Saeda Almatari, 16, Jordan/United States

Unrealistic media images: A danger to adolescent girls

Female beauty today is defined by ‘flawless’ facial features and ’perfect‘ thin bodies. These images are promoted through various media outlets and are particularly common in advertising. In response, teenage girls across the globe measure their bodies against these unattainable ideals and often end up feeling inadequate.

Having spent part of my childhood in Jordan and part in the United States, I know that body image is a major concern for adolescent girls in diverse cultural settings. Though they are sometimes reluctant to talk about it, a number of my classmates suffer from low self-esteem, go on diets and criticize their weight or facial features. Some girls in Jordan want to undergo plastic surgery to resemble a celebrity, while the number of teenage cosmetic surgeries is on the rise in the United States. What’s more, from Colombia to Japan to Oman to Slovenia to South Africa, adolescents adopt unhealthy eating habits, including skipping meals and dieting excessively, to achieve the ‘look’ promoted in movies and magazines.

Mass media affect both the way we think about ourselves and the choices we make. Glorifications of a thin ideal are everywhere: on television and film screens, on the Internet, in magazines and even on the street. They are impossible to avoid. Viewing these glamourized images, which do not represent real girls or women, can have lasting negative effects on vulnerable youth. The influence of ads showing misleading female forms can make girls susceptible to anorexia and bulimia, two grave and sometimes deadly eating disorders. In addition, adolescents with low self-esteem often suffer from depression; when untreated, this can lead to suicide.

To counterbalance this effect, we must show girls that beauty isn’t something to be bought or sold; it doesn’t come from buying diet pills, make-up or expensive clothes. We need to foster healthy, realistic self-images. Adults and adolescents must work together to highlight the existing beauty in girls as well as to celebrate virtues that go beyond body image – such as honesty, intelligence, integrity and generosity. I encourage more candid dialogue on this crucial issue and aspire to help girls feel beautiful in their own skin.

Saeda Almatari would like to study journalism, is interested in football and wants to make a difference by improving people’s lives.

Panels

The global state of adolescents; the challenges they face in health, education, protection and participation; and the risks and vulnerabilities of this pivotal stage are looked at closely in a series of panels in the report, available as a PDF.

Essays

Adults and adolescents were invited to give their perspectives on the critical issues facing adolescents in the 21st century.