Grocery shopping with my parents on weekend afternoons was a boring and depressing chore in intermediate and middle school. The only grocery store in our town was ACME, which was small and overpriced, so we drove the twenty minutes out of town to the new Shop-Rite to stock up on hotdogs, baked beans, and fish sticks.
I tagged along, not only to pick out my own cereal, Pop-Tarts, and potato chips, but to peruse the fashion magazines while we stood in line to check out:
Bop, and Elle
I flipped through the pages and pictures, the articles and quizzes, taking my time to pick the magazine with the most relevant topics to make me Cool and Popular…to make me Hot!
Once we were home and (most) of the food was unpacked, I sprawled across my bed to study every page. I dog-eared any article, advertisement, or beauty tip promising to make me over. I scooped mayonnaise from the jar and onto my head in order to tame my frizzy hair, and I poured peroxide and baking soda over my toothbrush to whiten my teeth. I ordered painful hair removal products, which were a waste of money. I tried bronzing lotions which turned my skin orange, and I stole pockets full of products from Rite-Aid, including foundation, nail polish, and facial cleansing oils.
But it wasn’t enough- nothing made me look like the models in the magazines.
My feet were gross, I thought. My skin was too pale and my arms were too hairy. I wore blue jeans and sneakers even during the hottest Jersey heat waves to cover up my skin.
I thought I was ugly.
And this idea was drawing a curtain of depression over my middle school perceptions. Low self-esteem colored the landscape of my life, and it seasoned the perfect victim for a child sex trafficker.
From the documentary, Killing Us Softly 4, Jeane Kilbourne says the following:
“Ads sell more than products…to a great extent they tell us who we are, and who we should be. But what does advertising tell us about women? It tells us, as it always has, that what’s most important is how we look. So the first thing the advertisers do is surround us with the image of ideal female beauty. Women learn from a very early age that we must spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and, above all, money striving to achieve this look and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail…”
“And Failure is inevitable,” Jean continues, “because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness. She never has any lines or wrinkles. She certainly has no scars or blemishes. Indeed, she has no pores. And the most important aspect of this flawlessness is that it cannot be achieved: no one looks like this, including her…The supermodel Cindy Crawford once said, ‘I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.’ She doesn’t. She couldn’t. Because this is a look that’s been created for years through airbrushing and cosmetics, but these days it’s done through the magic of computer retouching…”
So how do we help our girls maneuver their way through the myriad of advertisements in their lives? I believe the best route is through education. I strongly believe that media literacy is needed in schools as early as intermediate age. The class objective should be to expose the gap between reality and what’s seen on television, as Dove does in their film above called Evolution.
Please share it with the girls in your lives…