In order to tip the balance so that your daughter values her self beyond her image, you
want to mitigate her exposure to targeted messages that tell her a young girl’s most valuable asset is her image.
Images of unattainable female beauty are so prevalent they are practically the air young girls breathe. As a result, teen girls often are unclear about why images of young women being sexually objectified are problematic.To them, the woman in the picture is simply pretty.
They don’t understand why their parents would have a problem seeing them wearing revealing, low-cut shirts to school. In fact, they see their parents’ concern as undermining their general ability to fit in or get peer approval.
It’s important to note that for many young girls dressing “sexy” does not correlate with a desire to be sexual. Rather, it’s about the desire to be valued. Developmentally, the desire to be sexual does not come about until the later teen years for girls. In other words, that need to look sexy is much more about connecting emotionally than it is about the need for actual sex.
Complicating the issue, the objectification of girls by teen boys has increased due to their exposure to sexualized media images. From what I have observed in my discussions with many teen girls, much of the sexual experimentation that girls attempt reflects an effort to get approval from and to be valued by their male teen peers who are developmentally much more sexually desirous.
In the book Girls on the Edge, Dr. Leonard Sax shares an anecdote about a young Islamic girl in the novel Lolita in Tehran. The young girl is asked why she does not take off her burqa when she does not have to wear it. She looks back with questioning eyes, seeming to ask, “but why would I do that?”
This young girl is ironically similar to our young girls in that they both simply do what they perceive will lead them to acceptance and positive regard by their peers and the adults around them. No critical decision is made about wearing the burqa because there has been neither a discussion of alternatives nor an historical education on why and how the Burqa came to be. Similarly, there is no discussion around why it is standard for 14-year olds to wear cleavage-bearing shirts.
From the perspective of either girl, what’s most important is to be valued by peers and to
not stick out as different. Sexualized images of women are pervasive in the West and, therefore, part of a reality that is difficult to challenge. So when you ask your teen to stop dressing in skimpy clothes and focus instead on her image, you have already confused her because to her there is no distinction between the two choices.
Unless you create and expose her to an alternative reality.
Last week I shared a series of videos that discuss the influence of media. If you did not watch the videos, here they are again. Watch them with your daughter and discuss what she learned.
This week, find positive images in media of woman that you can expose your daughter to. And post them on your refrigerator.
1. What woman inspires you today? Who inspired you as a teenager? Are the reasons for your inspirations different? Can you be willing to listen to who your daughter is inspired by even if it is hard to understand?
2. Find famous women who are admirable for their accomplishments. They are out there in the media–you just might have to do some Googling to find them. Once you’ve found exemplary women, search for clips of them speaking on YouTube and then share the videos with your daughter.
Here are just a few women with both beauty and brains that your daughter might be more likely to value if she is very image focused:
Angelia Jolie, a global humanitarian aid;
Cristina Frenandez de Kirchner, the first female President of Argentina;
Christy Turlington Burns, a model writer, advocate and film maker;
Rosario Dawson, actress, advocate, and educator of immigration rights for Hispanics in the U.S.;
Kate Winslet, an actress who refuses to have her image Photoshopped;
Bethany Hamilton, a world class surfer with one arm!
3. Look for movies where the main character is a woman and is celebrated for her intellect or ambition–not just for her looks.
Thelma and Louise
Gorillas in the Mist
The Young Victoria.
LunaFest– Films by and about woman.
4. Expose her consistently to stories about inspiring women’s lives. Remember you are in competition with the media, and they have a head start.
5. Take your daughter to events where she can see women serving in inspiring roles. Places to find these women include professional sporting events, political events, debates, art exhibits, or talks women are giving about their adventures and pursuits. Introduce her to women who are active leaders in your community.
6. Find women who represent your daughter’s ethnic identity. It’s very powerful for girls to see images of women who look like them. There are plenty out there–you just have to look beyond the magazines to find them.
7. Tell her what you value most about her. Be literal. Acknowledge the intense pressures to be beautiful that she is up against. Express empathy because finding one’s way can be difficult. Assure her that ultimately, when she is through the teen years, she will be happy to have held on to and developed all of her gifts as a woman.
By doing these things you are tipping the balance of exposure away from the media’s ideal of women and toward an ideal of what is possible for your daughter to become. Remember your daughter is in a developmental stage of asking “Who am I?” It’s natural for her to experiment. So don’t feel too concerned when she comes home looking like Lady Gaga. Instead, celebrate her experimentation and then offer her some more choices.
Here are a few more resources:
List of present and historical women leaders
Changing-The-Leadership-Paradigm- Commentary on how women leaders are portrayed in media.
List of current women leaders, their pictures and short biography
Video of Argentina’s President discussing her views on equal marriage rights