Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched his NYC Girl’s Project, abandoning his role as the soda crusader to take on a more relevant cause — instilling body confidence in young women. The project targets 7 to 12-year-old girls — a key demographic that is developing habits they will have for the rest of their lives. The campaign’s intention is to inspire positive body image and high self-esteem in girls through a series of ads promoting internal beauty and diversity, as well as after-school programs that include physical fitness classes and self-esteem workshops. Bloomberg’s campaign could not come at a more crucial time, as more and more young girls are facing an intense body image crisis caused by the unattainable standards of beauty set forth by mainstream media.
The media is confidence kryptonite. Its lack of average, healthy proportioned women causes a discrepancy about what true beauty is. A woman’s beauty is seemingly synonymous with a fictional body uncannily similar to that of a Barbie Doll — an impossibly small waist, long legs and toned arms. Although only five percent of women actually possess this body type, the media has made these unrealistic measurements that of the so-called average body. The NYC Girls Project revealed that 48 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 wished they were as skinny as the models they see, and 31 percent starved themselves to create similar bodies.
The 31 percent of girls who have adopted unhealthy to dangerous eating habits is one of the main reasons Bloomberg’s campaign is imperative. There are currently 24 million people suffering from an eating disorder in the United States, and many of those eating disorders stem from body image issues in young girls. A quarter of young girls who diet see themselves develop some form of an eating disorder.
There are many other risks associated with negative body image. Teenage girls with body issues are more likely to take up smoking to lose weight, twice as likely to report alcohol abuse and have a high risk of teenage motherhood.
Encouraging body confidence during this period lays the foundation to build a healthier future. Bloomberg’s campaign promotes beauty based on personal happiness rather than appearance. The campaign encourages girls to feel beautiful when they’re scoring a goal on the soccer field instead of when they have dieted to the point that they have a thigh gap equivalent to Miranda Kerr’s. More campaigns like Bloomberg’s are necessary. Beauty can no longer be in the eye of the beholder if the beholder cannot see what is beautiful.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 9 print edition. Lena Rawley is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]