The Impact of the Beauty Industry on Young Girls
Obsession of Youth and Beauty
We live in a youth obsessed society. We cannot watch a tv show, enjoy a movie, walk through a store or read a magazine without seeing or hearing something about altering our face, bodies or changing our style of dress in order to look younger or sexier. We know that the beauty industry works hard at marketing to women in particular to alter their bodies into an image that is not realistic. We know that young girls are exposed to this on a daily basis, so how does this really affect their self-esteem and self-images that they hold for themselves?
Pressure of the Beauty Industry on Young Girls
From manicures to pedicures to highlights and plastic surgery, the beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. As a woman, and a parent of a young daughter, I am careful about what I say to my daughter and in front of her about beauty and self-image. But how do you control what is public? The media inundates everyone with so much information and so many images how do you control what your children take in each day? As a parent, I try to monitor what my children see on tv, but sometimes that just is not possible. So how, in this great over-stimulating society that we live in, do we raise girls with a healthy sense of self-worth?
I recently read an article in our local parent magazine that was about young girls becoming pampered princesses and how detrimental it is to them. One of the complaints was that the beauty industry now targets girls at such young ages to “improve their appearance.” The author claimed that Hello Kitty’s new nail polish/lip-gloss line and other well-known characters were targeting young girls to believe in the need to change them into something that they are not. This really got me thinking about my own daughter and the activities that she participates in as well as the shows she watches and clothes she wears. Am I feeding into this princess mentality of our young girls today?
Be Your Daughter's Role Model
After a lot of reflection about this, I decided that I am not. One of the rites of passage for girls is painting your nails, playing with makeup, and dressing up in your mother’s clothes. All of these things are typical childhood activities for young girls. My daughter, who is four, loves to have her finger and toe nails painted. She adores when the big girls in our neighborhood do her hair and put their play make up on her. So why not have the make up and nail polish with a character that they are familiar with and can identify? I do not believe that it is the nail polish or the character that is represented on the bottle that creates the problem. In my opinion, the problems lies within a lack of guidance that does along with these things.
Mothers are their daughter’s first role models. This is part of discovering who we are and trying to find our place in the world as women. This is fine if you have a strong female role model from which to emulate yourself after. But what happens if you don’t? Unfortunately there are many girls today that do not have strong female role models so they turn to the television as their guide to living their life and making important life choices.
Clothing Industries Crossing the Line
I do however believe that there are some things that are just inappropriate for young girls. For example, there was some recent controversy about a push up bathing suit for tweens sold by Abercrombie and Fitch. The argument was that this is creating a sexual image of seven and eight year old children and drawing attention to parts of their bodies that have not even developed yet. I happen to agree with this. However, the power is in the parents' control. It is your choice to spend your dollars on this type of merchandise or not.
Self-image, Self-worth, Self-esteem
So what does it mean to have a positive self-image, a healthy sense of self-worth and a high self-esteem? Self-image is the perception that one has of oneself. Self-worth is the value that one places on oneself. Self-esteem is a combination of these things along with the confidence that one has to have a strong, positive sense of oneself. There are many external forces that creates pressure on girls today. They even include the inner circle of your daughter's friends. Girls can be manipulative and caddy. If you do something to offend one of them, you are likely to see a very passive, manipulative transformation of what were once friends.
Building Positive Self Images
So how do we work to grow young girls into women with a strong sense of self that will lead them to have a positive, successful life?
- Monitor the programs that your daughter watches. Make sure that your daughter is watching shows that show girls and women that are not overly focused on body image or that create a character that is ditsy and brainless.
- Examine the role that you are modeling for your impressionable child. Do you talk about your dislike for your body in front of your daughter or talk about dieting? Try saying things like, “I’m exercising or eating __________ to keep my body healthy and strong.”
- Encourage your daughter to participate in non-traditional girl activities. daughter to like and be good at math or science. Have her play a sport. Prompt her to do something that interests her, not just what is “cool.”
- Have conversations with your daughter. You will never know what your daughter is thinking unless you ask her. Keeping communication lines open will help your daughter to feel safe in coming to you when she has a problem. Don’t be judgmental or it will shut her down. Help her to understand that it is normal to have some discomfort about changes that her body may be going through but that this is part of the normal cycle of life.
- Be Honest. Talk honestly with your daughter. Whether it's during a tough conversation or when your child asks if her lopsided cake is beautiful, be honest. I think that many children have an overinflated ego today because no one tells them that they are not good at something. Everyone gets an award at the the year end banquets so that no one feels bad. I think that this is a great disservice to young people. Reality is that not everyone is good at everything. We can say it in a way that is kind, but honest as well.
- Know your daughter's friends. Sometimes you will be able to head off a potential problem if you know who your daughter's friends are. If you notice that one or two girls in particular are not behaving in a positive way, you can talk with your daughter about what she is attracted to in those particular friends.
- Help your child to have several circles of friends. Allow your child to have several circles of friends. This may be people at school, sports teams, church organizations, etc. That way if your daughter is having conflict with one group, she can always turn to another.
- Role play. Practice different scenarios of things that could happen in your daughter's social life. This is not just limited to sex, drugs, and alcohol. Practice how she would handle taunting and teasing about her looks, weight, or any other potential bullying
Media Images of Beauty
Growing up in today's society is very tough on young girls. The images that they receive in the media are often life shaping for them. As adults, it is much easier for us to see how silly and unrealistic these images and expectations are, but for young girls, they are not often able to discern the difference. Dove's real beauty campaign is trying to change the way that the beauty industry impacts the lives of young girls. Although their campaign is admirable, it is a small drop in billion dollar bucket that the beauty industry holds.
In my opinion it is our job as parents not to vilify characters such as Hello Kitty, but to use our discretion as to what is best for our daughters. Mothers, it is also our job to serve as positive role models for our daughters and to be there for them when they need us. Accept our girls for the uniqueness within them. Celebrate the beauty of our young girls, both inside and out.