Images of Women in the Media
One popular definition of self-esteem is self-worth. Psychologically speaking, this is a human being's self-image at an emotional level and has nothing to do with logical thinking or reasoning. Some experts define self-esteem as self-respect or a feeling of confidence in one's own merit.
In medical circles the expression inferiority complex denotes a neurotic state of mind that can arise as a result of hurt feelings and frequent failures. This feeling of inferiority can arise when there is a conflict between a person's wish to be recognized for something valuable and the fear of being seen as worthless. As a result, a girl may try to compensate by becoming aggressive or violent.
The main reason for a girl's low self-esteem is the reflections of women she sees all around her in the media, the malls, and the movies. Wherever she glances, she sees images of females that are completely unrealistic. They are presented to her as ideals to emulate while being out of her reach. No matter how much your daughter strives to be just like them, she cannot achieve the extreme thinness, height, and photogenic facial structures. For that reason, the constant barrage of what your daughter feels she ought to look like can erode her confidence and lower her self-esteem.
But do not worry. The false images that flood your daughter's field of vision cannot stand up to the real images of females you present to your daughter. You can get a handle on this issue. You can make sure she meets real women who do great things, and that she knows real women come in all sizes.
You know how detrimental it would be if someone told your girl every day that she does not measure up and never will. So you are not about to permit her to receive similar negative messages without first teaching her to separate fact from fantasy. It is time for her to master the myths about female appearance that millions of girls still buy into.
Most women shown by the media are fantasy creations. There is very little reality to them. Explain the airbrushing techniques used in photo shoots and layouts to your girl. If she is interested, take her for a glamour photo session and let her experience all the lengthy preparations it takes to get ready for just one picture, like the hassle of the hairdo, the stiff and aching muscles that result from hours of staying in one position, the uncomfortable feeling of having layers of heavy makeup put on her face.
In a 1997 survey by the Renfrew Center, a facility for girls with eating disorders, researchers found that 90 percent of the toys meant for girls that were examined dealt with beauty and beauty products, shopping, and dating. The stores featured in one game were a beauty salon, a bridal shop, a store for ball gowns, and one for ballerinas.
It is important that you take every opportunity to teach your daughter the following quick facts:
- Everybody is born with a different body and all types are great.
- Models and many movie stars have genes that make them tall and thin.
- That fact encourages them to be dependent on their looks to make a living.
- Since looks last a short time, models and movie stars only have a short prime period and often end up looking for other work.
Your daughter does not have to feel sorry for girls who—for their own reasons—sacrifice so much to become famous or frequently featured in magazines, unless she wants to, but she should feel empathy for them. She should also know that even the thinnest, tallest, and best-photographed young women may have low self-esteem because every year there is another huge crop of newcomers in their field. Models and actresses are constantly in danger of being replaced; for them, fame is fleeting.
What can I do about my daughter who spends every free moment reading magazines that feature super-thin girls?
Tell your girl that sometimes magazines can be like upscale clothing stores for her to browse through and to enjoy; they can give her some idea of what styles and outfits might be flattering on her, now and later. Ask her to tear out a few pages to keep and to toss the rest. Also make sure she has plenty of other reading materials on hand, including her textbooks.
Once you have added some reality to today's fabricated media images of women, you want to use some sure-fire self-esteem builders with your daughter. Begin with yourself. Be comfortable and happy with your looks. Do not compare your daughter to the screen versions. Know you are the most influential person in the growth of your daughter's self-confidence.
Take a look at your girl's toys and games to make sure they are not detrimental to her self-worth. Many playthings marketed to girls these days, besides the obvious Barbie dolls, contain secret esteem-damaging messages. One of them is that your daughter is only valuable as a beauty-conscious and fashion-aware consumer.
Do not buy a product from a company that runs ads that make girls feel bad about themselves. Also, do not let your daughter buy magazines that make her feel less confident than she is, unless it has other redeeming features. Why should you, or she, support any business that makes her feel worse about herself?
What you want to do is make your daughter more critical of the girl messages she receives. Teach her to critique what she sees and be proud of her body and her self. She is no one's object to be manipulated, duped, or used. No one can make her feel inferior, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, without her consent.
Your daughter must know how wonderful she is. She is your most precious possession-a special young person with many options, talents, and important tasks ahead. Although it is true that nationally the self-esteem of girls reaches a peak when they are nine years old and plummets from then on, you can be the parent and leader to reverse that alarming trend by making your girl extra-confident, which will rub off on her girlfriends.