Culture of thin puts heavy pressure on girls

Caroline Dayon, 10, practices with the Chicago Spurs Soccer Club recently at Sports City Academy in Woodstock. Dayon is a member of a local Girls On The Run group, which helps promote a positive body image for girls.
Caroline Dayon, 10, practices with the Chicago Spurs Soccer Club recently at Sports City Academy in Woodstock. Dayon is a member of a local Girls On The Run group, which helps promote a positive body image for girls.

By today’s standards, Cindy Crawford and Christie Brinkley would have been plus-sized models in their prime.

That’s the explosive claim made by Plus Model Magazine in a recent issue.

The magazine says that most runway models meet the body mass index for anorexia. Furthermore, 20 years ago the average fashion model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Today, it’s 23 percent less, the magazine claims.

The highly charged editorial came under fire for its statistics, with many journalists calling into question where the magazine got its figures. But at the same time, no one can argue that all too often dangerously thin models grace fashion’s runways and are the status quo in the advertising industry.

That’s a serious concern for Laurie Dayon of Crystal Lake, who heads the local Girls On The Run organization that helps young girls cope with body image issues. At the end of the 10-week program, now in 47 local schools, the girls participate in a confidence-boosting 5K run.

“The media plays a huge part in what our society deems beautiful and acceptable in terms of body image,” said Dayon, executive director of Girls on the Run of Northwest Illinois.

Dayon knows that these issues can start young. And she’s finding that out firsthand as she is raising her fourth-grade daughter, Caroline.

Caroline Dayon is a lot like other 10-year-old girls. Boyfriends are gross, sports are fun, and the other girls can be mean.

The tall girl’s bright blue eyes looked down as she talked about a recent incident at her elementary school. Still dressed in the outfit she wore to her basketball game, her shoulder-length red hair was pulled back with a blue and white headband keeping the shorter strands out of her face.

“At lunch we were playing around and [another student] grabbed my arm and she’s like ‘That’s fat.’ I said ‘No, it’s muscle,’ “ Caroline Dayon said.

But Caroline, who herself went through the Girls On The Run program, had the tools to deal with the bully, and just “ignored her the rest of the day.”

“I think there’s a bit of that mama bear instinct in me,” Laurie Dayon said about the incident. “I first thought, ‘Who does that at this age? Who says that? How is that even in their vocabulary?’ “

When Caroline and her friends get together, it’s mostly for slumber parties and games of tag. But at the girl’s elementary school lunch table, some of the discussions tend to veer toward each other’s weight, and even counting calories.

“It feels bad, kinda,” Caroline admitted, avoiding eye contact as she slurped on a Jamba Juice smoothie. “Usually I just say ‘it’s none of your business.’ “

It’s these alarming attitudes girls are learning young that set a dangerous precedent for them as they mature.

“Fourth-graders talking about caloric intake, that’s a problem,” Laurie Dayon said. “It’s shocking that it’s even a topic of conversation, that they even know what a calorie is.”

Caroline recounts other troubling stories, noting, for example, that she knows a girl from another school who eats things only if they are under 100 calories.

And, “my friend [once said she was fat]. I told her she’s not, and she stopped telling me that.”

Laurie Dayon knows these are real problems facing young girls today. It starts young, she said, and it can’t be blamed only on the media.

“These girls, a lot of their body issues are driven from their parents,” Laurie Dayon said. “They hear mom say ‘I’m fat,’ or ‘these jeans don’t fit.’ So many people say that, but they need to remember that someone else’s ears are in the room.”

On the other side of the body image scale are those who are morbidly obese. Dr. Leslie McClellan is a general surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Woodstock. Her most common surgeries are for weight loss.

Oftentimes, these weight-loss surgery patients will maintain a higher weight because they can’t see themselves in a thinner body, McClellan said.

“One surprising thing that I’ve found with these patients, is many of them pretty much stay at a higher overall weight because they’ve been obese most of their lives. In terms of body image, they can’t see themselves as being so thin,” she said. “They almost don’t want to be that thin because they can’t see each other that thin.”

That’s why it’s even more important that doctors stress total wellness before and after such surgery.

“Sometimes, once the post-operative patient is down to their ideal body weight, they have difficulty adjusting to their new body image,” McClellan said. “They’re shunned by our society when they’re obese, and when they get down to their ideal body weight, then they’re noticed. And sometimes that can be an issue [for the patient] in and of itself.

“Its a true commentary on what our society deems as beautiful, unfortunately.”

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