Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Counseling Adolescent Girls for Body Image Resilience: Strategies for School Counselors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Counseling Adolescent Girls for Body Image Resilience: Strategies for School Counselors

Article excerpt

Because body image dissatisfaction is such a pervasive problem in adolescent girls, school counselors need to develop effective prevention programs in this area. In this article, a model to promote girls" body image resilience is presented. The model identifies five protective factors that contribute to girls" abilities to resist sociocultural pressures regarding thinness. Specific prevention and counseling strategies that school counselors can use to promote positive body image in adolescent girls are provided.

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Early adolescence presents extensive developmental challenges for girls. As they face the onset of puberty and its associated psychological and physical changes, gifts also confront the emergence of dating relationships, school transitions, and contradictory gender role expectations. During early adolescence girls also become more focused on their appearance, weight, and shape as key aspects of their identities. With the considerable weight gains that accompany puberty, girls become concerned about the discrepancy between their developing bodies and the societal ideal for female thinness that is portrayed in Western cultures (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). In other words, at a time when a girl's physical appearance is most important to her, her body is changing in ways that are increasingly discrepant from the thin ideal. These influences leave many girls vulnerable to body image dissatisfaction (BID) and eating-related problems (Levine & Smolak, 2002; Thompson et al.).

According to Levine and Smolak (2002), between 40% and 70% of adolescent girls are dissatisfied with two or more aspects of their bodies, most generally with the hips, buttocks, stomach, and thighs. One study found that over 80% of girls surveyed reported body dissatisfaction (Kostanski & Gullone, 1998), while another large-scale study revealed that 42% to 45% of 9th-to-12th-grade girls were dieting to lose weight (Thompson et al., 1999). With such large numbers of girls experiencing dissatisfaction with their bodies, it is important for school counselors to note that BID is associated with emotional distress, obsessive thinking about appearance, unnecessary elective cosmetic surgery, depression, poor self-esteem, smoking onset, and maladaptive eating practices (Stice & Shaw, 2003; Stice & Whitenton, 2002). Further, BID is the primary precursor for the development of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia (Polivy & Herman, 1999; Thompson et al.), particularly during the adolescent period (Kalodner & DeLucia-Waack, 2003).

Because BID is such a pervasive problem in adolescent girls, school counselors need to develop effective prevention and intervention programs in this area. Current research indicates that successful BID prevention incorporates two primary strategies: (a) the enhancement of protective factors; and (b) the inclusion of a broad-based, holistic focus. Rather than a pathology-driven model that emphasizes treatment for the concerns of girls in clinical samples, the most promising programs incorporate protective factors that build on girls' strengths, promote resilience, and buffer them from the development of body dissatisfaction and subsequent disordered eating practices (Cash, 2002; Crago, Shisslak, & Ruble, 2001; Irving, 1999; Piran, Levine, & Steiner-Adair, 1999; Striegel-Moore & Cachelin, 1999, Taylor & Altman, 1997). Promoting protective factors would include assisting all girls as they confront the multiple challenges of adolescence and also help them to define their identity and sense of worth apart from physical appearance (American Psychological Association, 1999). Researchers in this area have also called for holistic approaches that are focused on multiple dimensions of an individual's environment. Instead of an exclusive view of body image problems and eating disturbances as disorders that originate within an individual adolescent girl, programs should also target family, peers, schools, media, and other sociocultural influences (Barker & Galambos, 2003; Crago et al. …

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