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Helping Young Girls Build Positive Body Image

By Jazzercise, Inc.

(CARLSBAD, CA) -- Body image has taken on an alarming importance in girls of increasingly younger age. The tendency to judge one’s worth by outer appearance is beginning as young as age 8 and is fueled by an unprecedented access to media images that reflect a certain, often unrealistic, ideal.

Unfortunately, girls are focusing on weight, diet and clothing size before they even complete puberty. When you consider that girls gain an average of 40 pounds between the ages of 8 and 14, an over zealous awareness of weight may set the stage for an emotionally difficult time.

To complicate matters, one expert believes that attractive young women are even more vulnerable to the dark side of body image issues, particularly eating disorders. "Perhaps the connection stems partly from the fact that pretty little girls are often told they’re pretty, while less-pretty girls are praised for their abilities," notes Psychologist Caroline Davis, Ph.D., a professor of health psychology at York University in Toronto. Davis has done several studies that show a link between attractiveness and eating disorders.

One innovative program designed to combat this trend has been launched by the Harvard Eating Disorders Center in Boston. The eight-week program, developed by Harvard’s Catherine Steiner-Adair and Lisa Sjostrom, targets preadolescent girls with the goal of exacting positive changes in body image.

One of the strategies is to ask young girls what women they admire, with one restriction: no models or celebrities. Inevitably, they discover that they appreciate traits totally unrelated to appearance, such as personality and strength of character.

What can adults do to help young women develop positive body images and a strong sense of self worth? Judi Sheppard Missett, founder and CEO of Jazzercise, offers the following:

Praise efforts and accomplishments that have nothing to do with appearance. For example, the tenacity with which they approached learning a sport or studying for an exam. Or, the way they helped a friend or family member with a task or project. Recognize other talents - artistic, domestic, and athletic; you get the idea.

Don’t obsess about weight or appearance yourself. Children model the behaviors and attitudes of the adults around them: parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc. If a conversation is narrowing in on weight or clothing size, steer it toward healthy eating habits and the importance of regular physical activity instead. Make the emphasis overall health rather than appearance.

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Help the young women in your life develop a positive inner voice. Women tend to be overly critical of themselves, according to Susan Nolen-Heksema, Ph.D., a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Teach them how to constructively assess themselves and their efforts without being destructive. The tone should be "Here’s what I did right, but here’s how can I do better" rather than "I totally blew it; I never do anything right."

Exercise is a great way to boost body image and self-esteem, especially when the focus is on the amazing things your body can do and how great it makes you feel! The following exercise uses a resistance ball to improve posture.
Begin by sitting on the ball in your normal posture. Just try to steady yourself and get familiar with the feeling of sitting on the unstable surface. Next, sit up on your "sit bones" and lengthen your spine, visualizing it stretching tall. Relax your shoulders down and back, and lift your head high without tilting your chin upward or jutting it forward. Think of hanging from a string that is attached to the top of your head, almost like a marionette puppet. Have a friend check to see if you are properly aligned, with your head level, and ears, shoulders, and hipbones all in a vertical line. Now try to maintain this alignment as you move slightly in various directions on the ball: forward, side-to-side, etc. Jazzercise, created by Judi Sheppard Missett, is the world's leading dance-fitness program with more than 5,000 instructors teaching 19,000 classes weekly in the U.S. and around the globe. Since 1969, millions of people of all ages and fitness levels have reaped the benefits of this comprehensive program designed to enhance cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility.

© Jazzercise, Inc.
Jazzercise is the world's largest fitness program with 5,000+ instructors teaching more than 19,000 classes weekly to 450,000 students in 38 countries around the globe. For more information or worldwide class locations, go to or call 1(800)FIT-IS-IT - Courtesy of Jazzercise, Inc. -


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