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How Do Models Affect Teens?

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Teens are highly focused on appearances and with winning the approval of peers. The silky-smooth and slender images or masculine and buff bodies that young models portray can challenge a teen's self-esteem. Tying to compete with air-brushed images of models is a losing proposition because such images provide unrealistic goals. Teens can take heart in knowing that models often spend time with make-up artists, hairstylists and lighting crews before stepping in front of a camera.

Unrealistic Standards of Beauty

Young models and celebrities portrayed in the media set the standard of what's considered attractive. They encourage teens to try to live up to unrealistic expectations. Young women who are thin and beautiful are portrayed as powerful, influential and productive, according to social mores. However, the mindset that thin is better is unrealistic. The typical U.S. model is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs only 117 pounds. Meanwhile, the average American woman weighs 140 pounds and stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall, according to WomensHealth.gov, a website published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Adding Insult To Injury

Adolescence is a period of swift and intense emotional and physical changes. Teens who are busy creating and defining what they consider to be the ideal body may be easily swayed by social messages about vastly unattainable cultural norms. Picture perfect models carry those messages to already insecure and vulnerable teens, points out the National Association of Social Workers.

Potential Dangers

Beauty standards, such as being pencil thin, can go against healthy practices. For instance, teen girls who go on a crash diet to fit into size 2 jeans -- just like the models they see in magazines and on the runway -- may end up weighing far less than what is healthy. Underweight teens run the risk of stunted growth and development, frail bones and a weakened immune system, explains the American Academy of Family Physicians. Some teens spend an excessive amount of time exercising in a quest to be thin. Too much vigorous physical activity can lead to knee trauma, shin splints, pulled muscles and similar problems. Teen boys may strive to get buff by lifting weights or possibly taking potentially risky anabolic steroids to build muscle mass and strength. Taken in large doses, steroids can lead to infertility, impotence and other physical or psychological problems.

Considerations

Females seem to be the primary demographic targeted by the media. As such, teen girls are more likely to be unhappy with their bodies due to the bombardment of ideal female body images. Nevertheless, handsome muscular male models can place pressure on teen boys as well. Parents should encourage their teens to admire and appreciate a body that is healthy, not picture perfect. Remind your teen that models and advertisements sell fantasy, not reality, points out KidsHealth.org, a website published by the Nemours Foundation.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images