It is time to take back the harm media is doing to our daughters
I have noticed that my daughter and her friends are all obsessed with this particular television show. I won’t name the title, but it is set in an American high school filled with beautiful teenagers doing glamorous, adult things. The other night I overheard my daughter watching it in her room with her friend. She said, “I would give anything to look like (actress). She is so beautiful, I could never look like her.”
Here’s the thing: that actress is not a teenager. I looked it up, and she is almost 25 years old. Likewise, every single person on that show is older than they claim by a good handful of years, and one “high schooler” is even in his 30’s! They all wear designer clothes, use professional set makeup, and have every Hollywood trick at their disposal to make it seem like that is the way a teenager should look.
My daughter and her friend—in fact, all girls are growing up looking at these false images. Then they are being told that to be beautiful they have to match them. It is a dangerous message, and one that is permeating every facet of their environment.
As parents, what are we doing to fight against this problem? Are we doing enough?
Showing Our Daughters That Balance Is Key
The cynical side of me says that there is no way we will ever banish this false sense of perfection from our media, and so our homes. But the optimist in me (a voice I prefer to listen to) says that it doesn’t really matter. We have the power to be the solution, and all it takes is some time and energy spent teaching our daughters about the balance between beauty and health.
Your instinct may be to leave the bulk of that teaching to their mom. Being a woman, she knows better what struggles your daughter faces, what insecurities. However, lobbing the job off to her is a disservice to your entire family, including yourself. It is a father’s job to help instill in his little girl a positive self-image, and that starts with showing her a more healthy perception of herself and the world around her.
Lesson One – Fiction Versus Reality
Teenagers are not dumb. They know that the images they see in fashion magazines aren’t untouched, and are aware of how photoshop, angles, makeup, corsets and other tricks are used to make a model’s body look a certain way. In fact, a study by the NYC Girls Project saw than an overwhelming number admitted that they knew it was fake, and unrealistic.
Yet, that same study found that most of those girls who said it was unhealthy admitted that they compared their own bodies to them. So whatever they know is not getting through. We have to try to really drive home that those images are 100% fiction. Showing the sheer level of alteration may help with that.
Lesson Two – There’s No “Normal” Or “Right” Kind Of Body
The ideal of body types change in society. Which should be enough to tell you something: there’s not a single “right” body shape. There isn’t a way of being “normal”. Some girls are going to be tall and lanky, some short and sturdy, and every combination or point in between. Nothing is wrong with any of them, and it doesn’t dictate beauty.
We have to show our daughters their self-worth is not tied to the size of jeans they wear. No matter what their frame, they are worthy of respect, kindness, and to be seen for who they are, not what they wear.
Lesson Three – If You Want To Be Healthy, Get Holistic
When do you know you are a healthy person? Someone who is within the recommended BMI for their health, jogs every day, and eats clean might seem healthy. But if they pollute their bodies with cigarettes, alcohol, and a combination of drugs they might not fit the picture quite as well.
Health is not just a single definition that can be gauged by someone’s size, skin clarity, or even certain factors in their lifestyle. It is holistic, meaning it is a collection of multiple elements to their life. Teaching your child to live in a holistic fashion that covers the mental, the physical, and the emotional will make them a more wholly healthy person.
Lesson Four – What Matters Is How We See Ourselves
When you are a teenage girl you are going to worry about what others say about you. In fact, all of us (yes, including dads) have a little voice inside of us, just like the voice in our daughters, the worry about Billy laughing at our new haircut. It is part of being human.
But if we can show our daughters that the only true opinion worth listening to is the one we have of ourselves, we are a long way towards healing the damage caused by those self-esteem ripping media images and taunts from other people. A positive self-image is the greatest skill your teen can have in life.
It Is Time We Stood Up For Our Daughter’s Self Esteem
A man can walk into a grocery store wearing stained sweatpants and a ripped tank top, greasy with leftover hot sauce from a wings and fries lunch, and no one bats an eye. A woman is wearing a shirt a size too big and people will call her dumpy behind her back. There is no doubt that there is an unfair double standard in the perception and expectation between men and women.
We can stand up for our daughter’s right to have positive self-esteem by fighting against this unfair double standard. We can curtail the potential for them engaging in troubling behaviors due to their lack of love for their own bodies. It all starts with teaching our girls to look in the mirror and like what they see, and to be defiant of the world’s demands. Their individuality, uniqueness, intelligence, personality, and personal achievements are what should be praised.
By promoting these things above all else we can begin to protect them against a view that hurts their confidence. That is what fathers should strive for.
Photo: Flickr/Ashley Webb