Dr. Robyn On Radio June 15th: Discussing Body Image

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Hi everyone!

Join me via the web or on the radio in Harrisburg, PA, for an hour long discussion on body image.  I’ll be on the radio show “Smart Talk” on the station WITF, an affiliate of NPR.

Host Craig Cohen will lead the discussion on Body Image. From the shows and ads on TV, to the models in newspapers and magazines, to storefront windows, to…well…anywhere you look – images bombard us that tell us what we’re supposed to look like. And many of those images are not only utterly unrealistic, they can do great harm – to adolescents especially – who grow concerned about their body image. Vanity also has led to a booming cosmetic surgery industry. But where’s the line between reasonable, appropriate efforts to look one’s best, and unreasonable, unrealistic efforts to reach some sort of ideal? And what does it say about us that we feel so compelled to always look “better?”

If you’d like to hear the full show at a later date/time, audio will be archived that afternoon at witf.org. Click on the SmartTalk icon and look for Monday’s blog entry on Body Image.

Would love to hear from you!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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Dear Dr. Robyn: I think my child’s depressed

depression teenDr. Robyn Silverman

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’m worried that my daughter is depressed.  She always loved to go to her classes and right now she doesn’t want to do much of anything.  I’ve had her teachers talk to her and she just seems lethargic.  She’s always been one to talk about commitment and other “Powerful Words” like perseverance and goal-setting.  I don’t know what happened. She doesn’t seem happy at all and whenever I ask her about it she tells me she doesn’t know why she’s sad.  What should I do?

–Shawna P, Massachusetts

Dear Shawna,

It might surprise you that the diagnosis of depression has been becoming more frequent among young people. Teen Depression.org states that as many as 1 in 33 children and 1 in 8 teens may have depression. They also are experiencing more and more stress which can lead to feelings of frustration and sadness.

There are two kinds of depression.Depending on what the source of depression is, will help you to determine what to do:

If your child has situational depression, it means that she is sad for a reason. Examples of reasons would be: a fight with her best friend, a bad grade at school, or problems with parents can cause her to feel sad or hurt. These feelings usually go away in minutes, hours, or days.

On the other hand, clinical depression, is when a traumatic event or the chemical makeup of the brain causes prolonged feelings of sadness, worthlessness, irritability, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, or even thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Events that can be a source of depression for your child might be: being a victim of a violent crime or watching one occur, parents divorcing or someone stable in your daughter’s life has left, the death of a family member, or recurring bullying at school.

In other cases, clinical depression seems to have no reason at all—it’s caused by the imbalance of the chemicals that run through your child’s brain. This type of depression is often passed down genetically through families.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent sad or irritable mood
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite or body weight
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

On of the big problems with clinical depression and preteens or teens is that many adults regard the signs of depression as typical mood swings.  After all, many preteens and teens are moody! Parents might regard the signs as a phase and doctors might not want to prematurely label a child who may simply be going through a developmental stage. But parents are important in the fight against depression. You have to listen to your gut– early diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression are very important to healthy social and emotional development as well as to performance in school and friendship relations.

Continue to encourage your child to go out with friends, get exercise, eat a healthy diet, and do all the things she loves– surround her with positive, supportive people like those she loves at her Powerful Words member school.  Of course, many children need much more so…

If you think your child may be suffering from clinical depression, it’s important to get help for her. Clinical depression doesn’t just “go away.” Talk to your child and be honest with your concerns. You can then take her to a doctor so she can get help.  Her doctor can discuss a course of action and a treatment plan that may include therapy and/or medication.

There is no shame in getting help!

Best regards,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs


Diabulimia: Does my friend have Diabulimia?

Ask Dr. Robyn: Does my friend have Diabulimia?  Is Diabulimia a “big deal?”

I received a question from Jennifer in NJ whose friend has Diabetes and is currently losing a lot of weight.  Jennifer is concerned about whether her friend might have Diabulimia and if her behaviors might be causing a real problem.  This video answers, “What is Diabulimia?” and “How do I know if someone might be having a problem with Diabulimia?”

If you or someone you know is having a problem with Diabulimia, please get help.

Please comment below about Diabulimia, your take on the problem, or your stories. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn is Guest Editor for Dove Self Esteem Fund!

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Dr. Robyn Silverman

How do you explain real beauty to a girl?

Joining Dove Self Esteem Embassador, Jessica Weiner and psychologist and author, Ann Kearney Cooke, I am honored to have been asked to be the guest editor for the Dove Self Esteem Fund. Do you know about the great efforts of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty that teaches girls not to get sucked into the media hype about thinness as well as the importance of loving “the skin you’re in?” They do films, workshops, and education for girls, moms and anyone who loves or works with girls.

The question I was asked to answer for preteen and teen girls was: How do you explain real beauty to a girl?

Here’s the full article and bio.

Highlights from the article include:

If you asked me about real beauty, you might be surprised by what I say…when I was 14 years old, there was an enormous billboard in our town center of a woman in an expensive dress looking down on the street through heavily made up eyes.  I thought she was perfect; unblemished, flawless, and yes, a real beauty. As I look back, I realize how wrong I was to think that way…she was digitally modified, primped, preened, puffed up and paired down…what’s really beautiful about someone who doesn’t really exist?

We want girls to realize that real beauty is in their best friend– their mom– and in themselves.  So I included passages such as this one:

Real beauty doesn’t need to be all made up or dressed in fancy clothes. It’s imperfectly perfect. It’s your best friend’s contagious zest for life that you see every time she pretends to pose for glamour shots while wearing a fuzzy bathroom and hippo-patterned pajamas. It’s the two of you singing into a hairbrush and dancing to some ridiculous song on the radio– just because it’s fun. Just because you can. Yes, real beauty is in your best friend…

Read the rest of the article!

What do you think real beauty is all about?  How would you explain it to your daughter, your niece, your student, or other girls you love?

Please comment below– we’d love to hear what you have to say!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

The Weight of School Culture

I’m not sure how many of you know, but I’ve been studying girls, body image, confidence and success for quite a long time.  In fact, a good chunk of my work at Tufts University was on how girls feel they “fit in” to a culture that tends to sensationalize thinness and to reject people the more they deviate from the thin ideal. This cultural issue has a high cost. It isn’t only a problem because it creates a hotbed for eating disordered behavior and poor self worth, but also because it can cultivate social problems such as bullying, social rejection, and academic challenges.

A new study shows that a supportive, respectful peer culture, which makes children feel as though they “fit in” is just as important to a student’s success as high academic expectations.  Specifically, those students who were categorized as clinically “obese” were less likely to go to college than those students who were considered of medically “normal” weight. This finding was much more severe for girls than for boys.

Who did it? Robert Crosnoe, University of Texas, with colleague, Chandra Muller

You can have the best curriculum in the world, and if there’s something messed up in the culture, then you set out to fail…anytime you put 1,000 kids together, you’re creating a culture. (Crosnoe)

Where was it published? July issue of Sociology of Education

Where did the data come from? Crosnoe used data collected on nearly 11,000 teens from 128 schools from around the U.S. as part of the ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest and most comprehensive survey of health-related behavior among teens between 7th and 12th grade, which started in 1994.

What did he find?

Teens who were categorized as “obese” tended to have to cope with more social isolation.

They were less likely to go to college or take advanced math and science classes even though their peers were doing so. (Crosnoe)

Gender Issues

Girls who were considered obese were less likely to attend college than thin girls.

“The more it makes you stand out from the crowd, the worse it is,” says Crosnoe.

  • How do I measure up? Girls are more likely to compare themselves to their female classmates and peers around them than are boys. Because body appearance is more central to girls’ self-concept than to boys’, it’s likely that this gender difference implies that weight has a more powerful effect on the lives of girls and their academic careers.
  • Fitting in and Standing Out: In school cultures in which students were less likely to be considered clinically obese and overweight, 61% of “obese” girls didn’t continue school.  However, in a school in which at least 1/3 of students were indeed considered medically obese, only 17% of “obese” girls did not go on.

“Your school and your culture affects how you view academics and your future.  Social ups and downs are a big distraction…many of the kids said it’s hard to sit and do your homework when you’re worried about what will happen in school the next day.” (Crosnoe)

Beating the Odds: Resilient Kids

  • How did some socially isolated students do well despite their social problems?  Key characteristics: very supportive parents, at least one good friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend, and finding a niche in an extracurricular activity.

Again, it’s underscored: Enrolling your child in a positive extracurricular activity where character, confidence, connection, individual competence, caring and compassion are stressed, such as in an academy that is using Powerful Words Character Development, is more important than ever.  Children who may not be socially thriving in school can still be extremely successful if they receive the support, education, and chance to succeed in an extracurricular activity like martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, dance, cheer, or other powerful after-school opportunity.  Parents who need a recommendation, please contact our team.

How did you fit into your school culture?  How has your child found his or her place within the school culture?  How do you see a powerful extracurricular helping this situation? Please share your “secrets” so we can spread the ideas to all those who can use them!

Please comment below.

Have a Powerful Day!

The High Cost of Beauty: Giving Up Wealth, Health, and Happiness

The High Cost of Beauty: Giving up Wealth, Health, and Happiness

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Friday Musings…

In 7th grade, one of my best friends complained that she needed a nose job. “It’s too big!” I thought she was beautiful. But I’ll never forget what she told me; “Every time I look in the mirror, all I see is this nose. Beautiful people have little noses. Have you ever seen a model with a nose like mine?”

Seventh grade was my real induction into the world of “beauty.” Or shall I say, “manufacturing beauty” from natural beauty. Make-up, hair, tanning, shaving (thank goodness we didn’t know much about waxing during the preteen years), clothes and plastic surgery—it became apparent that scuffed up jeans, a t-shirt, and a little dirt on my face was no longer going to cut it. I had been a bit of a tomboy—having 2 older brothers who I wanted desperately to be like—and a tomboy wasn’t the best thing to be once you entered middle school.

We got a bit ridiculous. We’d put on our mother’s make-up and dress up like Madonna. We actually thought we looked good. We’d spend hours looking in the mirror brushing our teeth, pinching non-existent fat and searching for flaws to complain about. We bought trinkets and bobbles and fluorescent purses (mine was pink).

I remember saving up to buy at least 50 of those rubber bracelets—yes, I realize they were simply car parts and vacuum cleaner components now—but we all wanted them. I even remember my friends and myself slathering ourselves with tanning oil and literally lying down on tin foil to get that “natural glow.” Years later I realized that I could use the same procedure to cook shrimp.

As bad as we were, it’s worse these days. How much do girls and women spend on all those products that promises “more beauty than our creator could ever provide?”

It turns out, probably more than we care to know. The YMCA released a report on the Consequences of America’s Beauty Obsession on Women and Girls to illustrate that we’ve been buying into a “Beauty at Any Cost philosophy.

Economic Costs:

  1. 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedure in 2007
  2. A survey of young people showed that 69% of responders, 18 or older, are in favor of cosmetic surgery.
  3. ¼ of cosmetic surgery was performed on women of color, up 13% from the previous year.
  4. Workers with “below average looks tended to earn about 9% less money than those with “above average” looks

Beauty or brains?

One full year of college tuition and fees at a public instate college is $6,185. Five years of beauty products costs $6,423

Health Costs:

  1. 67% of women (excluding those with bulimia or anorexia) are trying to lose weight
  2. 53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight
  3. 37% of women are concerned about what they’re eating
  4. 13% of women actually smoke in order to lose weight!
  5. Smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer deaths in the US
  6. 40% of newly-diagnosed cases of eating disorders are in girls only 15-19 years old. Symptoms can start as early as kindergarten.
  7. Over ½ of teen girls engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors such as fasting, skipping meals, smoking, and taking laxative

What’s the real cost of all that make-up?

Several ingredients found in US cosmetics have been linked to damage to the liver and reproductive system in animals. Europe has banned these ingredients. The US has not. In fact, in Europe, substances that can be used currently in the US have been called “carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction and should be prohibited from use in cosmetic products.” –European Union Cosmetics Directive, 2003

Happiness Cost

  1. Studies have found that girls who watch TV commercials with underweight models in them lost self confidence and were dissatisfied with their own bodies.
  2. Sexualization of girls have been linked with eating disorders, low self esteem, and depression.
  3. Aggressive bullying between girls has been on the rise since the 1990s.
  4. Relational aggression, a form of bullying, is related to their roles in culture. Women want to be attractive and men want to have attractive partners.

In a study of women, 80% of interviewed participants said that they competed with other women over physical appearance. These women are driven by an unhealthy belief that winning the looks competition will somehow gain them a husband, “the” career, or the self they desire.

So, should we dare to think about it? How much are we paying for beauty? How much are our children—many of whom are going back to school—going to spend on clothes, make-up, hair, weight loss and skin to ensure that they look “their best?” And how is it that we’ve all been fooled to believe that “our best” means slathering ourselves with manufactured, unnatural products that are made in a factory?

So much for telling children and teens to just be themselves.

Please comment below. We’re really interested in what you have to say.

Girls Feel Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says

Girls Feel Anxiety about Pressure to Fast-Track Their Development

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Between the magazine articles telling girls to lose weight, glossies telling her that she’ll never measure up , young celebrities withering away along with their clothes, models getting thinner and thinner, and the massive pressures in school and among friends to look the best, a generation of girls are being affected. Poor body image, poor body esteem, mental health issues, and low self worth abound.

Negative messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner and sexier than ever before. Some, you just have to wonder, are the retailers kidding?

So who could be surprised that girls are showing some wear and tear from today’s sexualized, body-bashing culture? A recent study out of the UK reveals that the pressure to grow up too soon is one the greatest influences on girls’ well being, according to the girls themselves! The pressure to wear clothes that make them look older, entertain sexual advances from boys, lose weight according to the directions in the media, and even consider plastic surgery to “improve looks” were identified as pressures that were particularly damaging.

One participant explained: “When I was eleven I read a teenage magazine for the first time and that is when it kind of clicked, ‘I should be like this.’”

Here’s the scoop:

Who was studied? Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Qualitative (descriptive) information was collected through focus groups consisting of 54 girls, divided by age. Quantitative (the numbers and percents) data were collected through polls online, in which 350 girls participated.

By Whom: Girlguiding UK, the Mental Health Foundation, and leading researchers Opinion Leader.

What was studied? The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualization, commercialization and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behavior at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.

What did they find?

§ Mental Health Issues: Many girls reported that they had direct experience with friends and people who they knew who were suffering from some kind of mental health problem.

o Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed

o One third of the girls have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder

o Half new girls who were suffering from depression

o Almost two in five had friends who had experienced panic attacks.

o Many girls felt strongly that self-harm was within the spectrum of normal teenage behavior – as long as it happened infrequently– and was not necessarily an indication of a mental health issue.

o A sixth of those surveyed often feel angry

o Half admit they find anger hard to manage.

o Around a quarter often worry (28%) and feel like no-one understands them (25%) while around half find both emotions hard to handle.

§ Gotta Have It! Increased pressure to have money for the latest electronics and clothes means pressure for the girls.

o One-in-five girls report feeling anger and sadness

o A quarter of the girls feel worried or bad about themselves.

§ Fodder for Bullies? Girls felt that the growing check-list of “ideals” for young girls was giving bullies additional excuses to single them out – leading to stress, unhappiness and anxiety.

As one girl admitted: “If I get bored then I start becoming really aggressive.”

§ Is my body OK? Media is a major culprit.

o Looking at pictures of models, pop-stars and actresses makes a fifth feel sad, two-fifths feel bad about themselves and 12 per cent feel angry.

o Media stories that portray young people in a bad light make half the girls who took part angry (50 per cent), a quarter worried (23 per cent) and almost two-fifths sad.

· Read the full study: A Generation Under Stress

Study after study is showing that girls are under stress…and duress in their normal, everyday lives. Yet, our culture continues to churn out manufactured, thinned-out celebrities, sexualized play-things, inappropriate clothes, and media to deliver the 1-2 punch.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we provide our girls with positive role models, positive body messages, and positive activities and powerful environments that show them they are so much more than a 2-dimensional object there to be critiqued, criticized, and put-down.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Any ideas with regard to what to do next? Yes, we need these girls to have a pivotal moment when they know they’re worthwhile—but even more than that—we need to promote positive development in these girls from the start so that this problem is markedly reduced in the first place. Otherwise, we are simply averting our eyes…aren’t we? I mean, how bad does it have to get before we pay attention?

Here’s to Making Our Girls Feel and Become Powerful–