Recently I posted about self-esteem and that got me thinking about body image because you really can’t have one without the other. Obviously, disliking how you physically look is something that both males and females deal with, but I think in our society there is a lot more pressure on women in terms of how they should look. There is something that happens to little girls when they’re in about fifth grade. How old is that? Eleven, I think? Who knows, maybe it’s happening even younger now. But the bottom line is that they start to worry about their bodies. They start worrying about the tiniest, most insignificant things. They start to become insecure and it drastically effects who they are.
There are so many things to worry about. Pimples, weight, breast size, hair color, freckles, skin shade, nose size, braces—the list could go on forever. It is at this time when it is so important to make your daughter, sister, niece, cousin, granddaughter feel like they are the most beautiful person in the world. You have to build their confidence now more than ever because they are so impressionable.
The problem is, you’re going to be competing with our society and culture, so you better be ready to put up a good fight. All around them, young girls are seeing and hearing that they need to be thinner, prettier, tanner, better dressed, etc. There is this mold they must fit into if they are going to be liked, desired or popular. Being unique is a crime and the surest way to become an outcast. Between magazines, ads and TV commercials, young girls are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images of the ideal female body.
Jean Kilbourne is an author, speaker and filmmaker who has focused a great portion of her work on the image of women in advertising. The following is a clip from her documentary series, Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women:
I think she really hits it on the head with the title of the series –Killing Us Softly. Sometimes the messages are very subtle and other times unbelievably brazen, but they are all saying the same thing—you need to be perfect and in order to do that you need to change.
I’m not saying that I’m not a sucker for it. I’ll tell you how much I love reading a fashion magazine, that I’m a beauty product junkie and that I have a slight addiction when it comes to clothes. The media is screaming to people in my age bracket, and I know I buy into it. I’ve learned to not let it consume me though. And I think that overall, liking your body and being content with how you look goes back to having a strong sense of self and good self-esteem. It’s hard for everyone during that junior high/high school time, but it doesn’t need to be so hard. Little girls shouldn’t have to be so worried about the way they look and they surely should not have to take that insecurity into adulthood. It’s so important to have the people in their lives constantly helping to build their confidence.
We can’t control the media. I mean, as a society we can change it, but that’s another can of worms. For now, let’s just say we don’t have individual control over it. What we do have control over is ourselves. We can be strong, healthy, happy people who set a good example to the young women in our lives.
I know I’m giving the media and advertising a lot of crap, but every once in a while something like the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty comes along and it gives you a little hope. Some of the videos are older, but I really love the message they’re sending:
I hate to be Debbie Downer but it does need to be noted that Unilever, the company that owns Dove, also owns Axe. So while it’s all well and good that the Dove ads are promoting healthy self-images for females, at the same time Axe body spray ads are sexist and demeaning to women.
While I was in college, an employee from Unilever came to speak to one of my marketing classes and was asked about the hypocrisy of the whole Dove/Axe issue. Her response was simply that if they weren’t doing it, another company would be. I just remember thinking how sad and true I thought that statement was.
Ah well, I’m not going to be able to stop all the problems with our culture, but I think I can take baby steps toward what I would like to see change. I would still like to enjoy the Dove ads and take them for what they are.
“It is confidence in our bodies, minds and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and lessons to learn — which is what life is all about.”—Oprah Winfrey
Yes, I just quoted Oprah…again.