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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published June 18, 2009                                                         

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How can you help kids have a positive self-image?

   One of the biggest negative influences on young people’s self-image is the media, agreed Barb Barrett and Branden Joy, who teach classes on positive self-image at the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale.
   Sixty percent of middle school girls read at least one fashion magazine regularly and women’s magazines contain 10 times more articles and ads promoting weight loss than do publications geared toward men, Barrett said. One out of every four commercials has something to do with being attractive.
   “They’re getting a lot of messages about how they’re supposed to be and how they’re supposed to look,” Barrett said.
   Explaining that these images aren’t real can help minimize their influence. In Barrett’s class, she shows a cover photo and explains how someone spent 20 hours retouching it. The girls are surprised at how much work has been done, she said.
   Barrett also points out that today’s ideal model is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds.
   “In all reality, only 2 to 5 percent of women can have that body,” she said. “It’s just not a natural way to be. I think if you see it in real life, it’s not even attractive.”
   For boys, there may be slightly less emphasis on physical appearance, but they still have a lot of pressure to fit in a prescribed role, Joy said.
   “What does it mean to be a man? I’m a man because I look this way, I’m a man because I act this way, I’m a man because I do these types of things,” he said. “It basically all comes down to fitting in.”
   Two things parents can do to help their children is model good behavior and communicate openly with them.
   “We need to listen to what we’re saying in our own words,” Barrett said. “If we sit in front of the mirror and criticize our own body, that’s the message we’re giving to our daughters.”
   But talking is only half the equation.
   “The parents should be able to listen, to listen to what you’re child is actually telling you,” Joy said.
   A kid who says he doesn’t want to go and out play might just not feel like playing. Or he might feel uncomfortable physically or he might be afraid of being bullied.
   Parents also should be careful about perpetuating stereotypes such as assuming boys are less sensitive than girls or that “real men” don’t cry.
   “You almost want to treat your daughters as your sons and vice versa,” Joy said. “There are actually more similarities than there are differences.”
   Barrett also encourages her students to look at more than just their physical appearance.
   “We really try to target what makes this girl special, unique, an individual,” she said.

— by Pamela Lannom

       Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, which works
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and safe lives.




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