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Reasons for Image Obsession Among Girls

In a 2008 article for Psychology Today magazine, Hara Marano writes about the constant pressure girls face concerning their image. Deprived of an internal compass, girls compete to be "hottest," turning colleges into incubators for eating disorders and numerous unrealistic, self-imposed expectations.

But why?

Marano cites Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. Martin believes the chief problem is that young women think they have to be everything: overachievers in academics, successful in their chosen career, and the life of the party. Adding to the mounting pressure, today's girls are told they can look any way they want. Over time, they "compose the self as perfect, with a perfect résumé and a perfect body."

New York psychotherapist Steven Levenkron has been treating young women with eating disorders for three decades. He contends that peer pressure is by far the number one reason girls work hard to be extremely thin. "Those who aren't mentored by parents are not inoculated against peer pressure. They wind up turning to their peers and to the media, to the outside society, for guidance on how to appeal to men." Hollywood, in turn, ends up giving them unrealistic messages about femininity.

Richard Hersh, former director of Harvard's Center for Moral Education, blames a girl's image obsession on the culture of neglect—kids raising kids. Parents and teachers have allowed children to be nurtured by television, the Internet, and their peers. Parents and teachers have abdicated mentoring and overly shelter them from life experiences to avoid pain and failure. They enter college "socially and emotionally fragile." The all-too-common results are anorexia and bulimia, depression, drinking and drug use, and attempts at suicide. Data shows that about 40 percent of college-age women have experienced an eating disorder.

In the article Marano shares the testimony of 17-year-old Chloe:

Dieting made me feel I was in control of something. It was one thing I knew I could change on my own. I would diet and get positive feedback and feel really good. So I wouldn't eat for a few days at a time. …
You compare yourself to other people. Each of my friends was vying to be better than the other. I was in a restaurant with my boyfriend and a girl walked in who was really pretty and much thinner than me. I saw him glance at her. I went into the bathroom and cried. …
[Boys are] constantly comparing women to each other: 'That girl is really hot; she's so much hotter than her friends.' So we compete to be the hotter friend. Some days it makes you feel fat. On particularly bad days, I can look at children and think that when I'm older, that little 3-year-old girl is going to steal my husband.

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