The latest book about girls is all over the press at the moment: ‘Raising Girls’ by Aussie parenting guru Gisela Preuschoff. It is getting a ton of publicity as the foreword was written by Steve Biddulph, author of the million-copy best seller ‘Raising Boys’. It will come as no surprise to you all, as an advocate for teen girls, I have read it and although it makes some good points, the material is not new and the call for an army of Aunties to mentor our teen girls is already being done by many youth organisations in the UK. In fact the Girls Out Loud BIG SISTER programme is just that!
Early sexualisation, mainstreaming porn, the internet, the media onslaught about how to look and reality TV have all played their part in where we are. Girls are big business and making them feel bad about the way they look, as early as possible, is cash in the bank for so many organisations it is simply too tempting to resist. Skincare, cosmetic surgery, the media, make up, hair care, beauty industry, clothing industry, the toy manufacturers. They all play on exploiting girls so that the only question they feel necessary to answer is ‘How do I look and am I hot? In fact the hotness monitor is on overdrive wherever you look.
If the magazines, the internet and Bratz dolls are not destroying our teen girls egos enough then what they are watching on TV will delete what little self esteem they have left. Reality TV, the most watched programmes, supposedly about real life, but really set up scenarios where attractive girls and boys are shown having sex, getting off their face on drink, drugs and getting hurt both physically and more uncomfortable, emotionally. Girls are hooked on these programmes and for them it is more than entertainment, it is a monitor for what is normal and cool and we wonder why they are in the throes of a full on identity crisis before they hit 16.
Researchers have found that TV has six key messages for girls. Take a deep breath:
1. Your looks are the most important thing about you
2. Your physical characteristics (shape, weight, skin, hair, teeth, colour, smell) are NEVER, EVER good enough
3. Sex is primarily a currency that you exchange for love, attention and power
4. It is normal to have sex with people you don’t even know or especially like
5. The world is a scary, lonely, dangerous and competitive place. Better get going, you might lose the race
6. The answer to all life’s problems is to buy something.
How utterly depressing is that? I reckon this affects girls well past their teen years. I have met several young women displaying this life philosophy too.
The solution? Apart from banning TV and ALL the media we must keep talking to our girls/daughters. We must stay close and guide them along the way, spend time with them, confirm for them what is real and what is fake. Build their self esteem and self respect to help them make the right choices. But here is the biggy: in order to be the role model they need we have to be sending out the right messages too. It is not what we say they will believe, it is what we do. If we are obsessed with staying young, on a permanent diet, dabbling with botox, spending all our disposable income on the way we look and buying into the media messages, there is not much chance they will step up and out of it any time soon.
As Gandhi says ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ Celebrate your uniqueness and teach them to do the same!
Jane Kenyon is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.