Girls And Body Image

ImageAs I read about programs designed to undo the harm society does to girls’ self image, I can’t help but feel they are swimming against a tide. We live a life relatively insulated against popular culture, and yet on our rare trips to the mall, my daughter still sees the many-times-larger-than-life pictures of women in the Victoria’s Secret windows; at Halloween, the costume store featured plenty of skimpy (and downright lewd) costumes–mostly for women rather than men–and for some reason, many stores feature clothes for the preschool set that would be appropriate for a 20-something going clubbing. Last summer, I went to a department store to buy my 4-year-old a swimsuit. Every suit available, except one, was a bikini. For a 4 year old? Really?

And once A. isn’t 4 anymore, but 14, her Internet use, music choices, and social media will no doubt show her all sorts of role models that would horrify me.

Mostly, though, what I think of is me at 8, at 12, at 14, at 16, and later. I was aware, always, that my hair, my face, the color of my skin and the shape of my body was wrong. In an era of tanned, stick-thin women with long, straight, blond hair, I was rounded, white, and frizzy. But that hardly matters; in any era, some number of girls will be “wrong” according to fashion. Or they won’t have any interest in changing themselves to suit fashion. And to have a week here and there, whether at Temple, at camp, or at school that attempts to rah-rah girls into accepting themselves just as they are isn’t going to work. If, 51 weeks out of the year, girls and young women are told by society at large that their worth is tied up in their beauty, no amount of outside validation is going to matter. The message will be internalized.

How do we talk about this with our daughters? How do we tell them that revealing clothing is not ok when you’re 14 (and dicey when you’re 20!) without sounding like we’re part of the burqa brigade? How do we tell them that some cultural norms are just poison to a maturing self identity?

This is something that we in the US having been talking about and talking about and talking about since I was a kid, and before. Things change so slowly.



7 thoughts on “Girls And Body Image

  1. It’s so hard! What’s your opinion on ear piercing? My daughter (almost 9) really wanted it, but then we watched “parent trap” (quite a fun movie by the way) and the home made ear piercing scene in that put her off, thankfully!

  2. If my daughter very much wants pierced ears at 9, I will allow it if she’s otherwise responsible (and could keep them clean while they heal, etc.). I would limit what sorts of earrings could be worn, though. I would nix more than one hole per ear, and no other facial or body piercings until old enough to make a really considered decision (not under my roof, I suppose!). Definitely no tattoos.

  3. ha ha! If you knew this family you’d know that we’ve seen both. We got given the original as a gift and then the kids really begged to see the remake. In my opinion they are each as bad and as good as each other, I’d like to make a third film taking the best actors out of each! In the old fashioned one the pudding bowl haircuts of the girls and the old fashioned gym slips are really great. The new version found east and west coast accents two confusing so located one of the girls in England to really distinguish them!

  4. About body image, growing up in the 50’s it was as big a problem as now. But if I had realized how doctored those models and actresses were, makeup, wigs, attendants fixing every strand of hair, i think I would have felt better about myself. that is even more true today with digital imaging, and maybe if girls knew it is all fake they wouldn’t feel so bad.

  5. I hope that by minimizing access to popular media, and emphasizing her personality, hard work, and intelligence, we’re creating an environment for my daughter (now 5) where she will have different priorities than the ones American culture would create for her. Yes, it is instructive, even for us adults, to see firsthand how those images of women are digitally manipulated to create impossible and unhealthy ideals.

  6. I think that there is more to it than media, because I grew up on a chicken farm, with no TV and only classical music on the radio, no magazines except for New Republic, Nation, etc. and occasional Sunday Times. By the time I was in 1rst grade, in 1952, I was already suffering from a bad body image. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe my parents? Maybe from other little girls in school? I wonder if it has something to do with competition between girls.

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