healthyteengirls-021CLEMSON — This new year, physical fitness expert Kellie Walters has advice for adolescent resolving to make changes to their appearance: focus on being healthy and strong and don’t worry about weight or looks.

“Remember, there are many different body types,” Walters said. “Standardizing body image inevitably creates the impression there is a right way and wrong way to look.”

Walters, a doctoral student in Clemson University’s parks, recreation and tourism management department, researches the relationship between physical activity and psychosocial health in adolescent girls and women. She offered these five New Year’s resolutions for adolescent girls and young women.

Ignore the scale—for the most part. Approximately 75 percent of adolescent girls report being dissatisfied with their bodies and a desire to be thinner. Walters also co-founded Smart Fit Girls, an after-school fitness program that teaches adolescent girls how to love their bodies. The program doesn’t measure height or weight, but concentrates on health and wellness education and improving body image and self-esteem, which usually provides longer-lasting health results.

Recognize the mother-daughter parallel. Research suggests that mothers are the primary agents of their daughters’ concept of body image, dwarfing the effect of media that is widely reported. “When a mother calls herself fat every day, they might not realize the impact they’re having on their daughter. These girls internalize it.” Walters urges adolescent girls to recognize this impact and engage parents in a thoughtful way in order to have a constructive conversation.

Practice a positive attitude. When girls and women take a look in the mirror, a majority of what they say about what they see is negative. Walters said girls only damage themselves with more anxiety and pressure with this approach, so she recommends concentrating on things they like about themselves instead.

Be aware of your digital self. Girls should be aware of the pictures they take and how they post them to social media. Duck faces, arched backs and photo filters that remove acne and “enhance” an image only further promote an attitude and perception of beauty that many feel they need to live up to. “I saw a photo on social of a student I know with a ton of health food in the background,” Walters said, laughing. “I like to think Smart Fit Girls had something to do with that.”

Get strong, share the fitness culture! The days of girls being relegated to cardiovascular exercise are long gone. Smart Fit Girls focuses on weightlifting, for example, which has been proven to attenuate bone loss later in life and lessen the likelihood of osteoporosis in both men and women.

“Weightlifting has been shown to improve adolescent girls’ and adult women’s physical and emotional health,” Walters said. “Women can achieve a sense of empowerment from strengthening their bodies.” If a service like Smart Fit Girls or Girls on the Run isn’t readily available, Walters recommends seeking out parks and recreation agencies that offer similar programs or simply forming groups of likeminded girls who want to empower their bodies while improving their self-esteem.

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