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Changing the Message

girl-17837_640Given the work I do with the anti-trafficking movement, I find myself more intune with the way women are portrayed in the media and the effects it has on young girls, women and even men. But, I rarely look at the effect it has on me personally. I recently had a very engaging conversation with some people about this topic, and it reminded me of a guest blog post I wrote last year for my friend’s organization, Beloved Beauty.

This organization focuses on supporting and nurturing the development of young women’s spiritual, mental and physical growth, equipping them with a sustaining knowledge of their identity. I think their mission is very important, and I think it’s even more important that as a society we start really addressing the messages being put out there. So, I share my personal story with you all…here’s to changing the message.

—– Original Post —–

I’m going to be honest—this was not an easy post for me to write. I consider myself a confident woman. I’m outgoing, I love who I am, and I’m proud to be a little bit quirky. But I do admit I sometimes hide my vulnerabilities, pretending they don’t exist. Deep down they’re there—just like every other woman—we all have insecurities, vulnerabilities, and fears. About life, about our careers, but mostly, about our bodies.

It seems like everyone is talking about bodies these days. We’re saturated in a culture where marketers scream “sex sells,” and, sadly, it does. Take one look at a magazine, a TV show, a website, or a billboard…it’s a sea of flesh. And the more the better. Yes, sex sells—quite well in fact, but what got us to this point?

I just started reading this very interesting book called “The Body Project,” by historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg. It’s a fascinating view of the shift from the concern of Victorian women, which was based around character, to the view of today’s women, which is based largely on outward appearance.

An excerpt from the book jacket explains it well:

“Today American women have more social choices and personal freedom than ever before. But fifty-three percent of our girls are dissatisfied with their bodies by the age of thirteen, and many begin a pattern of weight obsession and dieting as early as eight or nine.”

Eight years old and already obsessing about weight. And might I add that this book was published in 1997 – 15 years ago. Unfortunately, it’s only gotten worse. I’ve encountered five-year-olds who have already identified “flaws” on their bodies.

So why the shift? Ms. Brumberg goes on to address this very question using excerpts from diaries of real women from the 1800s to the 1990s. I’ve only just begun reading it, but have been struck by some powerful statements thus far.

This passage is one I find quite telling…

“When girls in the nineteenth century thought about ways to improve themselves, they almost always focused on their internal character and how it was reflected in outward behavior. In 1882, the personal agenda of an adolescent diarist read: “Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.” A century later, in the 1990s, American girls think very differently. In a New Year’s resolution written in 1982, a girl wrote: “I will try to make myself better in any way I possibly can with the help of my budget and baby-sitting
money. I will lose weight, get new lenses, already got a new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories.”” (The Body Project, xxi)

The culture has indeed shifted. And at the time of this book, Facebook, Twitter and the boom of social sharing hadn’t even come on the scene. Imagine what our girls’ diaries are reading like today.

Let me tell you a personal story.

Just recently I attended a black-tie event for an organization I support. It’s one of my favorite times of the year…not only do I love the organization (my alma mater), but I love being in the same room with individuals who love it just as much as me. And I won’t lie; I do love the fact that it’s a night out and a chance to get all glammed up.

And, I did just that. I had a lovely time at the event, surrounded by fantastic company, but I did give into the “glam” mentality and bought a new designer gown for the occasion (which I think is perfectly fine, in moderation). And I promised some people to post a photo on Facebook so they could see it. The photo was accompanied by several lovely comments, but there was one in particular that stood out. In fact, it shocked me.

The comment read: “Glamorous! Sizzling! I am envious of your curves.”

Now, as I said before, I’m proud of who I am, and yes, I’m a curvier girl, and proud of that too. But, never, and I mean never, had I ever heard someone say to me “I’m envious of your curves.”

This woman is a dear friend of mine, and in reality, it wasn’t her comment that shocked me – it was a beautiful and lovely comment – rather, it was my reaction to the comment that shocked me the most. Why was I so baffled by the fact that this woman, who I thought was stunning, wanted my curves? I never thought that being curvy was a desire – in fact, deep down, I think I desired not to have them. Without going into my entire life story, this was a desire deeply rooted from my past, and although I had learned to accept and love who I am—thanks in large part to the my wonderful mother, amazing friends and mentors—I subconsciously allowed my insecurities to creep back in when I
read that comment. But when you’re surrounded by this “thin is in,” “loose ten pounds,” mentality daily, it’s hard not to let those insecurities back in. Thankfully, I’m blessed to have positive role models, confident women secure in who they are both inside and out, to build me up, and knock out the things our society spews at me.

But, unfortunately, that’s not the case for most girls. The reality is that there are many young girls out there who don’t know that they were made exactly how God intended, and that their uniqueness is beautiful. And they don’t know this, because they’re being sent the opposite message…

“25 new diet secrets.”

“World’s most beautiful woman.”

“3 minutes to flat abs.”

“Upgrade yourself.”

“So long cellulite”

“Shed two sizes.”

“Top tips to sexy hair.”

What if we stopped sending our girls these damaging messages? What if instead of publishing the top 25 diet secrets, we discussed the importance of healthy lifestyles? Or instead of telling our girls they need to “upgrade themselves” why don’t we tell them to “love who they are.”

By the way, the messages above all came from magazines on the shelves today.

But, we’re to blame here. I’m to blame. We buy into this propaganda. Quite frankly, even if a magazine were out on shelves today with the most positive, empowering messages, do you think people would pick it up? I would hope so, but I’m not quite sure.

We’re at a point where another culture shift needs to happen. And it needs to start with us, both men and women. We need to be voices for the next generation. As women, we need to be who these girls look up to as positive role models—we need to start reshaping the message.

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