When I was ten years old my days were filled with books, kickball, running, burgeoning musical interests, and a strange obsession with the movie Clueless.
I played. I read. I wrote stories. I lived. The thing that was never on my mind and that my friends and I never discussed was whether or not we were pretty. We really had more important things to do.
I had heard of videos on youtube where girls and women post themselves asking viewers, “Am I hot or not?” or “Am I pretty or ugly?” I never looked them up because depressing and horrifying. But I imagined most of these videos would be of women closer to my age, maybe down to high school. Not young girls who should be perfecting their kickball catching technique.
And then this morning I saw a video and my heart broke. The video has been removed from where I saw it for the sake of the girls and their parents. But it showed short glimpses of dozens of girls asking, “Am I ugly or pretty?” Their faces were so sincere and they looked like so much depended on the answers they would receive in the comments section of youtube. Uggh. And so many of them kept looking around, as if making sure no one would walk in on them asking that question while filming. It really broke my heart.
What are we doing to our girls? Why are girls this young (any age really, but this is particularly disheartening) looking into a camera asking questions with expressions that say, “My very existence and value depends on your answer?” Why do young girls think their value lies in what a stranger thinks of their looks?
It reminds me of a book I just finished for the second time, Libba Bray’s The Sweet Far Thing. There is a part where the protagonist is arguing with her brother because she (a woman in Victorian England) wants to live her life how she wants and doesn’t care about her reputation. Her brother responds, “A woman’s reputation is her value.” Uggh. Replace “reputation” with “looks” and you’ve got today.
Except it goes beyond just “looks.” We have taught our young girls that she is flawed from the get go, that the traits she’s born with are wrong and she must seek perfection. She must seek an ideal that doesn’t exist.
Honestly, I feel like a small piece of me dies every time I hear a woman or girl I know say something like, “Oh, I wish I could have thighs like that!” or “If I could just lose 15 pounds I’d be happier.” or “I really want a nose job. If I could get a nose job guys would like me more.” And just a general, widespread attitude that not only is physical perfection of the utmost importance, if you are happy with your looks it is irrelevant. It has to be others, especially men, who validate your looks and worth.
I die inside a little, but I manage to revive myself because if I were a flower I’d be a perennial.
Here is another video that illustrates very well why girls as young as elementary school are frantically worried about how they look. It starts out with great things that happened this year with women and the media, before delving into what is more common and what young girls see:
Try to protect your young girls as you might, media slips through the cracks and teaches girls that their value is their body. Even a thoughtless comment from a mom like, “Ugh, my stretch marks!” will have an impact on your daughter.
One of my favorite resources for empowering women to love themselves as they are is Beauty Redefined. These two sisters are changing the world right from my own backyard of Salt Lake City, Utah. They each have a PhD and have already done so much to empower women and girls. I once went to hear them speak and they are just as amazing as they sound in their writing and research.
I am so distraught I don’t know what else to say. Other than, of course, that we need to stop supporting the companies and TV shows and movies and music and everything else that degrades women. We need to speak up when we see something wrong. Never mind if people respond by saying it’s not a big deal or that you are overdramatizing. The first video illustrates the effects of all the crap the media does to women. It takes actively patrolling your own media choices to stop this machine of degradation. It takes talking to little girls about more than princesses and how pretty they are (note: There is nothing inherently wrong with princesses or princess play. It’s just when girls are presented with only princess that it becomes a problem–especially when you compare what little boys say they want to be when they grow up (doctor, artist, firefighter, president, etc.) to what little girls say (princess) and see the difference.). Instead, commend their accomplishments! Ask them what they think about things!
We as consumers, parents, children, women, and men have the power to mend the broken hearts and broken ideals we as a society and culture face. We just need to seize that power. We need to seize it. For the sake of our threatened children and generations to come, we need to seize it today.