Think back, way back, to junior high. You’ve had a crush on one of your classmates all year and one day you get the courage to pass him a note. It reads:

Do you think I’m cute?

Circle:   Yes          No            Maybe

Reminiscing about the good ol’ days is fun. Nostalgia may deem these memories as sweet no matter how many replies of “Maybe” you received in 6th grade. But I’m not so sure if the 21st century version of this trend is quite as innocuous.

On Sunday CNN.com posted an editorial by 15-year-old Teddi Noel Maddox, a freshman at Montclair High School in New Jersey. In the article Maddox discusses the “Hot or Not” YouTube phenomenon. She writes:

“Unfortunately, what’s “in” at the moment is something a lot of girls my age are doing, posting “Hot or not?” videos on YouTube. The whole premise of this is to post a video of yourself and ask viewers if they find you attractive.”

Maddox goes on to say that the problem with these videos is that girls “can look at 100 good comments and if there is one particularly nasty one, that’s the only one that stays in our heads.” And as the Internet allows viewers a certain degree of anonymity the negative comments tend to be quite vicious.

But before completely shunning this trend, Maddox said, we need to understand why it exists. Adolescent girls need more positive messages, Maddox asserts.

And that’s where we come in. As women, I believe it’s our duty to do whatever we can to help build the self-esteem of young girls and encourage positive, healthy body images. But how do we do this?

As an educator I know there’s no easy solution. I can tell my students they’re beautiful every day but if they’re comparing themselves to unrealistic images in the media or sulking over the boy who just dumped them, my words will fall flat. Still, we should try.

Although it’s difficult to rise above the media’s constant insistence that we are too fat, too skinny, too short, too busty, too this or that, we have to try to set good examples for our younger sisters, cousins, daughters, and friends. Their lives depend on it.

This means, in part, not complaining about your weight or your waistline in front of impressionable teens. I believe this also means encouraging an active lifestyle. We need to be the positive, healthy, and realistic images that they’re not seeing on their favorite websites or in their favorite music videos. One lesson I have learned in my 31 years on the planet, and one I try to pass on to the girls I work with at my job and in the community, is that I am the most confident and the most content with my body when I focus on what it can do, not how it looks. So instead of setting goals like “Lose 10 pounds” or “Get back down to a size 6,” I set my sights on other fitness aspirations such as “Run a half-marathon” or “Do 50 push-ups without taking a break.”

Think of the young girls in your sphere of influence and consider how you can go beyond simply telling them about the importance of self-love, but also showing them how you walk the talk.

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