Written by Irene Zheng
“I’m getting fat” might be the most common phrase that every girl will say at least once in her lifetime. Every girl wants to be as skinny as the models in the magazines; every girl wants to look good in other people’s eyes; every girl desires to have the “perfect” body. Some may say that this is just how girls are, but they don’t realize (or have never experienced) how great the pressure of girls having “perfect” bodies is in our current society.
Teenage girls and young women are constantly being judged by society’s rigid perception of beauty – good skin, slender, long legs, and a toned, fit body. If their legs are too short, or their bellies are not flat, they are considered fat.
Samantha Levine, the project director of the NYC Girls Project, said, “I think being a woman in this society, it’s sort of impossible to not be aware of the pressures there are around appearance, around weight, around trying to always look a certain way.”
In 2016, a charity for girls and young women named Girl Guiding UK conducted a Girls Attitude Survey, and the results were surprising and shocking. According to the survey, almost 40% of the girls aged 7 to 21 were not happy with their looks and bodies, compared to 30% in 2011. Even with an increased awareness towards the toxicity of the media and the impact of social media on young women, self-esteem issues continue to rise.
But where do these invisible pressures continue to come from?
The media is undoubtedly the biggest factor that influences girls. Teenage girls and young women are bombarded with images on their phones, magazines, and entertainment media every day. The Pew Research Center has found that half of teenage girls are constant online users. Within the media, social media uses thin models to portray women as having the “perfect body,” causing girls to be unsatisfied with their own.
In a study of 13 to 17 year old girls, nearly 50% reported the desire to be as skinny as a model. They would use unhealthy methods such as dieting, starving, and taking laxatives to try to reshape their figures to fit what they believe is “the ideal” as revealed on social media. In the long term, they might even develop mental illnesses like depression and eating disorders, which can lead to more lasting harm.
Besides the false representation of the “perfect body,” girls could also get bullied on social media when they post pictures of their bodies. Peers often like to make comments on girls’ bodies and weight. Sometimes they might only want to motivate girls to stay in shape, but other times they might use insulting words like “fat,” “ugly,” and “pig” to humiliate girls, causing them to have low self-confidence and self-esteem. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 21% of middle and high school girls in America reported being bullied online or by text messages.
Furthermore, families can also play a big role in girls’ perceptions of their bodies. A survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Group found that 5 out of every 10 girls believed that their families influence the way they feel about their bodies. According to the study, parents, especially moms, will criticize or comment on girls’ bodies when they gain weight, leaving girls with the impression that they could only be complimented through weight loss. Therefore, parents’ attitudes towards their daughters’ bodies can lead to a negative body image for girls.
Certainly people might argue that boys can have the same pressures as girls do. In reality, research has shown that 50% of 13-year-old American girls were unhappy with their bodies, whereas only 25% of teenage boys were concerned about their muscularity and leanness. In another survey conducted by Dáil na nÓg, an Irish council, twice as many boys (36%) as girls (18%) reported not feeling any pressure to look good for others.
All in all, society has put far too much pressure on girls to have “perfect” bodies through social media, peer pressure, and parental behavior. This is still a serious problem that needs to be addressed. In the meantime, girls should take care of and protect themselves from these daily pressures. No matter how tall or short, thin or fat, small or big a girl may be, accepting herself for who she is rather than what she looks like is the true essence of beauty. Beauty is really only skin deep.