Media Monday – I’m a Girl. Beautiful the Way I Am.

Christine Hanwick

Girls are getting cosmetic surgery and wearing Spanx by the age of 7. 80% of ten-year-old girls think they’re fat. Wal-Mart and Target are targeting tweens to buy make up. And tweens can now buy padded hot pink underwire bras in a 30A (Source).

I don’t have to tell you these things are disturbing. And I probably don’t have to tell you that “poor body-image at a young age increases the chances of eating disorders, smoking, alcohol use, and teen pregnancy later in life” (Source).

Hearing statistics and information like this usually leaves me feeling hopeless about the future of our youth and women’s rights. But this information came from an article that gave me some hope about the direction we seem to be moving in response to the medias negative impact on young girls.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is setting an amazing precedent by starting a $330,000 campaign to help “girls feel better about themselves in the face of a celebrity-saturated media environment that fuels feelings of inadequacy” (Source). The campaign is targeting girls age 7-12 to help them “build resilience” before the image damage is done. “It’s a lot harder to undo once the damage has set in,” says Marney White, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale’s School of Public Health (Source).

The campaign (to be featured on the sides of buses and cabs) will show images of a wide variety of girls of various races, ages, and sizes and with the message, “I’m a girl. And I’m beautiful the way I am.” I love this message  because it’s completely polar from the media messages—”use this”, “wear this”, “look like this”—which projects to girls: you are not OK the way you are. The campaign will also include a website; resources for girls and their parents; fitnesses classes; a self-esteem focused after-school program; “a Twitter campaign (#ImAGirl)”; and a short video shown in NY taxis (Source).

Although the campaign has a somewhat short life-span, I think it is a great start—and who knows what other positive campaigns it will inspire. The Time article was a little critical of the campaign saying, “it’s going to take Madison Avenue dollars to apply the research and make a long-lasting dent in girls’ self-image issues.” What do you think? Personally, I agree that it’s going to take time to make “a long-lasting dent,” but I also think we as individuals can make a difference in the lives of young girls. Here are some tips from the website,

  • Praise girls accomplishments and efforts, not just their appearance (Source).
  • Pay attention to how you talk about yourself in front of young girls. “Don’t talk negatively about your own body. Try not to be overly focused on your appearance” (Source).
  • What do you say about other people? Are you overly critical of others appearances? (Source) If you are, take steps to change this habit.
  • Get dads more involved in girls lives. “Girls with dads who are active presences in their lives attend college more often and are more ambitious, more successful in school, more likely to attain careers of their own, less dependent, more self-protective, and less likely to date an abusive man” (Source).
  • Write letters to companies like Target and Walmart and ask them to stop targeting tweens with beauty products—then ask your friends to do the same.
  • Volunteer with (or donate to) after school programs that help strengthen the self-esteem of young girls.