The increased scrutiny of the fashion industry and its use of ultrathin models isn't without validation, as nearly 9 in 10 American teenage girls say that the fashion industry is at least partially responsible for "girls' obsession with being skinny," according to Beauty Redefined, a national survey released today by the Girl Scouts of the USA.
The nationwide survey, which included more than 1,000 girls ages 13 to 17, finds many girls consider the body image sold by the fashion industry unrealistic, creating an unattainable model of beauty. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed say the fashion industry (89 percent) and/or the media (88 percent) place a lot of pressure on them to be thin. However, despite the criticism of this industry, three out of four girls say that fashion is "really important" to them.
A substantial majority of those surveyed say they would prefer that the fashion industry project more "real" images. Eighty-one percent of teen girls say they would prefer to see natural photos of models rather than digitally altered and enhanced images. Seventy-five percent say they would be more likely to buy clothes they see on real-size models than on women who are super skinny.
In addition to celebrities and fashion models, the study also showed that peers (82 percent), friends (81 percent), and parents (65%), are strong influences in how teenage girls feel about their bodies. Girl Scouts of the USA, who partner with the Dove® Self-Esteem Fund to offer self-esteem programming for girls nationwide, will be focusing their core leadership program to address the issue through its uniquely ME! program.
Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama is using the uniquely Me! program to reach out to the Hispanic population. This program combats many of the issues facing Hispanic pre-adolescent and adolescent aged girls. The core curriculum, which integrates the latest research from the Girl Scout Research Institute, consists of age appropriate booklets with information and exercises about recognizing one’s strengths and best attributes, identifying healthy media images, handling peer pressure, healthy eating habits, hygiene, general wellness, exercise and identifying core values and personal interests. The overall goal of uniquely ME! is to foster the growth of self-esteem within the realms of the participant’s intellectual, physical, psychological, social and mental development. The uniquely! Me program is set to kick-off in the Fall.
"The fashion industry remains a powerful influence on girls and the way they view themselves and their bodies," said Trish Coghlan, CEO of the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama. "There is little question that teenage girls take cues about how they should look from models they see in fashion magazines and on TV and it is something that they struggle to reconcile with when they look at themselves in the mirror."
The Girl Scout survey comes amid continuing controversy over super thin models, so-called "size zeros." Critics say the models are dangerously underweight and have charged that the fashion industry's preference for waif-like women has led to models engaging in obsessive dieting and extreme weight loss, as well as set a poor example for teenage girls. Fashion shows in Madrid, Milan and elsewhere now ban models below a certain body-mass index.
The health implications of the preoccupation with super thinness are serious. Nearly one in three girls say they have starved themselves or refused to eat in an effort to lose weight. In addition, 42 percent report knowing someone their age who has forced themselves to throw up after eating, while more than a third (37 percent) say they know someone their age who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
The survey, conducted by the youth research firm Tru, also found most teenagers consider weight loss measures—even some of the more extreme— acceptable. Twenty-five percent say it's acceptable for girls their age to take appetite suppressants and/or weight-loss pills, and nearly one in five consider plastic surgery and/or weight-loss surgery acceptable.
This study has resulted in Girl Scouts nationwide taking action by introducing H.R. 4925, the Healthy Media Images for Youth Act. This bill supports media literacy programs and youth empowerment groups, facilitates research on how images of women and girls impact youth, and establishes a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media to develop voluntary standards that promote healthy, balanced, and positive images of girls and women.