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Girl Scouts building self-esteem by debunking media images

Scouts urging youngsters to resist media’s portrayal of female beauty.

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Girl Scout leaders have a message for teens trying to look like the models on the covers of their favorite magazines: They aren’t real.

Those airbrushed, overprocessed images can give young girls unrealistic expectations of female beauty and damage their self-esteem. So local Girl Scouts are participating in a nationwide Healthy Media Initiative, designed to help them recognize and resist media pressure.

At a glance

Healthy relationships with media

The Girl Scouts’ Healthy Media Initiative aims to teach girls to understand and deal with the pressures of unattainable media images. Scouts hope to partner with other organizations to spread the message, and will host a summit on the issue May 5. Details are still to be determined, but those interested can learn more by visiting www.gsutah.org or emailing Kabi Catalano at kcatalano@gsutah.org.


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"Girls are bombarded by thousands of media images every day," said Kabi Catalano, senior director of marketing and communications for the Girl Scouts of Utah. "It has a direct impact on their well-being — physical, emotional and social."

Looking like those models is often unattainable, said Catalano, but that doesn’t stop girls from trying. She cites a rise in eating disorders and younger girls getting plastic surgery as evidence of the problem.

To combat the issue, scouts and their leaders are trying to reach out to young girls and help them accept and love their bodies as they are. They may not escape the media barrage, but leaders hope girls who are prepared can handle it.

And girls are a big part of the push. Teen scouts have been visiting schools to target fifth- through seventh-graders who are just starting to feel self-conscious.

"We’re trying to reach out to girls to prove to them that they don’t have to conform to a certain look," 15-year-old scout Ariana Williford said. "They can just be themselves."

"You just have to remember, it’s not real," added her friend Amanda Schwartz, 14.

Girls will find acceptance no matter what they look like, both girls agree, adding that the Healthy Media Initiative has helped them negotiate the social pressures of ninth grade.

Both girls still read fashion magazines, but with a new perspective, Schwartz said.

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And they like to remind girls — and even the boys — at their schools that their body-image hero Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.

But body image was even an issue for Monroe, and media pressure on women to look a certain way is nothing new, said Susie Porter, director of the University of Utah’s gender-studies program.

"Young girls who watch media might consider the source," Porter said. "Media often is geared to sell something: an electronic game, a movie, cosmetics and more."

Companies make sales by showing girls an unattainable image and promising that their product will help them be more like those images they see. Porter believes the initiative will foster crucial conversations between girls and their parents and other caring adults. She hopes it also will help girls feel more confident.

"As girls speak with their mothers or their grandmothers about these things, they may find the details are different, but it’s a constant issue," Porter said. "It’s not just them, and it’s not just now."

The program isn’t only for Girl Scouts. Teachers, parents or anyone else interested in the program can participate. Learn more at www.gsutah.org.


Twitter: @Katie_Drake

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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