They are everywhere -- thin models are on magazine covers, in commercials, in movies and on TV.
Young women are bombarded with messages to be thinner, sexier, more beautiful than everyone else, and that pressure is causing eating disorders, low self-esteem, risky sexual behavior and self-destructive patterns, according to Joan Schenker.
Mrs. Schenker is the parent education coordinator at Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry in Ross and a former elementary and middle school counselor. She has developed a workshop titled "Selling Kids Out: Body Image & the Media" to help parents, teachers, youth group leaders and young women themselves develop strategies to fight these perceptions and pressures.
Anchorpoint serves the Greater Pittsburgh area though counseling, tutoring and community education programming, Mrs. Schenker said.
The idea behind the workshops began with a report released by the American Psychological Association in 2007 that discussed the danger of the sexualization of young girls through images in merchandising and the media.
"When I would talk about this report, I would have parents and teachers tell me that they were also concerned about this," Mrs. Schenker said. "And more parents were worried about their daughters having eating disorders."
Parents of girls as young as first-graders would comment on their daughters worrying about being too fat and wanting to go on diets.
"It seemed the girls were getting younger and younger with these concerns," she said.
A grant from the Women of Southwestern Pa. Inc. provided funding for 10 workshops, which are free and open to the public. Four have been presented and another will be held Sunday at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Hampton. Five more will be held in the fall.
"We chose churches with youth groups because we have found we have good turnouts with these partnerships," she said.
The workshops help provide parents and young women with strategies to deal with the pressure to have "the perfect body."
In addition to Mrs. Schenker, a panel of young volunteers assist her with the workshops.
Christine Scherer, 16, is a junior at North Allegheny High School and a softball player.
"I talk about the importance of sports -- young girls need to realize that everyone is pretty and you can be athletic and be pretty," said Christine, of Franklin Park.
She said she often sees other young women worried about being "thin enough and wearing perfect makeup."
"I think the media is so focused on this. We talk about the fact that you don't have to be blonde and blue eyes and extremely thin to be pretty," Christine said.
Another panel member, Megan Garofola, 27, of Pittsburgh is a graduate student at Chatham University studying elementary education. She had worked with Mrs. Schenker in a mentoring program.
Like Christine, Ms. Garofola, who teaches yoga, stresses to the young women the importance of exercise.
"They can use yoga and dancing to help develop a sense of their own body," she said.
The next "Selling Kids Out: Body Image & the Media" workshop will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul's Methodist Church, 1965 Ferguson Road, Hampton. The workshop is free and open to the public. Advance registration is requested but not required at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information: www.anchorpointministry.org.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.