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  • Writer's pictureKara Kohnen

Empowering Girls Self Esteem: Barbie & Beyond

To say the Barbie movie is creating a buzz is an understatement. It is creating much discussion on gender roles and society. As adolescent therapists, our concern remains on factors that either hurt or protect teens as they develop. This blog examines the data from 2021 to show rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors it at it’s highest ever for all genders. Girls face unrealistic beauty standards, body image issues, academic pressures, and societal stereotypes. We will discuss the data and then get to the interventions of what we do now in psychotherapy with teens to help overcome current challenges. Fostering a positive self-esteem and unwavering confidence in young girls is paramount. Covid drove up problems due to lack of social support during this era. They were more engaged with social media than ever and this was damaging.

Latest Stats:

Here is the data from 2021:

18% of girls have experience sexual violence

30% of teen girls have had suicidal thoughts

13% of teen girls in 2021 have made a suicide attempts

Sexual assault is the #1 risk factor

Bullying both online and in person or social exclusion is the #2 risk factor

Half of all teens reports:

“I can’t do anything right.”

“My life is not useful.”

“I do not enjoy life”

57% of teen girls are feeling hopeless and sad

The data is clear that constant social media exposure is detrimental. And Instagram teens love it but it doesn’t love teens back 1 of 3 have experienced a direct negative effect on their self-esteem The journey towards building a strong sense of self-worth. We all have a role in empowering girls to embrace their uniqueness and develop a healthy self-esteem.

Biology and stage of development:

Mother nature gives teenagers a higher dose of Dopamine and Oxytocin for socialization in this part of development to get a “tribe” and intense connections. It’s formatively important to create a safe group at this stage of life. This makes sense in high school when you see groups of peers hanging together.

Social Media it’s not all bad but the teen brain with less safeguards in the prefrontal cortex is at high risk for being vulnerable to comparisons and hyper sensitive to perceived social rejection.

How we can help:

Empower and grab back self esteem:

1. In therapy, we teach Metacognition which is the ability to think about our thinking to see the true impact of social media. Stepping out and seeing our thoughts as mailable and not real. The idea is that we can take a step back and look at our thoughts and decide what is useful and what is not.

2. We reach young girls to look and be skeptical on how social media markets to them and sends them material that could be harmful. For example: searched salad and now getting eating disorders information.

3. Understand we can’t stop comparing selves against others and it’s part of being human; How we believe others view us impacts our core beliefs about ourselves

4. Women are equal to Men. However, in our society, There is still a “hidden oppression” for women to be too much, do too much, and too much focus on outer appearance over inner self and core value. We need to identify the conscious and unconscious pressures handed down from generations prior and parents. We need to help all understand how this impacts teens negatively.

5. Another problematic are is that women in our society are not allowed to express anger. While anger is normal for all humans, when women express this it is viewed as a problem. When men express it, it is seen as strength. We need to challenge this belief. All humans get angry and appropriate expression of this is important.

6. We each have a locus of control. Internal versus external and identifying which parts we can change. When we feel autonomy over the challenges of our life, we are less anxious or depressed. Powerlessness leads to more mood concerns. We can examine core beliefs as part of the therapeutic process.

7. We know teen girls are constantly trying to improve appearance and preoccupied with improvements and there is too much emphasis on the outside and therapists can help shift this focus by helping question…Who makes these rules? and challenging…Do you judge others based only on their physical appearance? Then have more compassion for self.

8. In therapy we listen to the stories and examples of what they are watching on social media as part of our assessment. We then understand what are the cultural exposure to peers, celebrities and others. Parents, please ask them to show you their favorites on social media to gather these insights as well.

9. Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” We all curate ourselves online and forget that everyone else is doing this too and no person is perfect. When addressed, young women and teen girls are immediately open to understanding and breaking the trance.

10. We encourage a focus on health rather than appearance. Use positive affirmations: It’s most powerful when patients create their own and then record and listen to it as falling asleep. When creating positive affirmations, state what you want to believe and repeat until it is a belief.

For example:

“I choose to speak to myself as I speak to my closest friend.”

“I love my body just the way it is.”

11. We inspire young women to embrace hearing as a personal journey as part of the social justice movement.

12. We offer to consider a voluntary social media detox for 4-5 days, which can help them feel better and come back to it with a different, more rational perspective.

13. It’s always good to go back to the basics: good sleep, nutrition, hydration and focus on nutrition not counting calories.

14. Be honest- know the culture impacts all with beauty standards and we need to keep in perspective

15. It’s okay to not be popular. In fact, being popular is psychologically stressful and better to have one or two friends than try to maintain many.

16. Failure is a natural part of life, and it's essential to teach girls that setbacks don't define their worth. Encouraging a growth mindset, where challenges are seen as opportunities to learn and grow, helps build resilience and fosters a healthy self-esteem.

17. Embracing Individuality: Each girl is unique, with her own set of talents, passions, and interests. Celebrating individuality and encouraging girls to pursue their passions without fear of judgment can have a profound impact on their self-esteem.

18. Mentorship and Support: Positive role models and mentors can be instrumental in boosting a girl's self-esteem. Whether it's a family member, teacher, or community leader, having someone who believes in their potential can provide the necessary encouragement and support.

19. Encouraging Healthy Relationships: Teaching girls to recognize and maintain healthy relationships is crucial. Surrounding themselves with supportive and caring individuals who respect their boundaries can significantly contribute to their self-esteem.


Now more than ever, the data suggests adolescent girls need our help! Social media has had many detrimental effects. Nurturing self-esteem in girls is a collective responsibility. By fostering a positive and supportive environment, celebrating their uniqueness, and encouraging resilience, we can empower young girls to face the world with confidence and self-assurance. As we pave the way for a generation of strong, empowered young women, the ripple effect will undoubtedly be felt in every aspect of society, creating a more inclusive and equal future for all.

If you are worried about a teen girl in your life, please connect with local resources and get them started with a trusted therapist!

At Grow Through Life Counseling, we love treating and supporting adolescent development. We love to help parents who are also feeling lost and unsure what the next steps are. If you’d like to speak with out intake team please call 619-549-0329 ext 0.

For mental health emergencies please dial 9-8-8

“I am not this hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.” - Rumi

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