It's swimming--and swimsuit--season again. That means many girls are feeling even more self-conscious than usual about the way they look. "I feel fat!" many girls say, even if they're a perfectly normal size.
Unfortunately, lots of American teenagers and preteens think they are too fat. One-third of all girls in grades 9-12 think they are overweight, and 60 percent say they are trying to lose weight, reports the U.S. Public Health Service. Nearly half of all teenage girls say they skip meals to control their weight.
That's not healthy living! To help girls learn more, and feel better, about their bodies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has added a new area to its Girl Power! Web site. The area, called BodyWise, aims to teach girls about eating the right foods and staying active to maintain a healthy body size--and a healthy self-image. To visit the site, go to www.health.org/gpower/bodywise.
Being active can help girls stay healthy and feel good about themselves as they move through the physical and emotional changes that come with adolescence. Studies have shown that girls tend to lose their self-confidence during the years between age 9 and age 14. During that time, many girls begin to develop negative ideas about themselves, especially about how they look.
"The BodyWise [Web site] area responds to growing concerns that girls are too focused on trying to look like models," says Donna E. Shalala, who heads HHS. Being active can help. Half of all girls who participate in some kind of sport have higher levels of self-esteem and experience less depression than girls who are not active, according to a report from the Ms. Foundation.
The guest host of the BodyWise site is the singer and television star Brandy. She says, "It isn't what others say about you, it's about what you say and do to yourself. Being active, like playing a sport, dancing or exercising are all ways you can keep fit. I take Tae Bo [exercise] classes to maintain a healthy body and spirit."
Being "BodyWise" is also about learning to like and take care of your body, whatever size it is. That means choosing nutritious foods, eating on a healthful schedule and learning about serious health problems such as eating disorders.
A survey of sixth grade girls revealed that 70 percent of them first became concerned about their weight between the ages of 9 and 11, according to HHS. The survey also found that many girls began dieting to control their weight during middle school.
Dieting, which can be helpful for some people, unfortunately sometimes turns into an obsession. This can lead to unhealthy behaviors or even dangerous eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
As the GirlPower! site says, "Restricting what you eat can make you sick--like feeling nauseous, tired, dizzy or irritable. If this behavior goes on too long, it can mess up your menstrual cycle, dry out your hair and skin, and might even cause early osteoporosis, a disease of the bones. The physical consequences can become life-threatening."
Eating disorders cause emotional problems, too. After all, the more time and energy someone gives to obsessing over eating (or not eating), the less they have to give to friends, family and fun.
So be BodyWise this summer! Eat healthful meals and stay physically active, and your body will thank you with plenty of energy and good feelings.Tips for Parents
Since 1996 the GirlPower! campaign, designed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has provided positive messages, accurate health information and support for girls, their families, coaches, teachers and friends. Information about the campaign and its many free materials is available on the GirlPower! Web site at www.health.org/gpower, or by calling the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686. For information on eating disorders, contact Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Inc., 603 Stewart Street, Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101. The organization's telephone number is 206-382-3587.
For You to Do
One of the Girl Power! campaign's most popular free products is a pocket diary, a small book to use to capture your thoughts, feelings and ideas. The diary fits easily in a purse or backpack, and contains quotes from girls from around the country. You can order one by calling 1-800-729-6686 and asking for item GPDIR. You can also print out a version of the diary from the Girl Power! Web site. But you don't need to wait to receive your diary to start writing down your thoughts and feelings. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
1. Write down five favorite things about yourself.
2. Write about where you think you will be and what you will be doing five years from now.
3. Write about your greatest success.
4. Make a list of your favorite activities.
5. Make up an imaginary report card for yourself, concentrating on your strengths.