I recently attended a seminar for work and it left me incredibly baffled and annoyed. Entitled, “How to deal with Adolescent Stress” I had no idea one of the topics would be about body image, and how young girls find themselves increasingly stressed about how they look and needing to fit into their peer groups. One of the solutions which many programs already implement are programs aimed at young girls/young women only, with activities aimed at boosting their morale about themselves and understanding the ugly side to media portrayal. This is where my rant comes in, I simply do not believe this is the solution. Hear me out:
I think older people have this idea that we (young people) have no idea how media portrays us to be. We know. From a very young age we were made aware and were self-aware of the obscenely skinny models and picture perfect faces. Although for a time some of us thought this to be what the perfect woman embodied, later on we did learn that this is in fact not true. We learned this from our parents and our teachers. But then something happened. There was this uprise of programs entitled, “Go Girl” or “Power Girl” aimed at boosting a girl’s confidence and perspective on this fake beauty even more. I recall Dove being a pioneer in starting these campaigns for girls and women having them believe that real beauty is makeup-less and curvy. Reading through the events page in one of Calgary’s city magazines I found, “Young Women of Power Conference”. Its description is as follows:
“An all-day conference for girls ages 12 to 18ish consisting of active group sessions about hair care, Zumba, boxing, friendship and more aimed at helping girls see that they are more than enough. Speakers include _______________, slam poet champion, ______________ of the Pregnancy Care Centre, and rising pop-star _______________.” (spaces left blank on purpose!)
This is what “power” conferences are becoming. Apparently knowing how to care for your hair and how to zumba are quintessential tools in making strong young woman. I put in bold that one line about “helping girls see that they are more than enough” because that is the crux of these programs. It is frustrating really, these conferences have this idea that girls do not know what they’re worth in society but they do know! They know exactly what society expects them to be, they expect them to be insecure about their image because media portrays women as being unrealistically perfect! Conferences are simply just supporting what society labels girls to be. These conferences have already assumed that girls nowadays have low self-esteems. When conferences tell girls to ‘love themselves’ or to ‘feel beautiful just the way you are’ they’re ultimately saying to accept the world’s views on them as it is. The world view being that girls are crippling at the hands of perfect, skinny models on product advertisements. It is okay to not feel perfect, but we do not feel this way because our confidence has been shot, we feel this way because that is what society has trained us to understand. Girls do not need self-esteem boosters, or people shouting at them telling them they’re gorgeous, flaws and all. What girls need is the opportunity to be able to do what they want to do without fear of facing stereotypes or sexism. True and righteous power comes from equal opportunity-not from ‘feeling’ beautiful. Girls need engineering programs not aimed at “promoting the engineer in the girl” but having them simply know that the engineer in them was there the whole time and now they can prove it. Girls need science programs that do not advertise statistics about the number of female scientists vs. male, but rather just programs that offer science to girls with an eye for science! Nobody needs to tell girls in sports that they should feel accomplished because they have muscles, or real girls are athletic. Girls just need the opportunity to participate in sports and competition without sexism.
Programs that support girl’s self-esteem no doubt are only trying to have their best interests in mind, but the ‘feel good’ aspect of life is not everything. Learning to love who you are and who you are becoming are certainly important in every day life but there is so much more. Perhaps people need to realize that what girls need most is opportunity and guidance in their endeavors. They (or I guess, we) do not need forks in the road or barriers known as stereotypes but need a clear path. Instead of telling girls to be happy and smile, perhaps we should tell them that they have every right to be pissed with how society expects them to be. This will warrant for change, the key is understanding that the realization of injustice causes change-not simply just settling for what society wants us to be with a smile.
Now, after reading this, watch this video and you may begin to realize what I mean about supposed “Power Women” mantras. What is YOUR definition of REAL beauty? The definition of beauty is not always what you see, but definitely who you are. Let’s change “Power Women” and actually give us power, not just “love who you are” statements and tearfully made videos.