Media may feed weight problems of teen-aged girls
From Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore
November 14, 1999
Web posted at: 6:09 p.m. EST (2309 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Images reflected by the media often can amount to a very unhealthy looking glass for young women, according to a new study pblished by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. It found teen-age body image to be greatly influenced by what they see on television and in movies and magazines.
What they are most likely to see are actresses like Helen Hunt and Calista Flockhart and super models like Kate Moss. All attractive, well dressed and unusually thin.
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CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore reports the connection between a teenage girl's self-image and the images she sees on television may be more closely linked than first believed.
Marne Greenberg knows all about the desire to be thin. She suffered from Bulimia as a teen-ager.
"I think everyone wants to change their self-image," said Greenberg. "It doesn't matter who you are, you always want to be that someone ... the highest of expectations of someone you can't, or never will, be."
Doctors have found there are many others like Greenberg.
"One of the questions we asked them is how much effort they were making to look like females they see in the media," said Dr. Alison Field of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"We found that to be a very strong predictor of starting to use vomiting or laxatives to control weight."
Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person repeatedly binges on food and then uses self-induced vomiting or laxatives to prevent weight gain.
"It begins with teenagers, sometimes during that time, and then it goes on to, of course, the adult population," said Dr. Stanley Hertz of Long Island Jewish Hospital. "It occurs in different studies between 2 and 3 percent of the population."
Greenberg's teen-age years were pretty rough. She was surrounded by friends who were totally consumed with their appearance and she did everything she could to lose weight.
"I was hurting myself and I knew I was hurting myself and there was no way of stopping it," she said.
Doctors believe most young girls face an impossible task if they want to look model-thin.
"The average American model is 5 foot ten, and 107 pounds. The average North American woman is 5 foot four and 143 pounds. So what we show is not what we really are," pointed out Hertz.
"The people that knew me knew I looked emaciated and people that didn't know me, thought I looked great," said Greenberg. "Meanwhile, I had all these stomach problems and everything."
Experts say the best weapon against eating disorders is high self-esteem -- something teenagers desperately need. They also emphasize the importance of young girls evaluating themselves in ways other than through their weight -- and realizing the images they see in the media are often unhealthy and unrealistic.
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