We learn it by listening as our mothers lament about weight gain and wrinkles.
We observe our aunts and grandmothers doing this dance as they armor themselves with girdles (Spanx predecessors), and paint on faces before they dare step foot outside of the house.
We get confirmation in television commercials, even those selling cars and hamburgers, that when it comes to being a woman, beauty, is everything. And by definition this beauty standard must be extremely narrow (pun intended), come hell, high water, or eating disorders. This narrow definition of beauty, and the importance of it, fuels a billion dollar industry. An industry that teaches girls that they’re not whole, but parts, and that they’re only as good as their worst part.
The goal is to make girls think that every part of them needs fixing, and then sell them products that will fix them.
If your hair is curly, it should be straight. If it’s fine, it should be thick. You’re either too pale or too dark, too short or too tall. And you can rarely, if ever, be too thin. And to hear them tell it, unwanted body hair is basically responsible for global warming.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely against products that do these things. Nor do I think that wanting to change your appearance is inherently wrong. What I am against is the ultimate tie-in to self worth. I’m against a culture that whispers in little girls’ ears that their worth is directly tied to how they look and what they wear. And we start them off young. Over eighty percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Not afraid of not being smart, or not being healthy, but afraid of being fat.
When we inundate girls with these conversations, the ones that equate worth with beauty, we give them words they can’t un-hear. I know because I was one of them. That message gets played over and over again and it becomes the only truth. It’s a song and a dance we spend our lives trying to erase. And now, in the digital age, the message of unworthiness is on social media forever. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the new trend of girls uploading videos on You Tube with the question, “Am I pretty or ugly?” The girls then subject themselves to the comments and criticisms of respondents. These girls will never un-see this. The internet assures us of that.
The effort it takes to unlearn all of these messages and forget that awkward dance can be a difficult one. For some of us it’s our life’s work. It would be better, far better, to raise young girls, and boys for that matter, to know, intrinsically, that their worth is a birthright, separate and unattached to social status or perceived beauty.
If we don’t teach them this we will continue to raise generations of girls who look to social media for validation, who tie their worth into the flatness of their abs or the straightness of their hair. And these girls will turn into women who are dissatisfied with their bodies at an age when they should be marveling in the miracle of it. It’s time we start learning new dances and teaching them to our children. I promise we’re worth it.