What if I told you an obscene amount of girls between the ages of three and sixteen are being abused against their will and that:

  • The victims are unwilling and passive?
  • The targets of the abuse are the bodies of the victims?

What if I told you the collateral damage of the abuse includes:

  • Increased feelings of self-hatred and damaged self esteem?
  • Development of guilt feelings and self-blame?
  • Development of maladaptive behaviors in order to cope with the abuse (e.g., restrictive or binge eating)?
  • Disassociation from the body?

What if I told you that frequently, adults stand by and do not intervene?

Most of you would be fairly certain that I was talking about sexual abuse.  And you wouldn’t be completely incorrect. When a girl is sexually abused, she is an unwilling victim who paradoxically feels guilty and blames herself.

Because the abuse is focused on her body, she develops ways to disassociate from her body and distance others from her body. And, unfortunately, all too often the abuse is not noticed and/or perpetuated by adults around her.

But there is another form of abuse directed towards girls and their bodies.

Size-u-al Abuse.

From the time girls are old enough to watch television, they are told via cartoons, TV shows, movies, and commercials that they need to look a certain way in order to be pretty, popular and loved.

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They have no choice but to absorb these messages. They are too young to choose the media messages they want to be exposed to and once they are old enough to know what is going on, there are few opposing views available. By the time a girl is in her teens, her belief system has been powerfully molded by the verbal and visually powerful message: that in order to fit in she needs to conform to a very narrow definition of what makes a female beautiful.

Let’s forget for a moment the disproportionate emphasis on the importance of appearance as a measure of success in the world. (That alone is inexcusable… it’s 2011 for cryin’ out loud!)

But given the sad reality that physical looks are the primary asset of a girl’s success… to then establish unattainable criteria for beauty is doubly reprehensible. The end result is a multitude of girls and women suffering from body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and low self-esteem.

Even girls and women that are able to fight back and resist the size-u-al discrimination and abuse, often have to spend enormous amounts of energy to convince others that she is not just over-compensating for how she REALLY feels about her herself. Holding the course of self-acceptance when you are not “perfect” requires constant vigilance, strength and determination. 

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The bottom line is that size-u-al abuse, while not officially named in our culture, is prevalent and frequently unchallenged. The outcome is not pretty. The loss to our society is downright ugly. And for a society that is so obsessed with appearance, you would think that the unattractiveness of the situation would motivate cultural changes that are not merely superficial.

The beauty of the situation? It is NOT too late to get to work on changing the cultural norms and assumptions that discriminate against anyone that doesn’t fit into the popular cultural parameters of beauty and health.


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