In addition to arithmetic, history, and English it seems like there is another lesson on the agenda for this school year: how to loathe your body. Shapewear is the newest trend for tweens and teens. A recent segment on Good Morning America highlighted this phenomenon. The show reported that children would rather be uncomfortable than be considered fat. Real Housewives star Jill Zarin appeared on the program pushing her new shapewear line that was designed with teens in mind. Her own daughter has been wearing shapewear since she was 13 years old.
Young adulthood is a particularly vulnerable time for girls. Adolescents work to establish a sense of identity while trying to fit in and be accepted amongst their peers. It is during this time that girls are most at risk for the development of eating disorders. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 86% of people struggling with an eating disorder report that their symptoms began prior to age 20 years old and 43% report onset between the ages of 16-20 years old. 95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12-26 years old and anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
So what does teenagers wearing shapewear have to do with eating disorders? By telling young girls that it is acceptable (or even encouraged) to contort their bodies to approximate the ideals that they see portrayed on television and in magazines, we are telling them that their bodies are not good enough. On the Good Morning America segment, Jill Zarin stated: “Nobody wants to see anybody’s body parts rippling. It’s just not attractive.” I challenge this assertion. What is unattractive about embracing our body’s natural beauty, ripples and all? Zarin continues “I think what shapewear does is sort of normalizes the girls’ figures and evens everybody out.” These comments perpetuate the idea that there is one type of body that is attractive and other body types should be “normalized” (ie. manipulated- perhaps with shapewear, starvation, compulsive exercise, etc…) to conform to this one acceptable body shape. The truth is that the body type portrayed in the media as the ideal is only naturally possessed by 5% of American females (ANAD). This means that 95% of teens will grow into women who will never meet this ideal. Without acceptance of their body as it naturally is, a whole lot of women will be tormented through their pursuit of the thin ideal which is unattainable through any healthy means.
Beautiful and healthy bodies come in a full spectrum of shapes and sizes. Rather than buying your teenage daughter shapewear for the upcoming school year, why not use her request as an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion about body image. While sensitively listening to her concerns, try to convey that she is beautiful exactly as she is. If you notice that the body image concerns are preoccupying or excessive, seek professional guidance. The messages that are conveyed to daughters at this impressionable age are often the building blocks for healthy self-esteem in womanhood. Work on accepting your own body- you are the best model for developing a healthy body image in your daughter.