Have you ever noticed this thing that girls do to each other that guys never do? When you see your friends, you may say something like, “You look so cute!” or “Have you lost weight? Looking hot!” or “I love your outfit!” When a friend posts a picture online, girls will always post “Pretty! Look how skinny you are!” or “I cannot get over how beautiful you look!”
Now reverse the scenario.
How often do guys greet each other with “Dude, I love that outfit!” or “Have you lost weight? You look so good!” How often do guys comment on other guys’ photos with “Did you do something new to your hair? Looks awesome!” or “Looking really handsome, bro!” or “I seriously can’t get over how hot you look!”
It’s funny when it’s reversed, right? This happens because we live in a world where girls are taught that they are to be looked at above all else, while boys can be lots of things. We talk to little girls about their pretty dresses. Their toys are sexed-up dolls and dress-up kits. We can’t watch the news without a “fashion police” segment on what lady celebs are wearing and how they look in it. Most diet pills and diet foods are targeted directly at women. Many girls and women are featured on TV, in movies, or magazines purely as props to be ogled. In children’s animated movies, female characters are barely represented and when they are, they are wearing just as little clothing as women in R-rated films. There are almost no movies in theaters right now that feature women in leading roles of any kind, doing anything other than being looked at.
No wonder disordered eating has skyrocketed in recent years, with hospitalizations for little girls with eating disorders up 100 percent in the last decade. And cosmetic surgery increased 446 percent in the last decade, with 92 percent of those voluntary procedures (mostly liposuction and breast enhancement) performed on females – many younger than 18. And self-objectification is leaving even the youngest of girls and the oldest of women with fewer cognitive resources available for mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, and athletic performance.* No wonder women and girls face such immense pain and stunted progress today. If we listen to the profit-driven lies in the world, we are bodies to be looked at, judged, and constantly in need of fixing.
So today, let’s reverse the trend. Here are 8 ways to do it:
So often, well-meaning people and organizations trying to help boost girls’ self-esteem will say “You are beautiful just the way you are! You are so beautiful – don’t change a thing,” and expect that that is what we need to hear to gain confidence. But flip the script – when was the last time you heard someone trying to help guys fix their self-worth issues by telling them how handsome they are? It doesn’t happen often, because guys are valued for more than how well they decorate the world. Looks-based compliments don’t get us very far. They reinforce that our looks are super important and they can be easily brushed off as “flattering lighting” or “a good hair day.”
Dig deep next time you want to give a compliment. If you give a looks-based compliment, pair it with a character-based compliment. Don’t skip out on the looks-oriented compliment, but don’t always stop there, either! Say something nice about who they are, what they do, and how much you care about them outside of how they look. Try to make a resolution to compliment girls and women for more than those easy comments on pretty hair, weight loss, clothing, etc. While those compliments are nice, we can do better. When we minimize other females to just their bodies, we forget to remind them of their beautiful talents, characters, and gifts! We are more than bodies, so let’s make sure to remind each other of that powerful truth.
Let’s talk to little girls about literally anything besides their pretty dresses.
Ask her what books she is reading, what sports she is playing, what job she wants when she’s older, who her favorite teacher is, what her favorite subject is, who her friends are, what she likes to draw, what she likes to do for fun, who her heroes are, what her favorite joke is, etc. The list is endless! Those conversations will be valuable to her and will help her remember she’s a lot more than just a pretty face – especially when the toys and media marketed her way are trying to incite her insecurities and make her believe “sexy” and “pretty” are her only goals. Check out the awesome organization we’re part of to talk back to media and toy makers about what Brave Girls Want and get involved!
Let’s stop photoshopping ourselves out of reality.
Today, we see women presented to us all hours of the day in every form of media that are Photoshopped out of reality. Over time, many of us come to hold ourselves to that unattainable standard that appears so normal and unquestioned as we physically Photoshop ourselves out of reality with products and procedures. What does our world look like for little girls growing up today? And how much pain, energy and time will they have to put into physically Photoshopping themselves out of reality? We raise that bar of what “normal” looks like for ourselves, our daughters, and strangers on the street when we take part in our own physical Photoshopping. Here’s an outrageous idea: What would happen if confident, beautiful women decided to forego painful and expensive anti-aging procedures, breast enhancements, all over hair removal or permanent makeup? How could that change the way their daughters and friends perceived their own “flawed,” lined, real faces? Their own varied-looking and perfectly functional breasts, thighs, and arms? How could simply owning and (treating kindly and speaking nicely about) our so-called “imperfect” bodies affect not only our own lives, but those over whom we have influence? Is it possible to slowly but deliberately change the perception of these “flaws” as something to hide and fix at any cost to something acceptable and embraceable in all their human, womanly real-ness? We say yes.
Let’s stop the endless fat-talk.
The mother-daughter relationship can be either incredibly helpful or dangerously harmful to a daughter’s body image. We stress the message that we are all more powerful than we realize and our influences matter. If you say something negative about your body or your looks, SHE WILL HEAR. It will negatively affect her view of her own body. When a mother, grandma, sister, friend, or teacher speaks negatively about her own body or the bodies of others, she is teaching those under her influence more than she knows. The lie she reminds others of is this: We are all bodies to be looked at, fixed, and judged. And while we cannot shame or blame anyone for perpetuating that profit-driven lie that surrounds us our whole lives, we know there is a better way. For every girl or woman, please you know you are capable of much more than being looked at. It’s a message that will change your life and allow you to do and be and live in a world that needs you. Once you believe it, you will radiate that truth to those around you. Read this awesome post for more.
Let’s turn away from the stuff that hurts.
Set a goal to cancel out any media choices that tell you lies about what it means to be a female. Walk out of theaters, cancel subscriptions, find a new TV show to love. You’ll thank yourself and you’ll be an amazing example to strangers in the theater, friends on the couch next to you, and media execs with money to lose. Further, start paying attention to the way women are presented in movies – it’ll blow your mind. If they are there as more than just a body to be ogled, the movie will pass the simple Bechdel Test:
1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
If that movie doesn’t pass the test, at least talk about it with those you see the movie with. Facebook it. Tweet about it. Speak up. And if you want to re-sensitize yourself to what all the media you are consuming is doing to you? Try a full-on media fast that’ll change your life. Like Naomi Wolf so awesomely put it, “While we cannot directly affect the images [in media], we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them and look directly at one another. We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth.”
Lean on Caitlin Moran’s rule of thumb for whether something is worth getting all worked up about: Are the men worrying about this as well? If they’re not, you can surely bet the reason you’re worried is because a profit-driven industry has been begging you to obsess about that flaw until you spend all your money to fix it. Surgical implants? All-over hair removal? 500-calorie diets? All lady problems. Maybe it’s time to rebel against the system that profits from giving us anxiety over the roots in our hair all the way down to the tips of our toenails. Try this: literally flip the script. When you’re reading a magazine, the news, a book, watching a TV show or movie, etc., imagine what it would look like if the genders were flipped. Would a man pose like that in that ad? Would that journalist describe a male politician in that way? As media consumers, we see SO MUCH sexist, objectifying, limiting stuff every day and it starts to appear normal and natural very quickly. When you flip the script, you begin to be re-sensitized to how media puts women “in their place” as objects to be looked at. And it’s OK to be mad about it!
Let’s put that body-hating voice in our heads on mute.
Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself? On the flipside of that, research has found that girls who respect their bodies are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are more active and make healthy lifestyle choices way into the future.** Set a goal to stop letting negative things about yourself constantly float through your mind. Start with a day, a week, a month, whatever you can do, and make it a permanent practice!
Let’s remind each other what we’re capable of.
You are capable of much more than being looked at. Do you know who you are? Have you grasped the powerful role you can play in a world so badly in need of your unique talents, wisdom, and light? Are you aware of your unique mission at this point in your life? You’ve got something great to do, that only you can do. And if you are here to be looked at, to appear, to survey yourself, instead of do an inspirational work that only you can do, you are not fulfilling your mission. Cheesy? Yes. True? Oh yes. More true than you know.
Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.
*Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Harter, 1993; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Simmons, Rosenberg, & Rosenberg, 1973; Steinberg, 1999; Steingraber, 2007
**Patricia van den Berg & Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. (2007). Journal of Adolescent Health.