INDIANAPOLIS — The Wall Street Journal reported seeing an internal Instagram presentation, from March 2020, which stated when 32% of teenage girls “felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
At times social media is a great resource to stay connected and even learn a thing or two, but on the other hand, it can serve as a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to the mental health of teenagers.
Teens like Gracie Cromer certainly, know the pros and cons of social media.
“Like, people can judge you on what you do and how you look,” Cromer said.
Gracie’s mom, Kara Pickering, said she sees the influence of social media.
“If she’ll post something, I’ll notice that she’ll get really fixated on like how many people look at it or whatever and then that gives me an opportunity where I’m like, ‘OK, that’s great that you’re excited and that you want more people to see this, I get that. But what you feel and who you are is not determined by how many people view that,’” Pickering said.
So, shifting her daughter’s focus from likes to character building is part of the reason why Kara takes her daughter in Girls Inc. in Johnson County.
Girls Inc. CEO Sonya Ware-Meguiar tells WRTV they have mentors and a curriculum for girls to learn how to focus on internal qualities, instead of external qualities.
“Research shows us that girls at age nine, their self-esteem plummets. And everything that they do really starts tying back to physical attributes or how they feel about themselves based on how they look,” Ware-Meguiar said. “So, we want to look at girls positively. Her skills and talents and her temperament and personality and characteristics that make her ‘her.’”
Girls Inc. has a research-based curriculum, and one of them is on media literacy that challenges girls to think about what they’re seeing. However, for those who can’t make it to Johnson County, Kate Huffman speaks from experience on her virtual course.
Huffman said she was, “born and raised Indianapolis girl,” and she said her ties to the Hoosier state make her especially passionate about changing the lives of Indiana teens.
“By the time I was 14 on, I’ve had various bouts of anorexia and etc.,” Huffman said.
She said she sees the impacts of unrealistic body image standards on social media, all the time. Huffman said it’s harmful because, “you don’t question what you see over and over and over again, as anything other than normal.”
When it’s not normal to be un-healthily thin, Huffman said it can raise issues like anxiety, depression, self-identity and body image.
Now Huffman has created a nine-week body image program she’s developed with tools for others to help combat that by rewiring their brain.
She said, “one of the biggest thought work tools I give people, any mean thought you have about yourself if you just catch it and ask would I say that to someone else?”
This program is about more than just challenging and changing than self-talk.
Her adult client, Katie Brooks said Kate taught her to focus on the functions her body serves, instead of how it looks.
“I’m not perfect, I’m not 100% there, but I’m able to replace a lot of the thoughts that tore myself down and I can replace them with not only acceptance, but a lot of appreciation,” Brooks said.
Whether an adult or a teen, it’s a matter of cultivating a positive body image early and often.
"Girls that participate in Girls Inc. 77% of those girls are happy with their bodies, from when we look at that research, compared only 48% of girls nationally,” Ware-Meguiar said.
For Cromer, it’s learning the message ‘everything about her matters,’ and she’s perfectly crafted to be who she is.
To dive deeper into this story, WRTV has information on both programs to promote positive body image here.
We know body image concerns affect everyone no matter the age or gender. So, Huffman suggests following hashtags that focus on body positivity, question diet culture and fat phobia.
So here are some signs your child may have a negative body image.
Number one, the child views themselves only in terms of their appearance. Number two, your daughter, or son diets too much. Sign number three, your child often comments about the weight of others. Finally, sign number four is your child seems to have depression or low self-esteem.