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Monday, January 13, 2014

Adolescent Girls Seeking Self-Esteem: Sexualization Extremes

Adolescence is a particularly awkward stage, and today’s adolescents face new pressures as a result of advances in technology and easier access to the media.  With a decrease in protective factors including a demise in family and community relationships and an increase in risk factors including the media barrage, advent of cyber bulling, and easy access to cigarettes, drugs, and weapons, contemporary society is becoming an increasingly more dangerous place for adolescents

(LeCroy & Daley. Empowering Adolescent Girls. 2001) 

Varying levels of self-esteem are to influenced by such factors as gender, ethnicity, and social class. Self-esteem can also vary within an individual—an adolescent may have different levels of self-esteem in different domains such as social, scholastics, athletics, appearance, and general conduct and actions.

There are times when teenagers can be considered their own worst critics. According to Carol Normandi, an author on teen self-esteem, teenagers have a tendency of always thinking negatively about themselves. Most of the time, they seem to not be satisfied with who they are.

(Carol Normandi. “Teens and Self-Esteem."Chronicle of Higher Education. June 10, 2005)

Some, not all, adolescents, experience serious problems with self-esteem. Adolescents with low self-esteem are more likely to do poorly in school, to become pregnant, or to impregnate a partner. But it is important to keep in mind that the causal direction is unclear; that is, researchers are not sure if having low self-esteem causes youth to engage in problem behaviors or the other way around. Gang members, for example, report higher than average self-esteem.

And from my experience and understanding, teenage girls struggle so much with all the pressures of becoming a young adult that many develop a terribly negative self-esteem, or they prefer to project an image of themselves that is more fashioned by outside influences than by understood positive character traits.

Low self-esteem for teen girls is a thinking disorder in which they may view themselves as inadequate, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent. Once formed, this negative view permeates every thought, producing faulty assumptions and ongoing self-defeating behaviors.

Information on teen girls with low self-esteem, which was released by Dove,, the Self-Esteem Institute, and the NY Times, confirms the following:
  1. 61% admit to talking badly about themselves (compared to 15% of girls with high self-esteem).
  2. More than one-third (34%) believe that they are not a good enough daughter (compared to 9% of girls with high self-esteem).
  3. One of the main factors in teen promiscuity is self-esteem. When a teen has little or no self-confidence, he or she will use sex as a means to build confidence.

Important Research Findings

* Adolescents who do not develop positive peer relationship are at a greater risk for developing problems such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression.

Simmons, R., Conger, R., & Wu, C. (1992).  Peer group as amplifier/moderator of the stability of adolescent antisocial behavior. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Washington, DC.

* A negative body image is positively correlated with low self-esteem and depression.

Lifespan (2006, June 6). Negative Body Image Related To Depression, Anxiety And Suicidality. ScienceDaily.

* Teens that have friends also have increased self-esteem, emotional support, and guidance. 69% of girls in parent-adolescent surveys commented that they “very much” wanted help learning how to make friends.

Stromme, M.P., & Stromme, A.I. (1993).  Five cries of parents.  New York: HarperCollins.

* Self-esteem assessed for girls between the ages of 8-9 reveal that 60% of girls report positive feelings, compared to 67% of boys.

LeCroy, C.W.,  & Daley, M.W.  (2001).  Empowering Adolescent Girls: Examining the present and building skills for the future with the go grrrls program.  New York: Norton Publishers.

* Teens between the ages of 16-17 indicated that only 29% of girls felt positive feelings about themselves compared to 46% of boys.
Rosner, B.A., & Rierdan, J. (1994).  Adolescent girls’ self-esteem: Variations in developmental trajectories.  Paper presented at the Society for Research on Adolescence, San Diego, CA.

* 80% of high school girls reported that they were above the weight of which they would be happiest.

Fisher, M., Schneider, C., & Napolitano, B.  (1991).  Eating attitudes, health-risk behaviors, self-esteem, and anxiety among adolescent females in a suburban high school.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 12, 377-384.

* Early adolescent girls are already aware of the concept of dieting. 78% of teenage women (13-19 years old) are dissatisfied with their weight.

Eisele, L., Hertsgaard, D., & Light, H. (1986).  Factor related to eating disorders in young adolescent girls.  Adolescence, 21, 283-290. 

What Teenage Girls Want -- Keys to Self-esteem

Research suggests that girls may be more emotionally invested in popularity with their peers. Boys seem to be less concerned about being viewed negatively by their peers. Those with low self-esteem are more troubled by failure and tend to exaggerate events as being negative. For example, they often interpret non critical comments as critical. They are more likely to experience social anxiety and low levels of interpersonal confidence. This, in turn, makes social interaction with others difficult as they feel awkward, shy, conspicuous, and unable to adequately express themselves when interacting with others.

Rosenberg, M., & Owens, T.J. (2001). Low self-esteem people: A collective portrait. In T.J. Owens. S. Stryker, & N. Goodmanm (Eds.), Extending self-esteem theory and research (pp. 400-436). New York: Cambridge University Press.

As would be expected, teen girls with more resources usually possess a higher self-esteem. Higher socio-economic status youth have greater resources. For example, higher socio-economic status students generally attend higher quality schools, and/or perform better in school. Also, if higher socio-economic status youth have individual difficulties or special needs in school, their parents more often have the resources to assist. So, resources can both augment individual skills and alleviate difficulties that would otherwise reduce self-esteem.

Flinders University research (2013) involving more than 1000 high school-aged girls found teenage conversations about appearance were ''intensified'' on social media, and more influential because they involved peers.

Time spent on social network sites was related to lower self-esteem, body-esteem, sense of identity and higher depression,” researcher Amy Slater said. Young girls seeking affirmation via social media were “setting themselves up for negative mental health outcomes,” social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist said.

“They feel they have to be on display. We live in a culture that rewards exhibitionism (and) everyone is judged on their physical appearance,” Reist said. 

A Report of the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on The Sexualization of Girls, issued February l9, 2007, points out the connection between eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression with the sexualization of girls.The APA Task Force was formed in response to reports by journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents and psychologists. 

The Report concludes that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development. Sexualization is defined as "occurring when a person's value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use." 

The report states that examples of sexualization are found in all forms of media, and as "new media" have been created and access to media has become omnipresent examples have increased. 

American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2010). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from

Click here for the full APA report:

"Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have 
a depressing impact on attitudes and behavior."

--Pope Benedict XVI

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