simple thing, like the time she generously gave her entire baby hairclip collection to her younger sister, or how her cheerfulness is infectious and brings warmth to the house. If she knows that she is appreciated, she is more likely to feel positively about herself.