The New York City Department of Health has just launched a new public health campaign called the NYC Girls Project, with the goal of sending the message to young girls that they are beautiful the way they are. With the prevalence of obesity in our society, as well as the constant flood of media promoting a stick-thin ideal to young girls, girls are getting mixed messages, putting them in danger of developing unhealthy habits such as drinking, acting out sexually, suicide, bullying, and eating disorders. The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing provides some numbers: 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat and girls self-esteem drops at age 12 and does not start to go back up until age 20.
The campaign, which according to officials is the first to target female body image in a large city, mainly consists of a series of bus and subway ads with positive messages aimed at girls ages seven to twelve. The program also includes physical fitness classes, an after-school program discussing self-esteem issues at 75 schools and a Twitter campaign under the hashtag ImAGirl. Partners include The Paley Center for Media and the Spark Movement, which have developed programs specifically looking at media representation of girls.
According to Christopher Ochner, a researcher of obesity, eating disorders and nutrition at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in Manhattan said, The ads could be effective, because they offered a more realistic picture than the media s portrayal of ideal beauty, which is still this stick-thin, crazy-thin standard. Average girls look at fashion models and say, If I m not like that, then nobody s going to need me or love me.
ACSH s Ariel Savransky says, With the growing prevalence of eating disorders among young girls and negative thoughts about body image, this campaign has the potential to result in positive and hopefully long-lasting change. The holistic approach, incorporating physical activity as well as an educational curriculum, makes this program more likely to be successful in creating positive body image according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Ultimately, this program may provide the building blocks to help girls to develop healthy habits throughout their lives.