I kept the list in a lavender envelope under my mattress, together with ads I clipped from women’s magazines — pictures of perfect, sexy models. According to my list, my breasts were too small, my butt wasn’t perky enough, my thighs were too fat, and my ankles were embarrassing. My ankles.
When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, sexy “beer babe” ads were everywhere and blondes with bouncy boobs were used to sell cars. I didn’t buy the beer or the cars, but I did learn to hate my body and wish I were someone else. I learned through movies, TV and advertising that it was better for girls to be pretty than smart.
Today, some people act as though sexism has disappeared. In fact, some seem to think women have advanced so far that feminism can be chucked into the dustbin of history.
But if that were the case, why is my young niece bombarded with media images that make those beer babes look as innocent as Minnie Mouse? Speaking of Minnie Mouse, why is she now so skinny? And how did a now-blonde Anne of Green Gables‘ boobs get so big?
As my niece grows up, I don’t want her to suffer from the same obsessive worries and self-loathing that I did. I want her to be proud of her entire self: mind, body and bold, fearless personality. I want her to be surrounded with images of real women with real bodies, who have real power — not just the so-called power that comes with hypersexualization.
In some ways, it’s more confusing for girls now than it was for me. While artists like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé seem to present empowering messages about how “girls rule the world,” in their videos they deliver that message half-naked, through pouting lips while humping the ground or spreading their legs.
Girls learn the same message I did: their main source of women’s power is our physical appearance. When your body is your only tool, your ideas about self-improvement tends to focus on superficial things like smaller ankles rather than say, developing better critical thinking skills.
According to a recent study by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 90 per cent of Canadians today believe that exposure to unrealistic sexy images of women in advertising is a problem for girls growing up in Canada. Eighty-eight per cent feel it’s a problem in TV and movies too.
I am glad that we acknowledge this as a problem, but I don’t think we’re taking this seriously enough.
We should be outraged at what these messages are doing to our daughters.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation study also says 37 per cent of Canadians know a girl who wants to diet or get plastic surgery because she doesn’t think she is pretty enough. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, only 14 per cent of girls in Grade Ten say they feel self-confident (down from 36 per cent of girls in Grade Six).
Constant exposure to unrealistic images of sexualized women is poisoning their self-esteem and placing them at high risk for eating disorders, smoking, and depression.
But what about the boys? As a mother of a tween son, I think about that a lot. There’s no question men and boys are being manipulated about what women and girls “should” look like, and learning to measure women’s value by their physical appearance.
Some argue that men and boys are also sexualized in advertising, but is it having the same effect? Last week, my son saw a TV commercial featuring an objectified David Beckham in his underwear. (For the record, that is no more okay than the Victoria’s Secret ads we are bombarded with during the Valentines marketing season.) But my son didn’t worry that he doesn’t have abs like Beckham. Instead, he laughed and said, “Mom, why is he on TV looking like THAT? Doesn’t he know he’s a great soccer player!?”
I want my niece to one day use the same kind of critical thinking when she looks at ads or watches a TV show. The next time she sees Beyoncé do a soft porn Super Bowl performance, I want her to think “Why is she on TV looking like THAT? Doesn’t she know she’s a great singer!?”
For more information visit www.canadianwomen.org or tweet using hashtag #cdnwomen.
Sandra Diaz is the Vice President of marketing and communications for the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Cross-posted with permission of Sandra Hawken Diaz from Huffington Post. Follow Sandra Hawken Diaz on Twitter at @cdnwomenfdn.