Twitter exploded in conversation this week around teen girls and image thanks to the bravery of a young woman asking magazines to tone down the airbrushing (to follow the conversation: #KeepItReal). The stats tossed out in support of the movement make me want to cry, shout or find a teen girl and give her a hug.
- The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner. (@PigtailPals)
- 80% of 10-year-old girls in the U.S. say they’ve been on a diet. (@Feministing)
- 78% of 17 yr-old girls are unhappy with their bodies (@RepresentPledge)
- 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17 (@PigtailPals)
Now, we all know that 87% of statistics are made up on the spot. However, I think we can use studies to help color the picture where we already see shape.
But the challenge: to be part of the solution. I agree with the “68% of women strongly agree that “media & advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most woman can’t ever achieve.” (@Shisham).
And we all know I’d happily throw corporate greed and decision making under the bus. But corporate greed and decision stems from consumer spending. We can’t angrily shake our fist in the air while slipping them the $3.75 per issue and not take ownership. How we act informs what is published – not solely, but it’s part of the equation.
So how do we treat eating and weight and image in our homes? What remarks to do we give to our daughters, mothers and friends? How do we emphasize health, celebrate successes and encourage confidence in our bodies? What was the last complement you gave another woman about their looks that didn’t involve asking where they purchased a product? (“The cut of that dress looks great on you!” differs largely from “I love green! Is this the new Old Navy Classic Tee?”)
It’s not a secret that I’ve changed my eating habits
. And honestly, I begrudgingly succumbed to the idea for the sake of my baby’s buns. I’ve really missed yummy treats. A byproduct of my grainless lifestyle cost me several trips to the store as my pants kept falling off. I dropped about 3-4 pants sizes through the process (keep in mind I was less than 6 months postpartum as a starting size and I started working out pretty regularly in this time as well). My physical appearance noticeably changed.
I’ve watched others’ reaction to my reduction like a science experiment, and what I found fascinated me. I could put tally marks around different responses, the fewest being along the lines of “You look really great // you lost some weight” and most common: … … chirp, chirp…
My fortunate position in this experiment lies in that I don’t care what people think. I’m not “loosing weight.” I can’t really help it, other than to eat twice as much trail mix (which gets pretty expensive). So my eating decisions depend little on how others perceive my “success.”
For a large majority of those seeking to attain a particular body shape or size, positive reinforcement plays a role. And I wonder if it’s opposite our natural inclination. Let’s do some assumptive thinking to get to my point.
What if people’s perceptions of my weight loss were amiss, assuming I’d done something unhealthy or with less upright motives? At the most severe: what if they thought I was anorexic?
And what if they (somewhat rightly) thought: I don’t want to encourage this behavior.
And what if they thought: I don’t want to complement her on something that might encourage her to continue down this path. So logically, “if I say nothing, she won’t get the positive reinforcement and perhaps stop.”
And I wonder: for someone who struggles with the image issues, how would the lack of feedback be interpreted? My guess: try harder.
Now this theory depends largely on several set of assumptions and lacks true scientific study. But I think it makes sense.
So here’s my small little suggestion to help change the tide of body image of young girls: remind them how great they look. Don’t judge their motives. Don’t feed the monster of starvation by withholding love and encouragement. Lay down your pride and congratulate someone who has met a goal or found reward for their hard work. Most importantly, let them know that beauty isn’t a number.
Pretty has no quota. If someone else looks good, there’s no less “looking good” for yourself. Actually, it’s reverse. Because the confidence of someone who can give an honest complement enhances physical appearance (there has to be a study out there somewhere to prove this hypothesis). At least it does in my eyes.