“As with all of us, what I want for my daughter seems so simple: for her to grow up healthy, happy, and confident, with a clear sense of her own potential and the opportunity to fulfill it. Yet she lives in a world that tells her whether she is three or thirty-three, that the surest way to get there is to look, well, like Cinderella.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, lets go back and begin where all good stories start.
Once upon a time.”
The excerpt above is from a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein.
My husband shared with me recently that last year when a female teacher asked the girls in the sixth grade class to share something they valued most about themselves, nearly three quarters mentioned something about their appearance and remarks such as “I think I’m hot” were not uncommon. These are the thoughts of 11- 12 year old girls who at this young age are valuing their appearance above all else. I might also mention that he teaches at a small charter school that is very tame and more conservative in the social scheme of things.
Peggy Orenstein also shares in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter that according to the American Psychological Association (APA), our culture’s emphasis on “beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior.”
“In one study of eighth grade girls, for instance, self objectification – judging your body by how you think it looks to others – accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another linked the focus on appearance among girls that age to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. Even brief exposure to the typical idealized images of women that we all see every day has been shown to lower girls’ opinion of themselves, both physically and academically.”
It is easy to say that we don’t like and don’t want women and girls to be objectified. It is much more difficult to take the steps to try and change what has become an insidious part of our every day life here in the good ol’ USA and in many other parts of the world as well. For example it may be highly unrealistic to think we can effect change in the advertising industry, which is an over $200 billion a year industry that uses sex and objectifying women on a regular basis to sell things. Yet we can take charge of our own views and actions and refuse to objectify ourselves and the women and girls with whom we come in contact.
Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. is an author, speaker, and filmmaker who is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on the image of women in advertising and her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising.
In the late 1960s, she began her exploration of the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women, eating disorders and addiction, and launched a movement to promote media literacy as a way to prevent these problems. A radical and original idea at the time, this approach is now mainstream and an integral part of most prevention programs. In 2009 she also released a book that she cowrote with Diane E. Levin, Ph D called So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.
In a world where every day we are told we need to look a certain way and the media presses that we should not be satisfied with ourselves and we need this outfit, this make-up, this diet, this perfume, these shoes…and on and on…to be happy and beautiful and accepted and wanted and loved….here is our challenge “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
If we want the objectification of women and girls to end we women need to stop objectifying ourselves and we need to stop allowing others to objectify us.
Do you ever find yourself judging the appearance of another woman?
Do you ever judge the appearances of actresses, models and singers? Or perhaps compare yourself to them?
Pick up a “women’s magazine” and flip through it. What do you see in the advertisements? What kind of thoughts do looking at the advertisements
conjure? Do they have any effect on how you feel about yourself?
How else do you think we can effect change in women and girls in regards to us not basing our self worth on our appearance?
Here is a short introduction to Jean Kilbourne speaking of her film Killing Us Softly about advertising.