Have you noticed how obsessed some young women appear to be with having the perfect body, perfect face, and perfect hair? Why are these major priorities? Age, of course, is one reason, but could it also be the dozens of makeover and plastic surgery shows on television now which promote beauty and perfection? The constant marketing of all kinds of products for women (and men) on radio, television and in magazines completely consumes the airwaves and billboards, luring our young women with false promises of happiness and everlasting love, and almost hypnotizing them into buying their magical potions and gadgets. Their messages delivered to us in exchange for riches: “Look like your favorite movie star in a few weeks, and be set for the rest of your life!” What kind of impact does that have on their self-images? It’s definitely not teaching them to love themselves in their natural states! Our young women need to believe that they don’t have to think or look or behave like the rich and famous or do what the so-called “trendsetters” dictate just so advertisers and retailers can make a buck (who are they to set the standards anyway?). As one 16-year-old told me, “You gotta look good; there are beautiful girls everywhere.” Those kinds of deceitful messages are shameful and potentially harmful to young people who try futilely to reach the media’s ideal archetype.
Hollywood star and British actress Kate Winslet recently voiced her outrage at the “glamorization of ultra-thin and size zero models and actresses”. She said, “It’s so disturbing because young girls are impressionable from 11 up to… 20 even. They’re trying to figure out who they are, and they want to be loved, and what I resent is that there is an image of perfection that is getting thinner and thinner, and it’s truly upsetting to me.” The actress said that she doesn’t allow any magazines featuring “rake-thin” models into her house for fear her daughter will see them. She said, “It’s only a matter of time before she becomes aware of it, and it frightens the life out of me.” The actress said she hoped she will be an inspiration to others because, as she said, “I’m a normal person, I’m doing all right. I’ve got a lovely husband and children, and I didn’t lose weight to find those things, and those things are what should be important.”
I am also concerned that a lot of girls feel that they need to have a man (actually, a boy at that age) in their lives in order to feel complete. Again, part of the reason is age — the dawn of hormones — but could it also be a result of reality shows where a dozen women compete for one man by using any means necessary? These shows have turned meeting and winning the heart of a man (a/k/a “falling in love”) into a spectator-driven, cut-throat event featuring ruthless women who act as if men were almost extinct! Now, I admit that as young girls, we wanted to have boyfriends and we used makeup (remember that black eyeliner and blue eye shadow?), but I also remember that all of that seemed to be just a part of our lives as budding young women. We were also curious about the world, about finding out who we were inside. We actually contemplated what we would be when we grew up.
One reason for the somewhat distorted thinking of young women today could be that they are not being taught by society how to be proud of who they are right now, and how to respect and take care of themselves. Because of the wide variety of the options available to young women today, I think they become overwhelmed by the enormous amount of opportunities out there and paralyzed by a fear of making the wrong choices. These impressionable people need encouragement and to be taught to think on a more individual basis. They need to consider what’s best for them and to be shown how to establish a balance in their lives. They need to know that looks aren’t everything and that there’s a place in their lives for education and family and fun, as well. Parents today work really hard and can only hope that their kids will listen to their words of wisdom and experience. It’s a losing battle when these young women then go out into the world and are bombarded with opposing messages.
At least we had some examples. We were taught not to let boys get fresh and watched women in the movies slap a man’s face when he was rude. Girls today are told by their mothers to behave respectably, and are then exposed to music videos full of men objectifying women (who, by their words and actions, apparently acquiesce). As teenagers, we listened to rock-n-roll music about teenage angst (like “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones) and dancing (like the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout”). Songs with messages like Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and even Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” gave us inspiration and strength. Now, I am appalled as I ride along in the car listening to my 13-year-old niece sing along to popular songs, with their degrading language and obscenity and which talk vividly about sex acts and violent behavior. As I swerve to avoid crashing, reaching quickly to change the station, she says, “What are you doing? I love this song.” Please know that when I state my case, I am not advocating censorship here. Nor am I in favor of producing a class of male-bashing women — far from it. I am talking about taking responsibility for teaching our young people the difference between what is true and appropriate for them and for real life, and what is put out there for “shock value” and entertainment purposes.
I believe that we need to spread the word to our young women that they have a choice not to be that woman in the video dancing half-naked and that they will still get a boyfriend (and one of better quality). We have to teach them how to be comfortable in their own skin. We have to tell them that it’s okay to refrain from using (and listening to) offensive, disgusting, and violent language, and that those women singers (like Britney and Christina) are dressed like that because they are on stage (not in a classroom), and that yes, fellatio is sex!
This article has been edited and excerpted from Boot Camp for the Broken-Hearted (New Horizon Press, 2008) by Audrey Valieriani. Based in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Valeriani is the creator of TheAccidentalExpert.com, which provides relationship coaching.