Dr. Robyn Silverman Joins Shaping Youth As Our Body Image Pro

sy_coverr2-2.gifWe’re thrilled to welcome Dr. Robyn Silverman as our new body image expert here at Shaping Youth, where I’ll no doubt also pick her brains as a consultant for my documentary film underway called, Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth filmed on K-5 playgrounds…(the poignant illustration I bought from artist Ashley Cecil at left sums it all quite well)

Sometimes virtual allies and digital divas build ‘BlogHer’ style friendships that last for years without ever meeting face to face.

Dr. Robyn Silverman and I are clearly the exception, speeding along the info highway of business allegiances faster than a broadband connection, recently meeting in person in Boston when I was in town to present at the recent CCFC summit on counteracting the sexualization of childhood.

Dr. Robyn writes the Powerful Parent blog, which we’ve now added to our sidebar, along with her body image resource Kiss My Assets, which is what got my attention in the first place. They’re both fabulous resources.

We’ve been pinging back and forth between each other’s blogs like synapses, infusing new content and data-dumping in ‘did you know?’ style…So it shouldn’t surprise me that we cut to the chase after due diligence on both sides, merged ‘value propositions’ in a hop-scotch over formality into friendship, fast-tracking onto Shaping Youth’s official advisory board with unanimous approval to be part of a core team of change agents.

drrobyn_profile3.jpgDr. Robyn received her PhD from Tufts University’s Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development in Massachusetts after receiving her BA from Washington University in St. Louis and spending a year abroad studying at Oxford University of England…yet she immediately eased my ‘academic wonk’ jitters that I tend to get when facing off with Ivy leaguers that have more letters after their name than I can even fit on a business card.

Dr. Robyn is refreshingly unpretentious, with warm, witty candor and whip-smart business sense that quickly leaves you nodding, ‘yep, uh-huh, this is a good fit.’

Just as I’m ‘open source’ in digital preference, she’s ‘open source’ in personality, with a very approachable style that tamped down my ‘swim with the sharks’ radar that’s often on high alert due to years of discerning marketing motivations in full tilt analysis mode…

I relaxed over brunch and felt like I’ve known her for years.

Mind you, her moniker “Dr. Robyn” reminds me of “Dr. Phil,” which is probably a brand strategy or an omen, as her comfort with the media spotlight FAR surpasses mine, since I prefer to remain working with kids or tip-tapping away in writer mode behind the scenes.

Again…a good balanced fit…It’s like someone that likes the crust and the other likes the squishy part of the baguette, ya know?

I’ve always been camera shy, (which is far different than being gun shy about leadership, which I’m not at all)…never been wild about image/appearance-based focus.

Even way back in rookie days when our ABC news affiliate in the islands kept putting me in front of the camera, I kept sliding back behind the scenes into investigative reporting, writing and researching stories, much more in my comfort zone.

I’m VERY thankful articulate people like Robyn can translate their presence into performance without being derailed, or maimed, as it’s never been my strong suit. I’ve seen the power of media turn on people like a striking cobra, and anyone strong enough to get in that ring and hold their own has my admiration and respect…

So welcome, Dr. Silverman, to the Shaping Youth team of pithy prose (or pros, depending on who we’re dealing with on any given day)

You’ll be an asset to the conversation, and our community as a whole.

Oh! And…ahem…feel free to sub for me on those talk shows any ol’ time…

What kind of media makes an impact on girls’ body image?

by Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman


Do magazine diet articles make an impact on girls’ body image?

In a 2007 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Minnesota suggest that when teen girls read articles about diet and weight loss, it could have unhealthy consequences years later.

Magazines feature impossibly thin supermodels next to “back-to-school” diet plans and tips for getting your body into “bikini-bearing” shape. Cover headlines scream; “50 Shortcuts to a Sexier Body” (Glamour) or “6 Ways to Thin – Easy Diets That Really Work” (Allure)

Articles might say “Embrace your curves” but the retouched photos of ultra thin models tell a different story. Suffice to say, some advertisers have their hands in more than one cookie jar.

Who was in the study? 2,516 middle school students that were surveyed, weighed and measures in 1999 and again in 2004. About 55% were girls.

The Scoop: Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles. This result was not influenced by whether the girls were considered “overweight” by medical standards or if the girls believed weight to be important to them.

dove2.jpgMiddle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.

teen-zines.jpg“Forty-one percent of adolescent females report that magazines are their most important source of information on dieting and health, and 61 percent of adolescent females read at least one fashion magazine regularly,” —Eric Stice, Ph.D

The problem: Girls are being duped, but they don’t know it. Studies show that the average fashion model is much taller than the average woman–but weighs about 23% (one-fifth) less. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, while the average woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds, the average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. On top of already being think, advertisers and publishers use retouching techniques to make models seem even thinner and taller.

Note: Other studies have found that 69% of girls feel that magazine models influence their idea of the perfect shape (Field et al). Other statistics show similar body image problems, such as:

  • the modeling industry standards suggest women should have waists no larger than 25” and hips no larger than 35 1/2 inches, they also recommend measurements of 34-24-34;
  • women’s magazines have 10.5 times more ads and articles about weight loss then do men’s magazines;
  • 60%+ of college students feel worse after reading magazines;
  • changes found in magazines between 1970 and 1990 include increase emphasis on fitness for attractiveness and a decrease in the model hip to waist ratio (becoming less curvy);
  • 1 out of every 3.8 commercials sends a message about attractiveness;
  • the average person sees between 400-600 ads per day;
  • 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV

Do music video models make an impact on girls’ body image?

Researchers from the University of Sussex, leader by Dr Helga Dittmar, found that the use of ultra-thin models in music videos can lead girls to develop poor body image. The article was published in the Journal of Body Image.

Who was in the study? 87 girls ages 16-19 years were put in random groups. A third watched music videos featuring the Pussycat Dolls and Girls Aloud, known for being thin and attractive. Another third listened but did not watch the music videos. The final groups was asked only to learn a list of neutral words. All three groups were asked questions that asked them to recall what they heard or watched. Answers measured levels of self esteem, body satisfaction and mood.

The Scoop: After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words.

In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with–they were all equally affected.

The Problem: Girls look to these music video icons as what they should aspire to be. Seeing very thin celebrities can make the girls feel “less than” and make them wonder how they can ever look like their heroes. Girls are tending towards dieting, poor eating, and other more extreme weight loss behaviors.

Media is all around us. We see it everyday even when we don’t seek it out. The portrayal of very thin models, actresses, singers, and entertainers does indeed have an impact on the ways girls see themselves and their bodies.

Let’s help them— Dr. Robyn Silverman

“Dr. Robyn Silverman (full bio here) is a leading Child and Adolescent Development Specialist with a focus on character education and body/self esteem development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

As a strong believer that children are assets to be developed not deficits to be managed, her work reflects a positive approach that shows that with the right tools, all young people have the ability to thrive and succeed.” (gee, sounds familiar, eh? 😉

A few words from Dr. Robyn:

“I’ve always been one of those people who like to look on the bright side of life. You can imagine that the evening news is definitely NOT for me. So when I became a Child and Adolescent Development Specialist and Success coach with a focus on body esteem and character development, I really wanted to help young people develop their strengths. I want to help parents, teachers, and mentors be a strong support system. In a nut shell, I feel that young people are assets to be developed, not deficits to be managed. We need to change our actions to support our future leaders in becoming their best.

There’s a lot out there that beat girls and women down for not being “enough.” They’re not thin enough, smart enough, tall enough, blond enough, or strong enough to measure up. Measure up to what? Whatever the media, their peers, their family, or even their own brain is telling them they need to be today. I’m stepping up to the plate to highlight news stories gone wrong, girls gone right, and programs that help to support strengths instead of weaknesses. I’d be grateful it you’d join me.”

Dr. Robyn brings applied sciences to our anecdotal daily work with kids, adding yet another lens to see through children’s eyes. By sharing our own input from the children themselves, we’re able to all work together for solutions to counter-market the damage, hear the imperative from their voices directly, and begin to shift to a healthier worldview for us all.

You’ll be hearing a lot more from Dr. Robyn, especially around the first week of May when I’ll be highlighting some of her features for attendees at the Preteen Alliance event where I’m speaking on ‘the care and feeding of your preteen’ …a Kaiser Permanente & Lucile Packard Children’s Health Foundation event addressing kids’ nutrition, media, body image, and adolescent angst.

As long as they don’t have a bunch of cameras there, focusing on appearance vs. content, then I’ll be just fine. 😉

Other Must-Read Resources by Dr. Robyn Silverman

BODY IMAGE, PERFECTION: Fitting in While Standing Out: 7 Tips to Cope with Your Child’s Need to be Perfect in a Win-at-all-Costs World. Bay State Parent Magazine, November 2007.

BODY IMAGE, SHORT STATURE: Fitting in While Standing Out: 5 Tips for Helping Your Child Deal with Coming Up Short in a Tall-is-All World. Bay State Parent Magazine, October 2007.

BODY IMAGE, WEIGHT: Fitting in While Standing Out: Feeling Fat in a “Thin is In” World. Bay State Parent Magazine, September 2007.

Visual Credits: Pussycat Dolls visuals from Dr. Robyn’s blog



  1. Thank you, Amy, for the great introduction! I’m thrilled to be part of your well-oiled machine. Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do (somehow it never seems to end…)!

    Looking forward to it…

    Dr. Robyn

  2. Dear Dr. Robyn,
    My teenage daughter and I have created a journal for middle school girls that includes those age appropriate information on the concepts that have been found to improve body image and self-esteem, while giving girls an opportunity to express their feeling around this topic. It has been vetted by the National Eating Disorder Association and can be used independently by girls or in the classroom. It can also be used to fulfill interest project requirements for cadet girl scouts. We would love to have you take a look!
    Molly and Nan dellheim

  3. Hi Nan, I can’t speak for Dr. Robyn, but yours truly (Amy) would like a look-see! In fact, I’m speaking at the Preteen Alliance on body image and healthy eating on 5/1 via the Kaiser Permanente group and Lucile Packard Children’s Health Foundation and I’ll bet they’d like to hear any tips you might have!

    I also have a new Canadian pal on Facebook affiliated with the Nat’l Eating Disorder Assn. that I could ping about it and see where it lands…As it is, we’re using our Shaping Youth counter-marketing techniques (deconstructing via media literacy in fun ways, to change the channel of influence to the positive…for example ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and ‘American Idol’ hits are shifted to a riff on the reality shows where middle school kids brainstorm healthier role models, (‘Idolized’) voting on their peer choices in thumbs up, thumbs down mode in terms of a variety of criteria, being able to justify their choices through the deeds and actions of the nominee. (Jane Goodall seems to be a big fave of my own daughter…gee, um…think my animal obsession is hereditary? Could be!)

    I’d love to hear more of your work! Feel free to e-mail me directly amy at shapingyouth dot org. And I’ll pass along your comment to Robyn, too…her blogs are always on our sidebar now if you lose the link! 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment. Best, Amy

  4. Hello Nan and Molly!

    I’d be happy to take a look! As I am currently working on a book, I’m investigating helpful resources for parents, girls, and educators.

    Would you like to send me a copy? Please email me directly at:
    drrobynsblog (at symbol) gmail dot com

    Looking forward to it!

    Dr. Robyn

  5. Ah, just had a ‘cyber-cross’ with Dr. Robyn…yep, on the same page…we BOTH would like to hear what you have to say! Feel free to send any info for vetting and we’ll run it through the tween/teen team here as well…Best to you all…Amy

  6. Jeanne Hecht says

    I really appreciate all of the information contained. I am a friend of mother of 3 teenage girls. She and her daughters are wrestling with body image issues and I find it amazing that today’s society focuses on slim models versus strong women. We should relish in the strength we carry in our ability to run, play tennis, soccer and general health. I would like to see more information on sports programs that drive at building self image – if there are any to share.

  7. Hi Jeanne, Ironically, I just wrote a post today about Young Runners with a links list of roundups I’ve written on sports/body image positive impacts with preteen girls in particular!! (see link with the heart/Comment Luv icon below)

    Our partner org, Girls Are Champions.org has been tackling this with us too…and also Starlings Volleyball USA (club VB for girls w/various socioeconomic limitations)

    I particularly love sports like Volleyball which have a WIDE array of body types in play with very little to do with skill sets (e.g. a stocky power hitter or libero; tall spiker, etc.)

    You just never know who’s who on a VB team in terms of position, speed, agility and power and I LOVE the looks on the girls’ faces when they make wrong assumptions based on superficial assessments…Really drives the point home not to be judgmental!!

    I also wrote several pieces in our body image category on the toxic cues of “Thinspiration” so heartily echo the need for as much media literacy and counter-marketing on that note as possible.

    Here are some links to get you started! (My own 13 year old daughter is an athlete in several alternative sports (wakeboard/waterskiing/volleyball, etc.) and I hear this conundrum even in my own home with full tilt media literacy in play. sigh.

    Keep me posted on your progress! And for the record, I think Title IX will end up being my teen’s saving grace if we can keep it intact… 😉

    p.s. Also this week, see the ATB Movie/Benefit for About-Face.org here: as it lists several body image resources…

      And on the sports front, don’t miss on Shaping Youth:

    Girls Sports Boosts Preteen Body Image & Self-Worth

    Positive Coaching Alliance: Media Tips & Life Lessons

    GLTR Girls: Girls Learn to Ride Creates Oceans of Self Esteem

    How to Counter-market Thinspiration

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Young Runners: A Media Must For Healthy Track Season

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