Why It’s Hard to Be an American Girl Today
4 mins read

Why It’s Hard to Be an American Girl Today

Yikes. Being a girl today is hard work.

Those of us who were once teenage girls know firsthand there is no creature on earth as critical and perfectionistic as a teenage girl. However, our squeaky clean friends at The Dove Self-Esteem Fund have collected astounding data quantifying precisely how challenging it is to be a girl in American today.

Here are a few tidbits:

92% of girls say they want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest (‘Beyond stereotypes’, Dove Global study, 2005)

Seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members (‘Beyond stereotypes’, Dove Global study, 2005)

For example:

– 20% won’t give an opinion
– 25% won’t go to a social event, party or club
– 15% won’t go to the doctor
– 16% won’t go to school

Girls’ self-esteem is more strongly related to how they view their bodies vs how much they actually weigh.

Serious side effects plague girls with low self esteem. They are significantly more likely to engage in negative behaviors. And they take their bad feelings out on themselves, rather than rebelling or resorting to vandalism.

– 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking, or drinking
– 25% of teen girls with low self-esteem resort to injuring themselves on purpose or cutting
– 25% of teen girls with low self-esteem practice disordered eating, such as starving themselves, refusing to eat, or over-eating and throwing up

Dove’s agglomerated research shows something many of us women know intuitively from our own girlhoods: the self-esteem tipping point comes during the transition to adolescence, particularly if during this time a girl loses trust and connection with adults in her life, particularly her mother.

Dissatisfaction with body image increases as girls progress to adolescence. While 75% of 8-9 year old girls say they like the way they look, only 56% of 12-13 year old girls feel that way (Teens Before Their Time, 2000)

– 67% of girls ages 13 – 17 turn to their mother as a resource when feeling badly compared to 91% of girls ages 8 – 12
– 65% of girls ages 13 – 17 refrain from telling their parents certain things about themselves to prevent parents from thinking badly about them, compared to the 49% of girls ages 8 – 12

Sadly, 57% of all girls have a mother who criticizes her own looks. This is the biggest mistake we moms can make – being overly critical of our own beauty and body shape. Girls with low self-esteem are less likely to receive praise from either parent and more likely to receive criticism than girls with high self-esteem. More than one-third (34%) of girls with low self-esteem believe that they are not a good enough daughter.

The good news here is that parents, particularly moms, can play an enormous role in girls’ self-perceptions. Research shows that the top wish among all girls is for their parents to communicate better with them, which includes more frequent and open conversations about what is happening in their own lives.

Like so much of parenting advice, the solution is simple but challenging: Stick close to your daughters, and the other girls in your life. Praise them endlessly. Listen to them. Guide them in positive ways. And of course: show them the many ways you love being a woman and a mom, so that one day, they can love it too.

About Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem
Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self Esteem, commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, was conducted online among 1,029 girls 8 – 17, and is representative of the U.S. based on census indicators (region, ethnicity and parental education.) An additional 3,344 girls 8 – 17 were surveyed in a targeted study that was conducted in 20 major U.S. cities representative of each DMA based on ethnicity and parental education. The research was conducted by StrategyOne, an applied research consulting firm, in collaboration with Ann Kearney-Cooke, PhD. Methodology: Interviews averaged 15 minutes and were conducted between May 6 and May 28, 2008 using the online field services of ResearchNow.

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