Thinness is not the only way in which girls and women measure their attractiveness. Everything from hair texture and nose size to skin color and height can affect their perceptions of themselves.
Gradually, a few women's voices are expressing a determination not to become what Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of "The Body Project," calls an "appearance junkie."
Twenty-eight women emphasize the importance of defining one's own identity in "Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity," edited by Ophira Edut (Seal Press). In essays that are sometimes radical and hard-edged, they reject narrow, media-driven standards of beauty.
Lisa Jervis decides to keep "my Jewish nose," rejecting an offer for cosmetic surgery. Leslie Heywood, an athlete, struggles with the tension between femininity and strength. Diane Sepanski overcomes "petite" stereotypes by finding power in a strong voice.
Regina Williams, who began dieting in grade school, defines the challenge this way: "Society is fickle. One minute, you have to be curvy and voluptuous to be considered attractive, the next minute your hip bones and rib cage have to be showing to be one of the beautiful people." She found a measure of freedom, she writes, when "I made a conscious decision nearly seven years ago not to make someone else's opinion my reality."
TIPS FOR PARENTS
* Work to eliminate self-criticism of your size and shape. Value yourself for who you are.
* Teach children not to judge by outward appearances. "Just as we teach racial and religious tolerance, we need to teach size acceptance," says Bonnie Lieberman, who gives seminars on helping children have a positive self image. "Even with relatively little kids you can start to talk about different body shapes. Look at photo albums and family pictures."
* Teach your children to enjoy physical activity and movement. But don't be a compulsive exerciser. Instead, be active with children - ski, roller skate, hike, ride bicycles.
* Don't diet. "It sends a bad message to kids," says Ms. Lieberman. Speaking of the $50 billion diet industry, she adds, "If diets really worked, there wouldn't be so many diets available."