Let’s imagine a scenario for a minute about a little girl
named Mia. Mia is 5 years old and gets
stopped by a stranger in the grocery store who tells her, “What’s your name?
You’re so pretty! And look at that beautiful dress.” At that moment, she learns that she is praised for her appearance,
because that’s all she knows. When Mia is 12, she is at school in the
bathroom and sees the other girls putting on makeup in the mirror so they would
be “pretty” and “the boys would like them”.
At that moment, she learns that girls are praised on their appearance,
because that’s all she knows. When Mia is 16, she is thumbing through a
magazine at a friend’s house and realizes that she doesn’t look like anyone in
the magazine. At that moment, she learns
that women are praised for looking exactly like these ideal images, because
that’s all she knows. If Mia has learned that her and her friends
are valued on their appearance, a specific unattainable appearance…can you
imagine her limited view of the world and where she fits in it? In her mind, her value is based on what she
cannot achieve, leading to constant failure and dissatisfaction with her
appearance and perceived worth.
How do we change this? We change/contribute
to what she knows.
With all the media saturation in society, we can’t control the
negative messaging that young girls are receiving, but we can contribute
positive messages that set girls up with tools to combat gender and appearance
standards. Here are a few ways to change
the messaging we are sending:
The norm in our culture is to tell girls how
pretty/cute/beautiful/well-dressed they are.
However, doing this teaches girls that their appearance is the notable
thing of value they have. Placing so
much value on appearance from the beginning perpetuates a life based mostly on looks,
lacking meaning and intrinsic value.
If we change the dialogue to focus on activities,
personality, intelligence, or their passions, etc., we can send alternate
messaging to combat society’s focus on appearance and start building up
resistance to false media messages. Such
a conversation might center on a book she’s reading or how fast she can run in
to be comfortable with their bodies starting young
With all of the media images saturating the brains of girls,
it’s important for them to have a strong connection to what a body is as opposed to what it looks
like. The more girls are comfortable
with their bodies the better they will fare when saturated with “perfect bodies”
by the media.
In a 2007 study by Dove, researchers found that by the age
of 12, a girl has seen more than 77,000 advertisements. When questioned, these girls said they were
unhappy with their bodies because they didn’t measure up to the images in those
advertisements. Let’s try to alleviate
the blow and accompanying low self-esteem by providing a plethora of body
confidence from the get-go.
Allowing self-expression is one way to help girls become
comfortable with who they are. Why can’t
she wear sneakers with a dress? Why
can’t she wear her ninja turtle mask with her pink tutu? When we let girls grow and establish their
own identities, they can flourish into their authentic selves without suffocating
shaping from their environment.
of good and bad
It’s not good or bad…sometimes it
We learn so much is classified as good and bad and that the
world is black and white…but that is not true! The good and bad classifications
often come as a result of society’s “rules”. That said, if the rules are
dropped for a minute, it becomes clear
that wearing a dress with sneakers is quite fine if it expresses the authentic
self of a little girl in that moment. In
this life of gray area, it’s important for girls to understand that it’s ok to
not be what society deems as “good” such as the thin ideal images in the
media. It’s also important to understand
that eating dessert isn’t “bad”.
Creating a negative relationship with certain things such as food is
unhealthy. Instead, we need to see life
as a spectrum where everyone is allowed to be themselves. Certain behaviors are not “good” or “bad”
either and everything exists as a part of a greater situation called life. It’s not “bad” to say NO and it’s not “bad”
to question the status quo! It’s all
part of learning and challenging beliefs as a combination of our experiences
and what we’ve been taught. There is no
right or wrong when it comes to being who we are.
So let’s break the chain of playing along to society’s
rules. Start today moving forward with
the interactions in your own life. If
what a girl becomes is highly shaped by society’s opinions, then we are
changing the natural course of her development into a unique, unrepeatable
self. Let’s challenge society’s rules by
changing all she knows to be so much
more than some standard that at some point society deemed as “good” and