Youth Culture Window
The pictured tag read “Ladies XXL.” Her anonymous confession was, “I cut all the tags out of my clothes. That way, if anyone looks in my closet…they won’t know what size I wear.” Girls’ self-esteem is down, and worse, it’s leading to destructive behavior.
Another girl’s confession found on PostSecret read, “I wish I could go to school with no makeup and feel beautiful.” Welcome to the pain caused by low self-esteem that teenage girls face today...and brace yourself for the way they are coping with it.
Studies, both national and international, are revealing girls’ severe worry over problems associated with their personal image. Only 2% of 3,000 females described themselves as “beautiful.” Worse yet, this poor view of self is taking root in girls as young as 6!
- 42% of 1st to 3rd grade girls want to be thinner
- 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of getting fat
- 66% of girls have avoided “basic activities” (for example, attending school) because they felt unattractive
Where is this low self-esteem (as it relates to self-image) coming from?
You guessed it…our sex-saturated culture strikes again! On magazine covers, billboards, TV shows, music videos, and the Internet, the unbelievable images of sexy females captivates the attention of not only guys, but girls, as well! (Key word: unbelievable!) Today, most images that are for the populace’s consumption go through multiple thousands of dollars worth of “touch ups” and “enhancements.”
Cornell University’s Joan Brumberg says that because of this fact, America has “a culture of kids who are being socialized to unrealistic images.” In other words, these living, breathing girls are comparing themselves to make-believe, and coming up short.
But at least these girls have supportive parents who love them unconditionally and support them wholeheartedly, right?
Recent Newsweek research has yielded the discovery of more and more parents who are using software and/or photography agencies to digitally alter the appearance of their kids in pictures, especially yearbook photos. A myriad of websites and studios offer image enhancement for everything from zit, freckle, and braces erasure, to the taming of unruly hair…and everything in between. Sadly, this trend, too, claims clients that are still in grade school.
What are these girls, who think they’re “ugly,” doing to cope with their low self-esteem and waning support of parents?
It’s not pretty.
A recent survey from Columbia University uncovered some of the dangerous strategies girls are employing today to manage their low self-esteem. Alcohol is at the top. Because of the increased pressure on girls to be pretty…and smart…and athletic…and you name it, they’re beginning to lean on elixirs that dull the edges, at a consumption rate that surpasses guys! “I think because of this pressure, the girls find that alcohol lessens their inhibitions. It also represses their emotions, anxieties and fears about it,” says Annie Prescott, Ph.D.
Congruent research found these telling stats:
- 25% of sexually active girls had unprotected sex because of alcohol and drug use at the time (Kaiser Family Foundation)
- 33% of girls who got pregnant had been drinking when they had sex (Parents: The Anti-Drug)
Is that it?
A joint effort between the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois found a link between young people’s low self-esteem and materialism. “The level of materialism in teens is directly driven by self-esteem,” reports Deborah Johns, one of the researchers. Yet again, the younger children were found to be among the most materialistic of the 8-18 year old students tested. "When self-esteem drops as children enter adolescence, materialism peaks. Then, by late adolescence, when self-esteem rebounds, their materialism drops."
Some of these girls are grasping for confidence from any source they can get it. Some pay for touch ups, some turn to alcohol, and some get “stuff.” But a fast-growing group of young ladies are resorting to provocative behavior to up their self-worth. Fewer female inhibitions have led to more racy videos and sexy pictures being posted to the internet…and more boys being flirted with. (Spring Break often reveals some of these activities. This great article from the LA Times follows the writer’s excursions into girls’ search for “confidence” at raunchy Spring Break activities like pudding wrestling and wet T-shirt contests.)
Shuffling the deck that is stacked against our girls
According to some research, Christian youth leaders might just be the BEST help possible! In a study of 1,200 8th graders, “participation in religious activity” was the strongest influencer on high self-esteem. Conversely, the University of Michigan also reported that teens with “low attendance” at faith-based functions more readily aligned themselves with negative personal statements. The link between church and high self-esteem may also be attributed to the fact that going to church is a practice that some families participate in together. (And this article reinforces the truth that time spent with family is teenagers’ greatest source of happiness.)
- Get this info into the hands of parents! Make sure that the parents in your church are well educated as to the pivotal role they play in the development of their daughters’ self-esteem. Not only do they need to avoid “photoshopping” their kids’ pics, they need to take an active, loving stance in their child’s life to nurture a healthy level of self-worth.
- Keep on keepin’ on. Continue to provide impactful and meaningful ministry “programs,” “events,” or “whatever you call them,” that connects girls to biblical truth and caring, godly adults in one-on-one relationships. Find thousands of free resources like this on our web site.
By coupling two of the biggest players in this game together, parents and ministry, we truly can turn the tide that is engulfing our girls.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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