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Overnight lock-in addresses issue of girls' self-image

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Teen girls participate in an activity at the
Teen girls participate in an activity at the "Beautiful You" gathering in 2011 at First United Methodist Church. From left are Maya Hirose, Shelby Bricker, Marlee Reisinger, Nicole Hendrickson, and Connor Keaton.

It seems innocent enough.

A mother peers into the mirror in the morning and offhandedly remarks, “Oh — I look terrible today.”

She thinks nothing of it. But her young daughters hear her.

For a split second, the youngsters wonder, “If mom looks terrible, then what do people think of me?”

Sarah Campbell, First United Methodist Church children and youth minister, regularly sees young women navigating their way through such pitfalls toward a healthy self-image and confidence. Because she wants to help them on their journey, she has organized an overnight event, “Beautiful You,” which will be at the church Jan. 25 to 26 for area students in grades 7 to 12.

“We emphasize that God’s not looking on the outside,” Campbell said. “He looks on the inside.”

That theme will come out during the informal get-together.

Campbell said she realized that such concepts must be reaching women, because she recently received texts from several girls who attended the 2011 event.

They wanted to know when the next one was scheduled.

The gathering will cover media and Hollywood portrayals of inner and outer beauty, the pressures of a highly visual society and what Scripture says about the topic.

Studies from agencies such as the national Dove Self-Esteem Fund show that self-esteem is vital to teens’ health. Institute figures from 2008 show that 75 percent of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking or drinking when feeling badly about themselves.

Only 25 percent of girls with high

self-esteem had done that.

Fourteen-year-old Shelby Bricker, who attended the 2011 local event with several friends that she invited, enjoyed it so much that she plans to be back this year.

“It was a nice confidence boost,” said Bricker, a freshman at Columbus North High School.

Ideally, Campbell wants it to be more than that. She wants to encourage young women to find their security and identity in the love of God rather than the fleeting love of physical beauty.

“The message that God loves you just the way you are is so important,” Campbell said.

Speaker Lisa Newton, who is involved in ministry to young people in Columbus, also has a message to share with the girls.

“God’s voice about you gets to trump all other voices,” Newton said, referring to things said by members of the opposite sex, family members and others. “They need to know they have some choices about listening to all these voices. And God’s voice is telling them, ‘Look — you are exactly who I made you to be.’”

She and Campbell refer to Scripture, mentioning that people are made in God’s image and other affirmations.

“The sad thing is that today’s culture never really gives us permission to think we’re truly beautiful,” said Newton, mother to two daughters, ages 19 and 20.

Unrealistic images of celebrities, athletes and others hurt that cause, Newton said.

Even when she speaks to adult female groups and asks listeners to write 10 adjectives describing themselves, she said no one ever has written “beautiful.”

She regularly teaches young people that their value is like a literal gift. The wrapping paper and exterior are nice, as Newton puts it.

“But the true gift is on the inside — and that’s what these young people need to be developing.”

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