Real Images MIRROR Program provides young girls with self-image workshops. As we continue to strengthen this program, we need the help of the community. In order for the community to be invested, we must understand the high need for young girls to have a safe outlet to work through these issues:
The Imagery of Beauty in the Media
We’re all aware the false perception of how a model or celebrity looks due to the skills of Photoshop. And while the fashion industry has become more welcoming to plus size models, there’s still more work to be done. Our young girls are fighting a battle with poorly defined beauty standards created to increase advertising and marketing dollars.
According to a study by the Girl Scouts of America in 2010, out of over 1000 adolescent girls surveyed, 88% of the girls believe that the media puts a lot of pressure on them to be thin and 65% believe that the body image represented in the fashion industry in the media is too skinny, and 60% said they compare their body to what they see in magazines.
The Pressure of Having Sex to be Valued
The pressure to have sex too soon in a relationship is a feeling some adult women have. Think about the emotional pressure that affects our young girls who do not have enough confidence in themselves and lacks the emotional maturity to understand that saying “no, I’m not ready” does not diminishes their value as a person.
According to 2015 data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, Arkansas was ranked 1 out of 51 (including all 50 states and the District of Columbia) on final teen births rates among females 15-19 (with 1 representing the highest rate and 51 representing the lowest rate). In the same data collection, 3% of female high school students in Arkansas reported having sexual intercourse for the first time before 13 years old. The national average was 2%. Additionally, 13% of female high school students in Arkansas reported having sexual intercourse with 4 or more persons. The national average was 9%. Lastly, 16% of female high school students in Arkansas reported they were physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to. The national average was 10%.
Clearly there are a lot of conversations that we need to have with our young girls in our state when it comes to their bodies and the power they have over them.
The Rise of Self Harming
Self-harm is one of the taboo subjects that most parents are unaware is a current crisis. However, an article published this year from The New York Times cites that 1 in 4 teenage girls reported to have intentionally injured themselves without aiming to commit suicide.
More and more young girls are admitting to self-harm, such as cutting. However, there isn’t enough research to determine if this trend has increased over the years. Self-harm is just another way to cope with pain and insecurities that most young girls face. More conversations and interventions are needed to shed light to the roots is this internal pain that turns physical.
The Rise of Suicide Attempts
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among American adolescents according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The same study found that the number of kids and teens who are hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts have more than doubled from 2008 to 2015. This should be a huge cause of concern for our community. In a workshop I facilitated two years ago with African American college women, over half of the women raised their hands when I asked who had have suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Most young people cannot compartmentalize feelings of trauma, pressures to succeed, bullying, heartbreak, etc. With no help in expressing hard feelings in a constructive way, most young people become depressed and anxious. These feelings lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts.
The Lack of Adult Role Models
We must be honest that representation matters. We are in another wave of an era of women rising. More women are standing up to a misogynistic society in the workplace and in the political arena. We must remember that young girls are watching us and are in desperate need to receive advice and mentorship from us. This bold era is also a time to discuss these hard issues with young girls so that we can save them from themselves and the manufactured imagery seen in magazines, the fashion industry, and reality television.
Real Images MIRROR Program is working with Clinton School of Public Service student, Adriana Ongay, to research and develop self-image workshop curriculums for elementary, middle and high school girls. We need to survey 100 participants that include parents, teachers, and after-school program managers to gauge how to formulate these curriculums. Sign up to be surveyed on the MIRROR Research page.
Michelle B. Barnes is the founder and executive director of Real Images. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Real Images @realimagesar.