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Teenagers, Celebrity Magazines, And Eating Disorders

Teenagers, Celebrity Magazines, And Eating Disorders

A recent study done in England suggests a relationship between eating disorders and reading "gossip magazines." The study found that one of the strongest risk factors for increases in eating disorder behaviors was how often teenage boys and girls read gossip magazines.

I found this line interesting: "Reading gossip magazines remained a significant risk factor after taking into account teenagers' awareness of pressure from the media [emphasis mine] to lose weight." Let's take one more look at a direct quote from the doctor who lead the study:

"This study suggests that there should be a greater awareness of the potential impact that exposure to the kind of images of celebrities and models in gossip magazines can have on adolescents' eating habits . . . it suggests that exposure to gossip magazines increases the risk in adolescent boys and girls of using unhealthy eating behaviors, without their awareness of being influenced."

Those of us who care about and work with teenagers on a regular basis have seen this for years. The effects that the "celebrity industry" (the best way I know how to categorize all the "gossip" magazines and such) has on how teenagers view their body image (especially girls) is absolutely corrosive. What action steps does a study like this call for? What can we do about it? Here's a few. I'd love to hear your suggestions.

  • Teenagers Must Understand Their Value Comes From Their Identity in Christ—This is huge. And it doesn't get accomplished in one Bible study lesson or talk. Teenagers must come to the realization that they are extremely valuable, just as they are, to God. And His opinion is the only one that should truly matter. If teenagers can grasp this, it can change the way they see themselves in comparison to celebrities and others. Over and over again, Scripture attests to the fact that we are extremely valued by God:
    • We were created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27)
    • God knows us before we even exist. He chooses for us to be included in His plan (Is. 44:2; Jer. 1:5)
    • God's view of worth and value us based on our heart, not our appearance (1 Sam. 16:7)
    • God values us so highly that He was willing to sacrifice His Son on our behalf (John 3:16a)
    • Christ saw us as valuable enough to go to the cross to redeem us (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
  • Teenagers Must Be Built Up And Encouraged . . . Constantly—If teenagers are being encouraged and positively built-up in other areas of their lives, in many cases it can communicate to teenagers that who they are is not wrapped up in what they look like. Encourage their participation in sports, or band, or art, or whatever it is they are involved in. Show interest in their causes. Engage in and entertain their personalities by showing interest in the things they are interested in. Fight culture's lie that who they are is defined by what they look like.
  • Parent Must Be On The Lookout For Harmful Behaviors—How many teenagers look at celebrity magazines because their parents do? Probably quite a few. Inform parents of this study. Send them this post. Encourage them to not only look out for the signs of eating disorders in their teens, but also to limit their engagement with this type of media.
  • A Unified Front Is Tough To Beat—If teenagers are being lifted-up, encouraged, valued, respected, and loved by you and their parents, they don't stand a chance! I believe the partnership between parent and youth worker can be the single most powerful force of influence in a teenager's life. More powerful than culture, more powerful than their friends.

Entertainment media in itself is not evil. It's hard to beat a good movie or good music. But when teenagers get wrapped up in the trappings of the culture that surrounds it, this is where problems come up. But by engaging in their lives, and partnering with parents, you can help your students understand that their value and beauty are found in God and not the world.

Share your thoughts with the youthministry360 community:

  • Do your students struggle with this kind of stuff? Do you see them engaging in damaging behaviors in their desire to meet culture's standards of beauty and value?
  • What have you done that has helped teenagers begin to grasp that their worth and value are defined by God and not the world?

What did we miss? Share your thoughts and help equip the YM360 community with your experience.

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