North Hills workshops designed to help improve body image
When a young girl asks, “Who am I?” she receives replies from many voices.
If those answers come from ever-pervasive media sources, she might take on values that are not worthy of the devotion she'll give to them.
What's a parent, teacher or other caring adult to do but learn about the influences that will tug at her as she matures.
In April, Joan Schenker, parent-education coordinator for Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry in Ross Township, will present workshops titled “Body Image & the Media” that will offer girls information to help them disconnect from pop culture's influence. The programs, also for parents and those who work with girls, are sponsored by Women of Southwestern PA Inc. and will be held at Memorial Park Church's Clayton Center in McCandless, the Cranberry Public Library, SS. John & Paul Catholic Church's Cardinal DiNardo Center in Franklin Park and St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Hampton Township.
Schenker said she hopes her presentation will give some encouragement to the teens who struggle to shape their better selves.
“It's the saturation of different media,” Schenker said of the images that tease and tempt. “Girls are bombarded by it all.”
Television, teen magazines, advertising, movies, music, videos and the Internet create false and unattainable images and manufactured needs, she said.
After Schenker heard from parents of a first-grader who was fretting that she was too fat, a third-grader considering a diet and a fifth-grader who wanted to wear inappropriate clothing, she began researching body image. She found studies that showed connections between media influence and well-being.
According to the “American Psychological Association Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls”: “Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.”
If all the messages from everywhere are believed and accepted — teens today see more than 5,000 media images each day — a girl should grow into “a gossipy, hot, sexy shopper who fights with other girls,” Schenker, 60, of McCandless, said.
“Girls are supposed to make their bodies into projects, and they're never good enough.”
Worries about body image usually develop at age 9, as girls become interested in boys, Schenker said.
“They're starting to be looked at by boys and learn certain ways to get attention,” she said.
Also, at around the same time, they shift from seeking approval from their parents to their peers, Schenker said.
“What their friends think is important, and they begin asking, ‘How do I fit in?'” she said.
Cranberry tweens have spent lots of time talking and giggling about singer Justin Bieber in the Cranberry Public Library.
“They walk around acting like (singer and actress) Selena Gomez and call themselves ‘Mrs. Bieber,'” said Rachael Troianos, teen-services librarian, about book-club members from the fourth to sixth grade. “I have trouble keeping up on who they're crushing on.”
Troianos, however, remembers her young loves — actor Leonardo DiCaprio, singer Justin Timberlake and “anyone in a band.”
The girls also are very opinionated about their likes and dislikes.
“They hate Facebook and like Twitter, where you can send everything you're doing all the time,” the 25-year-old from Gibsonia said. “I was astonished to find out (Facebook) is dying.”
The girls also like Snapchat, she said, where someone can take a picture and send it, and in 10 seconds, it deletes itself.
“Media-wise, they're pretty speedy,” Troianos said.
Having spent two years with Cranberry library, Troianos said she is happy that the girls have come to enjoy the programs she has developed.
“I just love them. They're sweet,” she said. “They're very impressionable. And they want someone to look up to.”
By pointing out the ways the media persuades young girls to adopt new lifestyle patterns, such as airbrushing flaws from models to create perfection, Schenker said, she hopes her audiences become more discerning when the next big thing is touted.
One middle schooler student told Schenker she had spent 15 minutes during a class staring at her fingers and deciding what color of nail polish to buy.
“I think I'll spend more time listening to the teacher,” the preteen then decided.
Schenker's presentation has five objectives: enhancing feelings of self-acceptance or self-appreciation, increasing body confidence, providing basic media-literacy skills, empowering students to take action to address media messages, and enhancing knowledge of healthy eating and an active lifestyle.
“I want to help girls understand what real girl power is — being clever, resourceful, caring about character rather than clothes and becoming allies with other girls,” Schenker said. “That's what I'll be sharing with the girls.”
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.