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Teen workshops focus on healthy self-image

The Baltimore Sun

In her five years as a teen counselor in Howard County, Lisa Morrel found that one issue kept cropping up: Young girls were obsessed with food and being thin. Her nieces, when they were as young as 8 and 9, were teased about their bodies, even though they were athletic and healthy, she said.

The issue was clearly so emotionally fraught that Morrel, who had worked for the county Health Department and now runs her own holistic health business in Baltimore, called Health Integration, decided to give teens and their parents the opportunity to explore the topic.

She is holding workshops, titled "How Do I Look? A Mother-Daughter Workshop on Body Image and the Pressure to be Thin, 'Hot,' and Perfect," scheduled for this month and next month at local library branches.

The workshops, sponsored by the Horizon Foundation and the Women's Giving Circle of Howard County, will be 90 minutes long, plus a half-hour for a meal provided before the workshop begins.

Katie George, who is in charge of teen programs for the library, said the workshops are part of a Horizon Foundation series that explores teen issues such as substance abuse and sexuality. The topic, though, is new this year.

"Lisa Morrel approached us about doing a mother-daughter workshop," George said. "She was really enthusiastic about it."

Typically, the series is held at four library branches, but this one will be held at six locations, George said, thanks to additional funding from the Women's Giving Circle.

Morrel said she plans to show 15 minutes or more of a video about body images called "Killing Us Softly," then use a workshop format to get teens and their parents to open up about their body issues. She believes that the topic is so much a part of teen lives that they might not stop to think about why they are so obsessed with body image, and what they can do to change that view.

"Just because we all live it doesn't mean we've actually put it into words and thoughts," Morrel said.

Laura Smit, executive director of the nonprofit organization HC DrugFree, said she worked with George and Morrel to create the workshop. She had known Morrel from Morrel's work counseling teens in Howard County, and the two had worked together in the past on workshops and newsletter articles, said Smit.

"She told me she was really interested in doing this," Smit said.

Morrel said she became particularly focused on the topic of women and their body image after studying the issue at the Institute for Integrated Nutrition in New York over the summer. The 15-year-old school takes a holistic approach to nutrition, meaning it focuses on mental and psychological health as well as the food that goes into the body.

Smit thought it would be a good idea because she had seen how successful past Horizon-sponsored workshops on teen sexuality had been.

"Self-nurturance, to me, is the issue," Morrel said. "Do we love our bodies?"

Morrel said she hopes to bring the program to Howard County schools.

"I think schools would be the perfect forum," she said.

Meanwhile, she is looking forward to the library workshops, which are free to the public but require advance registration.

"I think it's going to be a cool program," said Smit. "I hope the word gets out to people."

Workshop dates

Jan. 24:

Miller branch, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 410-313-1950

Jan. 26:

Savage branch, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., 410-880-5980

Jan. 30:

East Columbia branch, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 410-313-7700

Feb. 4 :

Elkridge branch, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 410-313-5088

Feb. 6 :

Glenwood branch, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 410-313-5577

Feb. 12 :

central library, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 410-313-7800.

Registration begins two weeks before the event. Call your local library branch to register.

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