I rarely get on soap boxes, at least publicly. It’s just not my thing. But there is one topic about which I am passionate — little girl’s self-esteem and the constant messages about what is “beauty” and “pretty” and “normal”. If you’ve ever seen a three-year old little girl in a bathing suit, she is completely body unself-conscious. Visit her again in about 4 years (6 if you’re lucky), and you will find a little girl who has already started to worry about weight, who has already started to compare herself to the other little girls to see if she “fits in.”
It makes me livid. Because self-conscious little girls can grow into self-questioning little girls, into teenage girls with self-esteem issues, into girls that make poor choices in a desire to be accepted, in hopes of being thought pretty, in pursuit of fitting in. And what rips me is just whose definition of pretty and fitting in and acceptance is it? Whenever I look at a magazine or TV or any mass media, I want to take a Sharpie and draw bulges and lines where the model’s body really is, pre-Photo-Shopping. I have two beautiful nieces, and I dread the time that they believe that the world’s expectations of beauty are based on photos of people who have themselves been altered to represent an unrealistic vision of beauty.
I am ranting based on my experience and my own non-scientific analysis of the world in which we live. I haven’t read formal studies, but I remember my own childhood. I grew up in a very female-dominated atmosphere. My mama had 6 sisters and, on most Sundays, the sisters and their families gathered at my grandparent’s house. Thus, for the Sundays of my childhood, my cousins and I spent time in a house full of females, discussing their lives. A common comment that we girl cousins heard from these aunts’ and mothers’ mouths was “I am so fat. I need to lose weight.”
This statement was never directed to anyone else. It was always self-directed and normally met with a chorus of “No, you don’t.” Yet, the message that we heard was “Fat is BAD! Bad. Bad. Bad.”
Regardless of the fact that we children were told “You are beautiful. You do not need to worry about how you look. You are beautiful”, it didn’t matter because our female role models were always talking about being fat. I internalized that message and in talking to my sister and my female cousins, so did they. My self-esteem about my looks suffers now because of this and because I am not 6’4″ tall and 95 lbs., which is the body type for all clothes.
My mama used to say “Pretty is as pretty does” — and it is so true. But no one should think they are ugly.
As an additional thought, I have some songs that I think are good songs for sharing. These songs underscore the beauty to be found in all “little girls”: