Parenting Help, Youth Culture Window

When Girls Don’t Like Themselves

According to Dove’s recent study on self-esteem amongst girls aged 8-17, seven out of ten felt as though they didn’t “measure up” in one way or another. This is bad news, but how they’re coping with it is far worse.

Sad GirlAt some level, most youth workers and parents realize it’s tough to be a teenage girl these days. The world expects them to make good grades in the classroom and play just as hard on the field as guys do…all while looking beautiful, or better yet, sexy.

Unfortunately, teenage girls are compared to the artificial perfection of magazine covers and movie reels. The unfair comparison was so bad, in fact, that a couple of years ago, Dovereleased the Evolution Video, a video that went viral on YouTube, showing the stiff reality young girls face. In it, we see the hours of grooming and computer enhancements that a female model went through for a single billboard advertisement.

But what happens if girls compare themselves to the billboard?

Teenage girls with low self-esteem are more likely to take action to change the way they feel about themselves, even if it’s risky, expensive, and ultimately doesn’t work.

Plan A: Plastic Surgery
For teenagers with low self-esteem…and affluent parents…cosmetic and plastic surgery is embraced as a possible solution to the problem. The most recent statistics from The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reveal that the number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on teenagers 18 or younger more than tripled in less than a decade! In 1997, roughly 60,000 minors received cosmetic surgery; in 2004, more than 205,000 went under the knife…just to look “normal.”

But looking normal has its price. Aside from the thousands of dollars even the simplest of cosmetic surgeries cost, there is the outside chance that a patient may die as a result of complications related to the procedure. Stephanie was one of those girls.

Assuming teens can afford the surgery – and survive it – does it actually solve the problem of low self-esteem? In this NY Times article, cosmetic surgeon Richard D’Amico says no. “You don’t get self-esteem from a scalpel.”

Time for Plan B.

Plan B: Alcohol
More and more teenage girls are trying to drink their self-esteem problems away. We know that roughly 11% of all the alcohol that is drank in America is consumed by a teenager, but recent studiesby Columbia University debunk the myth that teenage guys drink more than teenage girls. At the heart of the increase is, you guessed it, low self-esteem. So now it’s the girls who are drinking the guys under the table.

Alcohol costs far less than plastic surgery in dollars, but its effects can be just as pricey. Underage drinking not only worsens the already unsafe driving record of teenagers, but it also leads to riskyteen sex practices, making STD’s and/or pregnancy more likely. Getting pregnant is the last thing a teenage girl who “feels fat” needs, but too often, these kinds of opposite realities are exactly what girls get.

A Better Plan
Twice in Proverbs, 14:12 & 16:25, Solomon writes, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death.” Sadly, the ways our girls are dealing with low self-esteem not only don’t solve the problem, but sometimes make it worse. Parents and youth workers need to offer teen girls a better plan for dealing with low self-esteem.

One of the most effective strategies I’ve found to boost self-esteem is providing opportunities to serve. When we put young people in situations where they help others who are worse off than themselves, it is not only a great opportunity to show love and compassion to the needy, it provides these young people with a larger world view than the “plastic” exterior they see in the media and the shallow world around them. When students spend a weekend feeding the homeless or spending time with the elderly in a convalescent home, all of a sudden, their own perceived inadequacies are minimized. This is nothing to do with works. We are saved by grace, through faith. But as God begins to renew our mind and change us, we no longer looks to temporary fulfillment from this world (including looks, status, stuff) … instead we look to God for fulfillment

Seize opportunities to help kids be used by God.

Create these opportunities.

As we spend time with our kids, we should teach what “self-esteem” truly means and what it doesn’t mean. Our girls don’t need to try to measure up to an impossible standard that the world has created. We need to remind our girls that God doesn’t care about outward appearance- he cares about the heart (I Sam. 16:7). Students need to be careful who they are listening to, what they are watching, and ultimately, what they believe. And it’s up to us to help them do that.

In addition, we must help them understand that everybody has problems; it is how we deal with them that makes or breaks us. Low self-esteem is a reality for far too many girls, but they need to be lovingly reminded that everybody faces problems in life. If teenagers learn to handle their problems responsibly, they will soon see that their quality of life drastically improves. If they don’t, they can make matters worse. Self-destruction will never be the solution for low self-esteem.

We must take our girls’ self-esteem seriously, whether it’s low or high, because it’s so fragile either way. It’s so much easier to prevent the problems caused by low self-esteem than to correct them. has free resources that will help parents and youth workers address self-esteem in a realistic way.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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