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Weighing In: Learn your Healthy Weight

GL surveyed hundreds of girls and found equal numbers who hate themselves for being too thin (“All my friends have something ‘upstairs,’ but I am so little!”) and just as many who think they’re fat (“My BFF is super skinny. Next to her, I feel huge”).

“Many kids have poor body images due to the enormous pressure in celebrity culture to be super skinny,” explains Susan S. Bartell, author of The Girls’ Only Weight Loss Guide. In the past five years, the numbers of magazines, websites and TV shows dedicated to celebrity worship have exploded. So girls see more images of “perfect” bodies.

On the other end of the spectrum is our country’s growing weight problem. Americans are literally eating themselves to death. Around the world, millions are dying because they don’t have enough food. Americans are dying because we have too much. Think this only affects adults? Not so.

More U.S. teens than ever—9 million of them—are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Currently, 16 percent of girls ages 6 to 19 are overweight. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports a major surge in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes among teen girls, especially minorities. As if that weren’t enough to scare you, overweight teens are now also developing diseases like hypertension, high cholesterol and weight-related asthma, conditions previously associated predominantly with adults.

The GL girls we surveyed tell us appearance is your biggest concern, even more important to you than grades and friends. Everyone wants to be “normal,” so they’ll feel accepted. But how can you feel normal and accepted with so many mixed messages about weight? From learning the appropriate weight for you to deciphering all the mixed messages, read on for our advice on respecting your body…and finally feeling like you fit in.

Learn your healthy weight
A recent study by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that up to one in three girls has the wrong idea about her weight—perceiving herself as too heavy when she’s actually normal or believing she’s normal when she’s too heavy. The best way to a straightforward assessment of your body? Talk to your pediatrician. She can accurately determine if you’re at a healthy weight. If you need to make changes, she’ll tell you what they are. Another good health gauge is your Body Mass Index (BMI), a calculation estimating how much body fat a person has based on her weight and height (kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/dieting/bmi.html).

Commit to good habits
Eat right; exercise daily. You’ve heard it again and again.Why? Because it works! Not only will you ward off all kinds of health problems, you’ll feel great. Studies show that girls who are physically active are more satisfied with how they look—regardless of what the scales say.

Understand Mom
Research shows that if your mom is overweight, you’re far more likely to be overweight too. Daughters have to break the cycle. Says Monique, 12, “My mom is heavy, but she buys fatty food all the time, then tells me to watch what I eat! We have no healthy food in the house. How does she expect me to be healthy?!” In cases like Monique’s, try talking to your mom about making better food-shopping choices. If that fails, the best option may be to get your doctor involved. Changing your mom can be hard, so you’ll need another adult to stick up for your right to be healthy.

Mothers can also have negative effects on their daughters’ body images if they wrestle with their own. “My mom pushes me to be thin because she isn’t,” confesses Sam, 16. “I’m in great shape because of sports, but she wants to make sure I stay that way.” If you feel you are being overly pressured by your mom to look a certain way, talk to a school counselor or clergy person for support in addressing these issues with your mom.

Shun celebrities
Because of the saturation of celebrity coverage, we have misguidedly—and mistakenly—come to think of these people as peers. Not to beat this point to death, but most celebs weren’t born skinny with nice butts and perky boobs. If they hadn’t spent endless hours at the gym or big bucks in a plastic surgeon’s office, they’d look just like you. Time to stop the comparisons. “You’re in homeroom, not Hollywood,” Dellasega says.

Stop with the chatter
As girls get older, they compare their bodies to other girls’. Says Elizabeth, 15, “My friends who are heavier always talk about how skinny I am. My friends who are thinner say they envy my curves. I wish people would focus more on what’s inside and stop comparing themselves. It makes things awkward.”

Many girls confess that they often tell friends how “fat” they are when they know they’re at a healthy weight (one girl honestly spilled, “I say it to get attention”). Yes, we’ve all engaged in these “I’m so fat!” conversations, but we at GL want it to stop. Comparisons and criticisms—even in jest—are unhealthy and fuel stereotypes about realistic body types. So knock it off, and stick to compliments for other girls—and yourself.

Stop with the pressure
In the Girl Scout study, 40 percent of girls 11 to 17 say they don’t play sports because they don’t feel skilled enough. Says one GL reader, “I’m uncomfortable in PE because I might do something wrong, and then boys will think of me as a wimpy girl.” Wimpy has nothing to do with it, Bartell says. Having fun does. And gym class isn’t your only option for exercise. Do you enjoy swimming, jogging or dancing? Find activities you can enjoy on your own or with a group—without the pressure to be the best.

That said, feel free to kick butt. Boys are far more physically active than girls (hmmm, and boys generally have fewer body image concerns…). One reader with a rock-solid body image tells us how much she enjoys “beating the boys at their own games” and showing her strength. Meeting resistance at your school? Speak up! “The guys at my school hog the ball and then fuss at the girls for not making an effort!” fumes a reader. GL demands equality. Get out there, and feel free to play as hard—or harder!—than they do.

Respect what your body does

Some girls have fast metabolisms, some slow. Some can jump three feet high, others can barely get off the ground. Some have broad shoulders for swimming, others can barely get a purse strap to stay on. You get it. It’s your body. Appreciate it, and spend time focusing on your unique skills.

Maisha, 17, wraps it all up for us: “I grew up hating how I looked. I was too skinny.” Her freshman year, she studied karate. She found out she was really good at it. After earning her black belt, she no longer beats herself up: “I don’t worry anymore. I feel good, and I have good friends.” She’s lucky, and she often gives other girls pep talks. “I don’t know why people have stopped caring about things that really matter,” Maisha adds. “We need to spend more time thinking about people’s hearts and their intentions, not their bodies.”

By: Kristen Kemp

POSTED IN

9/9/2009 7:00:00 AM
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