Published June 18, 2009
ASK AN EXPERT
BARB BARRETT AND BRANDEN JOY, HEALTH EDUCATORS
How can you help kids have a positive
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
“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,
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
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
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and