a new study of 4000 teenage girls shows that girls who perceive themselves to be popular are less likely to gain significant quantities of weight in the future (reported on cnn.com here). in fact, girls who considered themselves unpopular, were 69% more likely, over the following two years, to increase their weight by two body mass units (the equivalent of about 11 pounds, depending on height and weight).
in one sense, this doesn’t sound surprising at all: girls who perceive themselves as popular would — it seems — have a lot more motivation to obsess about their weight and work to stay thin. in fact, there’s likely a bit of a vicious cycle here, as only those girls (normally) who already DO obsess about their weight and achieve a certain level of thin-ness have any real chance at popularity in today’s youth culture. i know there are exceptions to this, but it would seem to be the norm.
i have a hard time knowing where to land on the issue of weight and teenagers, particularly with girls. on one hand, my primary interest is to help all girls know that they are wonderful and beautiful and loved. on the other hand, i know that teenage obesity is on the rise, and has serious health implications. sure, we can talk about being “healthy” rather than “thin”. but, really, especially for me, as a male youth worker, it seems like i can’t EVER bring up weight (even in an effort to talk about being “healthy”) with girls — i need to focus my interactions on letting girls know they’re accepted by me and valued irregardless of their weight. plus, anyone who has ever seen me knows it would be a bit of the pot (belly) calling the kettle black for me to talk about “healthy weight”. :)
so what role should youth workers (male or female) play in talking about weight issues?