Girls should ignore popular images of feminine beauty and create their own idea for what women should consider beautiful, speakers at a Girl Scout summit said Saturday.
“Girl Summit Live Healthy/Lead Healthy,” hosted by the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida, covered a range of topics, including the role of social media, movies and reality TV on society’s perceptions of beauty, sexualization of women in the media, and lifestyles and role models that promote emotional well being.
“Each day, girls are bombarded with media images that endorse negative messages that affect girls’ self esteem,” said Irela Bague, chairwoman of the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida. “Girl Scouts seek to expand girls’ positive media images.”
Nearly 300 people attended the summit, held on Jungle Island in Miami, among them Florida Girl Scouts and their parents, community members and representatives from each of the seven Girl Scout Councils of Florida.
Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, and 2008 Miss America Kirsten Haglund were the featured speakers at the event. A panel of 11 women experts held the discussion.
“I want you to take pride in yourself and believe in yourself. Make yourself strong inside because that will make a big difference in your life,” Shalala told the audience of scouts and moms.
Shalala has more than 30 years of experience as an accomplished scholar, teacher and administrator. She served eight years as the U.S. secretary of health and human services, as well and three years in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
She told the girls in the audience to ignore negative TV images and instead try to develop a healthy and realistic perception of beauty.
According to the Girl Scout Research Institute, 90 percent of girls say the fashion industry and the media place a lot of pressure on them to be thin, and 46 percent of girls report significant distress about their body size and shape.
“The media that girls are consuming contain strong messages that girls’ worth is tied to their appearance,” said Yvonne McCormack-Lyons, one of the panelists at the event and president of the Women’s International Film and Arts Festival, which develops arts and film programs that empower women and girls.
Haglund closed the presentation with a speech about her personal struggle with an eating disorder. Having lived seven years with anorexia, she nearly died in the pursuit of thinness.
“I want to tell you right now that your body is not something you can mistreat because we only get one,” she said. “I can tell you from experience that being super thin only leads to unhappiness, malnutrition and eventually death.”
Today, Haglund is an advocate for increased awareness of eating disorders as a public health priority. She has served as the Goodwill Ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, and has lobbied for the Eating Disorders Coalition. Two years ago, she launched the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, whose mission is to provide treatment scholarships that assist families and individuals battling eating disorders.
“I want us to all leave here today with a power within ourselves to change the way that we let those images affect us. You can choose the standard of beauty that you want to have be culturally accepted,” Haglund said.
Rebecca Corbishley, 15, said the presentation will help her be a more effective Girl Scout leader. She has been a Girl Scout for about seven years.
“I’ve always known that the media obviously affects people, but when you see statistics and hear more about it from people working to stop it, I think it makes us more aware of the effects, and it definitely empowers us.”
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