I have been thinking a lot lately about how early it happens that girls acquire a perception of their own worth. Children – both boys and girls – are bombarded by messages from the media, remarks from women in their lives about their own self-images (“Oh, no thank you! Just a salad a for me. That _____ will go straight to my hips.”), and by young adults that they look up to and model their lives after (the 95lb, 5’5″ fourteen year old who says on the bus to school “Ugh. I feel so fat today.”) Since young children are still, in so many ways, very much children…it can be easy to think that they aren’t absorbing these things like sponges. We assume that girls are not acquiring an unachievable vision of what they should look like, and that boys are not inheriting the same vision for themselves and for the women these girls will grow up to be.
Kate Thompson in The Huffington Post recently published an article (read it here) on this very topic. One of the most striking excerpts:
“In this beautifully written and very moving article Passing on Body Hatred by Kasey Edwards, we can see how the cycle so often begins in childhood. After her mother had shared her feelings of negative body image with her as a child, she said, in an open letter to her mother: “I cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy; because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.” ….Women are the mothers, wives, daughters, doctors, scientists and thinkers of the future. Our greatest contribution to the world is not about how we look but who we are and what we do.”
In a similar vein, an old friend of mine recently wrote a piece describing her own struggle with body-image and beauty in the high-powered world of Hollywood . I am grateful that there are strong, independent female role-models like Tara Rasmus out there in the “real world” who can write pieces like this and remind young women (indeed, all of us) that the media portrayal of femininity is artificial and empty. As educators we need to remember that we send subtle, yet palpable, messages to the young children in our classrooms everyday. In how we accept compliments, care for ourselves, speak about body-image, model healthy-eating…we too bear a heavy responsibility in creating a culture for boys and girls that values healthy choices in which that word “healthy” is known for more than lettuce, self-denial, or compulsive exercising. I am far more inclined to champion this view of healthy that Tara referred to in her article:
“Sexy is inherent in a healthy appreciation for food, in having the energy to romp with your beloved, pick up your baby, cook dinner for your friends, go for a run, or simply take a gentle walk to the market. Sexy is in feeling sated, having options, and feeling alive.” – Sophie Dahl