Raising girls means many wonderful things.
It also means a lifetime spent battling ignorant messages about gender roles, societal norms, and self-esteem against a social enemy whose influence is far more popular than Mom’s.
These misguided expectations affect us as a community so whether you have a daughter or not is beside the point; we are in jeopardy of creating a large population of girls that believe their only worth comes from made-up faces and skinny waists found somewhere in between glossy pages and the perfect selfies. It’s maddening to think that at such an early age girls are immersed in messages that, at best, give them a distorted sense of self, or, at worst, make them feel like outsiders.
In order to change these messages, it is important for us to listen. We must start questioning and talking about these messages but in order to ask questions we must first understand the problem exists in even the smallest of cracks and be ready to face them no matter where we find them.
While I applaud Disney for making princesses of different ethnicities, some with strong personality traits (Belle, an avid reader; Mulan, a brave warrior; Merida, an adventurous spirit), I have still yet to see a flat-chested or big booty princess.
They may all be different in personality but they are united in their hotness. (Umm… hello, 16-year-old Ariel with seashell boobies!) Even Husband has noticed sexier cartoons after watching an episode of the new My Little Pony, “Is it me or are those ponies more sexualized than they used to be?”
He was right. The newest version is slimmer, taller, and more shaped. And yes, I’m talking about horses. My Little Pony, back in my youth, actually looked like horses (crazy, I know) and now their legs are taller, more toned. Their cheekbones are sculpted after Kate Moss and their necks are elongated.
These ponies are—dare I say, sexy? A pony?
And it isn’t just cartoons. In storefronts, girls are shown that beautiful means to be airbrushed and painted and filtered. They will shop at stores where to be thin means to be a 000—and, no, that isn’t a typo or an extra zero added to a James Bond film… it is now a real size according to J.Crew. Pause. Deep breath.
Seriously? What is that?
Technically, doesn’t a zero on it’s own mean nothing, so wouldn’t 000 be even less than nothing. So, theoretically, a person wearing a triple zero is wearing a size smaller than nothing? Like a negative? Does that mean that a regular size 0 is now a large? And I want to be clear that I’m not picking on smaller girls, I’m picking on the labels and numbers companies create for us.
But these companies aren’t all to blame. They are the big cracks in our societal sidewalk but they aren’t the only cracks. The smallest of cracks fall on us. Individuals. At some point, we must turn the finger from cartoons and chain stores to ourselves and begin accepting personal responsibility.
Where do we, as women, fit in to what girls close to us think about themselves? Do we create or add to some of the messages they hear?
I am a size 10-12 or in Europe a size 32 or in the alphabet an “L” and while I’m not afraid to admit it, I’d also have to admit that I’ve talked about my belly in front of my daughter, heck, I’ve written about it; in jest, yes, but does my daughter know the difference? Does the little girl standing behind me in the grocery store know the difference when I jokingly refer to my side as my muffin top, my waffles, or my wine fridge?
Probably not since neither of them speak sarcasm. So I have to ask: is that what I want them to think, that this beautiful stomach is a source of shame for me? That I’m not proud of everything this stomach can do, has done, and continues to do for me? That they shouldn’t be proud of their perfect little bellies? Is that the beauty legacy I’m leaving behind when I point out my waffle storage?
How we choose to think about ourselves is how younger girls will think about themselves.
Let’s choose, then, to see ourselves pretty; to glow at the capacity of our arms and talk about how they help us to carry children, swing across monkey bars, or help kick ass at volleyball instead of knocking how jiggly they look in tank tops. And let’s be proud of our powerful thighs that climb stairs, ride bikes, and are our bodies’ anchors when used in a tug o’ war struggle.
We could be embarrassed by teeth for being crooked or too pointy or not perfectly straight or love them for being a part of the smile that welcomes people into our presence. If we reflected on all our bodies can do and how our fingers interlock with others’ fingers to hold the hands of our lovers or our babies and how our toes help us grip the ground when the floor is wet or how our feet are the oldest form of transportation.
If we remembered that our tongue with its 10,000 taste buds let’s us taste bacon or that our hair is an extension of our nervous system and can warn us of danger (hence the phrase the hairs on my neck stood up), we’d remember that our bodies are much more than just aesthetically pleasing, that they are incredible machines and not just fancy vehicles whose beauty is found in its parts.
So here’s the bottom line: we have to fill in the cracks—all of them—the big and the small.
We have to make better individual decisions to inevitably lead to better social changes. When enough individuals were outraged with the Victoria Secret “A Perfect Body” campaign, it was changed to “A Body for Everybody.” I personally decided to take my business to Aerie who stopped Photoshopping their models and instead ran “The Real You is Sexy” campaign.
I definitely don’t shop at Abercrombie & Bitch—I mean Fitch—who apparently won’t stock XL sizes.
Most importantly, when I talk to my daughter (or any girl) and she tells me she looks beautiful in her princess dress I agree and remind her that she looked beautiful before the princess dress, in the princess dress, and well after the princess dress. And at night, before going to bed, I have her repeat after me: I am funny. I am smart. I am kind. I am beautiful. I have a good heart. I am a good friend so that she can begin to understand the beautiful is only one thing of many.
When we stop picking the unhealthy options that media and society offer, they’ll have no choice but to give us healthier solutions. We have to shoulder some responsibility too; otherwise, we relinquish our power and minimize ourselves to excuses: it’s their fault. There is nothing I can do. Media is everywhere. It’s too powerful.
But we, too, are powerful.
And that is the legacy I want to leave behind.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jennifer Legra
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: via the author