What You Can Learn From HBO's 'Girls': Damage-Proof Your Self-Esteem

The media's unrealistic images of women can crush your confidence. Here's how the star of HBO's 'Girls' and your family can keep your self-esteem high.
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What You Can Learn From HBO’s ‘Girls’: Damage-Proof Your Self-Esteem

The media’s unrealistic images of women can crush your confidence. Here’s how the star of HBO’s ‘Girls’ and your family can keep your self-esteem high.

-Amanda Schupak, YouBeauty.com

Lena Dunham Girls

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in ‘Girls.’

If you’ve watched even one episode of HBO’s new series, Girls, chances are you’ve seen the following: awkward sex, at least one post-adolescent existential dilemma and the star Lena Dunham’s belly rolls. The show’s 26-year-old creator/writer/director/star is clearly comfortable exposing her curves for all of the premium-cable-subscribing world to see, but some of the viewing and reviewing public aren’t quite ready for it.

A New York magazine feature called out her not-made-for-TV “pear-shaped” body and the frequency with which she “films herself nude, with her skin breaking out, her belly in folds, chin doubled.” Blogs are, naturally, atwitter with commentary and analysis. The word “fleshy” abounds. And Vanity Fair deputy editor Bruce Handy wonders on his blog, “So is this the most transgressive thing a female artist can do in 2012: be fat, naked and unashamed on TV?”

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Whether or not Dunham’s bare unabashedness is a pinnacle of feminist expression is up for debate. But it may be the breath of fresh air women need since we can’t turn on the TV, open a magazine or go to the movies without being bombarded with beauty’s equivalent of the One Percent—and watching our self-esteem take a nosedive when we fail to measure up.

But seeing real women’s bodies isn’t the only way to feel good about our own figures. According to a study published last month in the journal Sex Roles, a supportive network of family and friends is the best defense against the self-esteem-damaging effects of the media.

“If a young woman is feeling this pressure from peers, the media and society as a whole to achieve a thin-and-beautiful ideal, that directly relates to body dissatisfaction,” says the study’s lead author, Shannon Snapp, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families in Tucson, A.Z. “But if you have a really supportive network, that buffers the impact the rest of society will have on that perceived idea of thinness.”

Dr. Snapp and her collaborators surveyed 301 women in their first year of college to investigate the “protective” effects of five factors that can influence body image:

Up next: More about these five body image-influencing factors.

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