I’ve seen girls change in the 30+ years that I’ve been teaching and in my last 4 years as a coach in the wellness industry. The confidence level has dropped, the anxiety level has risen, comparing themselves to other people has risen, and the seeming “resignation” about what they look like and how they view themselves is heartbreaking.
When I was working as a health coach, I was surprised and disheartened to see that most of my adult women clients couldn’t care less about actually getting healthy, they just wanted to lose weight, in any way possible – and fast. Now believe me, I understand that excess weight isn’t healthy and I commend those wishing to lose weight for health reasons. But many times, I heard “I just need to lose 15 pounds before swimsuit season” or “I don’t care how I do it as long as I look good in a tube top.” As someone who struggles with disordered eating, I both relate and feel sympathy for this mentality. I wish that I’d gotten my own head straight about my body (how it works, what it needs, and what it really looks like) years ago. I’m grateful that I’m mostly healed now.
Here are some paraphrased notes from American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. Don’t let the eye-grabbing title fool you. This book is full of statistics and studies to back up some of the anecdotal, salacious details. While the book is now 6 years in print so some of the numbers may have changed (and I’m betting not for the better) it’s a hard but necessary read for people who work with kids, whether parenting, coaching, or teaching.
- Many girls have body image issues because their moms and families engage in “fat talk” and have excessive concerns around their physical appearance. They are critical of family members as well as strangers.
- Eating disorders have been on the rise for decades and 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 are worried about their current weight or about becoming too heavy, a concern that persists throughout their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
- More than half of teenage girls use unhealthy dieting methods such as skipping meals, vomiting, using laxatives, and fasting. A 2014 study at Florida State University found a link between college-age women’s risk of developing an eating disorder and their time spent of Facebook. (a dated reference but I know that IG and other social media outlets used today by teens/college women would be no better)
- A 2014 review of 19 studies in industrialized nations showed that adolescent girls around the world are now experiencing more depression and anxiety attributed to “high expectation on girls in terms of weight and appearance” among other factors.
- 2015 study at University College London found a possible link between anxiety in girls ages 11-13 and seeing images of women being sexually objectified on social media. Girls in this age category were significantly more likely to be nervous or show a lack of confidence than they were just 5 years prior. That time period is when smartphones became available to them.
This correlates directly to the timeframe that I started noticing my female music students wouldn’t play something by themselves at a lesson (even with only the two of us in the room), they were anxious over going to school, they exhibited more test anxiety, and they lacked curiosity – the best word I can come up with is “resigned”. They seemed to have an attitude of “this is as good as it gets and I am what I am” even at age 12 or 13. Many times I said to my colleagues “What the heck is happening to these kids?” They noticed it too.
All of these things led me to veer away from health coaching for physical wellness and get certified as a life coach for teen girls. These were amazingly capable young women but they didn’t see that. How could I help them lead happier, more fulfilling lives? Now that I’m trained to do this work, I keep studying because I need to know how we got here in order to help counteract it. Some of the books I’m reading are difficult to digest and yet with almost every page turn, I see exactly how we got here. Now, how do we turn it back?
I believe discussions between parents and kids (all genders, not just girls), coaches and kids, and coaches and parents are a good start.
- Talk about the body and what it needs to thrive physically and what a healthy body is able to do
- Call out social media images that are manipulated to look a certain way, ones that reduce humans to sexual objects
- Point out advertising that uses sex appeal to sell products so your kids can make the connection between marketing and sales
- Have parental control apps on kids’ phones and have rules about how much time they spend on their devices. Reduce your own time while you’re at it!
- Ask them to show you the YouTube channels and IG accounts they like. Find out what is appealing to them about those people and (without judgment) have a discussion about what you’re seeing. Ask more questions, give less opinions during this!
- Have the uncomfortable sex talks about power, harassment, nude pic sharing, and dress codes
- Ask your daughter what she thinks feminism means and tell her your opinion; there are many ways to be a strong woman and she is allowed to choose how she wants to show up but let’s give our daughters the full picture for her consideration
I love working with moms and daughters together so if you need some back up, please fill out an inquiry form here: https://www.mindfulhealthandharmony.com/schedule-a-call/
This call is always complimentary and I’m honored to help if possible.