The National Eating Disorder Association states that “People with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.” So what should an adolescent girl and her family do to keep her from becoming bulimic or anorexic if she has a negative body image because she’s overweight and depressed with low self-esteem?
Observe this scenario of another fictitious young-adolescent girl called Kathy. Today Kathy is going for her annual physical with her Mom. Her pediatrician, Dr. Betty, notices that Kathy has become overweight and seems sullen, not the same girl she saw a year ago. Dr Betty, a woman who keeps up with the latest journals and issues concerning adolescents, knows that this is a difficult, even crucial time in a young girl’s life.
Dr Betty explains to Kathy that her weight is unhealthy and points out some of the problems this could cause her now and later in life: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and joint problems. But Kathy just says, “I feel fine.” Dr. Betty asks, “Kathy is there anything bothering you?” Kathy, with her eyes diverted to the floor, just shakes her head no. The doctor understands that Kathy’s uncomfortable talking about her feelings in front of her mom so she makes an appointment for Kathy to talk to a social worker whose specialty is adolescence. Dr Betty recommends that Kathy be allowed to speak to the social worker alone. Her mother agrees. She knows Kathy is unhappy but hasn’t been able to help her.
In fact, The National Association of Social Workers state in a journal on adolescent health that “Body image and related self-concept emerge as significant factors associated with health and well-being during this developmental phase, as youths begin to focus more on their physical appearance.” So after Kathy’s first appointment, her social worker concludes that Kathy is slightly depressed and has self-esteem issues because of her weight. She suspects that Kathy, like so many other adolescents, may become bulimic or anorexic because of peer pressures to be thin.
Furthermore, reporter Sally Squires of the Washington Post investigated peer pressure among girls in an article entitled, “Peer Pressure Can Carry Great Weight in Girls' Eating and Exercise Habits.” Squire quotes Eleanor Mackey, a psychologist from Children’s National Medical Center, whose study found that “Teen girls' concerns about their own weight, about how they appear to others and their perceptions that their peers want them to be thin are significantly related to weight-control behavior."
However, even though Kathy’s social worker is well aware of peer pressures for girls to be thin, she recommends not a diet or antidepressants but singing.