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Our award-winning Kid's Health Magazine is designed to provide healthful information for your growing child. Please Note: Kid's Health Magazine is no longer being printed. Please visit our blog at http://www.choc.org/blog for the latest articles about your child's health from the experts at CHOC Children's. You can also receive our electronic Kid's Health newsletter in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list: http://www.choc.org/subscribe

Media Images Get A Reality Check

Adolescents are constantly bombarded with media messages about physical attractiveness, but even the most media-savvy teens may not understand the extent to which those glamorous images have been airbrushed or manipulated by computer technology. Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) has implemented a new community education program to show local teens the reality behind those images. “Our mission is to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children. This includes the physical and emotional health of children, and body image fits right in there,” says CHOC Community Health Educator Tiffany Phillips. “Adolescents who have negative images of their bodies are more prone to depression, obesity, anorexia, suicide and violence. So far, our presentations have been aimed at girls, but boys and even some adults also need to hear these important messages. I’ve had moms come up to me after a program and say, ‘I needed to hear that, too.’” Not that long ago, Phillips was a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers. At games and on the publicity circuit, she projected a carefully constructed image of perfect physical beauty. But as she looked into the envious faces of young girls watching her, Phillips grew increasingly concerned about the image she was projecting. She knew what it took in terms of effort and makeup to achieve her “Laker Girl” look, but the girls in the audience didn’t. Phillips wondered if these girls realized they were unfairly comparing themselves to something that wasn’t quite real. These days, Phillips visits local schools to discuss the media’s impact on body image with adolescent girls and their mothers. She’s trying to help them understand those seemingly perfect images they see in the movies, television, music videos, magazines, billboards and on the Internet are not necessarily real. Her “Laker Girl” experience establishes immediate credibility and rapport with her young audiences, and Phillips has the credentials to back it up. She has received specialized training from the New Mexico Media Literacy Project to help children and adolescents develop the critical thinking skills necessary to discern the real meaning behind messages they receive from the media. Knowing that a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words, Phillips uses visuals to show her young audiences the literal truth behind the images they see. “Before” and “after” photos of famous actresses and models illustrate the creative powers of airbrushing and sophisticated computer technology to manipulate images. “The images the media puts out are unrealistic and unachievable,” Phillips says. “I want young girls to understand that models do not wake up in the morning looking that way.” Help Your Daughter Create Her Own Sense of Beauty “One of the most important messages I try to get across to young girls is that they are never going to fit everyone’s idea of beautiful because everyone has different ideas about what beauty is,” Phillips says. “No matter what they do, there will always be someone who doesn’t think they are beautiful, so I encourage them to develop their own idea of what beauty is to them.” And there is a lot parents can do to help their daughters develop appreciation for their own unique differences. Children start developing a sense of body image at around age 5, Phillips says. She encourages parents to model a healthy body image by making positive comments about themselves. Frequent self-critical comments about perceived physical flaws, may inadvertently pass along negative messages. “Sure, it’s okay to wish your hair were a different color or that you were taller, but for every negative comment you make about your body, also make a positive one and encourage your children to do the same for themselves,” Phillips says. Another way to help boost a child’s positive self-image is to praise other values instead of just those related to physical appearance. Commend a child for academic or sports achievements, honesty, perseverance, compassion and altruism. Don’t value physical attractiveness to the extent that other parts of the child’s character are overlooked. Phillips likes the message she’s sending to young girls these days. She can tell they feel better about themselves after her presentations than they did when they first walked through the door. “It is rewarding for me to make a difference in a child’s life, but the real test is whether this change will continue later on at home,” she says. “Parents are the ones who can reinforce all of the things I have told them and make the real difference.” For more information or to schedule a presentation about body image with CHOC Community Educator Tiffany Phillips, please contact CHOC Community Health Education at (714) 532-8887. For more information and resources to help your child develop media literacy skills, visit the New Mexico Media Literacy Project online at www.nmmlp.org.

Related Links:
New Mexico Media Literacy Project

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Children's Hospital of Orange County is affiliated with UC Irvine Healthcare and UC Irvine School of Medicine

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