Feminism may have improved gender equality in the workplace, but it doesn’t seem to have done much for school-aged young women: According to a national study, girls are far more likely to have negative body images than their male counterparts—to the tune of 3-to-1.
How much daily media exposure does the average teen girl get? 180 minutes. Every. Single. Day. How much time do you think those same teen girls spend interacting with their parents? Only 10 minutes. While eliminating media exposure altogether is virtually impossible, limiting it and forming co-viewing habits can be beneficial on many levels. Sites like My Pop Studio by Temple University can help parents guide their teens in attaining much-needed media literacy. From demonstrating their own self-image to understanding marketing ploys, this tool is one of many aimed at helping girls sift through the harmful messages that lead to feelings of devaluation whenever they don’t quite measure up to the Barbie doll ideal.
Models with (Un)Healthy Body Images
The air-brushed professional models may do plenty of harm, but so do the real-life role models in her life. While your teen daughter may never admit that you’re her chief role model, Mom, you probably are. Do you obsessively exercise and go on crash diets? Or are you clearly frustrated with your own appearance? When the women in a teen girl’s life smoke cigarettes and drink diet sodas, in order to maintain a certain weight, or when they are constantly down on themselves because they can’t seem to attain the ideal body image, that sends a strong message: A person’s size and shape are defining. The whole do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do logic is really quite unrealistic.
Males with Clear (At)traction Issues
When a young girl’s dad and brothers pause and let their eyes wander when a thin Barbie-type girl walks by or when they salivate over cheerleaders at halftime or the sexy woman in the commercial, don’t think the young girl doesn’t notice. If her dad or brothers are into porn, the issue is much worse. She may not consciously think this way, but she’ll pick up on the idea of which figures get men’s attention. In her own natural quest to attract men, she’ll resort to mirroring those images—or trying to. Even worse, she may get the idea that such external conformity to a specific shape is meaningful or even defining for a woman and that her other qualities are insignificant.
The issue of body image can begin to be addressed only when parents realize that messages are coming at their daughters from all sides—the media, female role models, and male observers. Those messages need to be discussed and analyzed and filtered so that our daughters have a fighting chance at seeing their value to be independent of their bodies.
Photo credits: Top © loutocky / Fotolia. Middle © bertys30 / Fotolia. Bottom © Sergej Khackimullin / Fotolia.