I was appalled to see on TV recently a female teenager who was going to Thailand for a “cosmetic holiday”.
That wasn’t the appalling part. I’m not morally opposed to plastic surgery. She said she wanted a new set of DD breasts to give her self-esteem a boost. It’s unfair and sad that she has to go through a painful and expensive procedure to feel confident in her own body, but good on her for taking steps to feel better, right?
I was thinking “fair enough” until I heard the next words out of her mouth.
“Maybe if I had bigger boobs I’d be able to keep a boyfriend.”
You see, a boy had recently broken up with her. And instead of wondering whether she had treated him well enough, been a good person- or, even better, if he could actually be to blame for her low self-esteem- she decided that she needed to change herself (drastically, permanently and in a potentially life-threatening way) in order to be attractive to men.
This girl went on to say that she wanted a “nice rack”. And I could do nothing more than shake my head and thank my lucky stars that young, impressionable little girls would likely be in bed sleeping soundly rather than hearing this teen refer to a part of her glorious, beautiful body- a body that can literally house and then bring into the world a human life- in such a derogatory way. (For more on negative self-talk, read this)
Those sleeping little girls who listen to their Mums talk about dieting and then refuse to eat their sandwich out of fear they’ll get fat.
They’re sleeping little girls who start experimenting with mascara and lip gloss in primary school.
Sleeping little girls who turn up to discos in skimpy outfits because of peer pressure and the unrealistic body shape ideals that are plastered all over the Internet.
As though their worth can be deciphered by one glance at their bra size.
It is particularly disappointing, and dangerous, that disparaging body references was repeated throughout the show. Kervin, Jones & Mantei (2012) assert a notion that many of us have already conjectured: “children learn behaviours and have their value systems shaped by the media, including by the promotion of inappropriate gender stereotypes” (p 69)
There are many messages that the media sells them- including that being “Like a girl” is an insult:
In order to influence girls to spend money on their products, big industries thrive by making girls feel insecure and inadequate.
Even popular culture plays its part. Movie characters teach girls to be demure and submissive. And that thigh gaps are more worthy of our attention than pay gaps.
From what I saw on that show, they seem to have succeeded.
But now let’s for a second imagine a different world. A world where all of the time and headspace that is usually devoted to worrying about weight, or body hair, or breast size- was instead directed towards being kinder, more compassionate, more talented?
Candles need to light the way for students to think deeply about popular culture; to challenge and empower them to stop reinforcing the status quo (Hall, 2011).
Tonnes of books are also inspiring girls to be strong and mighty.
For more inspiration on how to “Dare to be brave in this world” read this.
Beach & O’Brien surmise: “Youth both use and are used by popular culture- working this tension, rather than simply avoiding it, is the job of educators.” (p 776)
But who am I kidding? They’d never air that on prime time TV.
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Beach, R & O’Brien, D. (2008). Teaching popular culture texts in the classroom. In D. Leu, J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear )Eds.). Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 775-804). London: Routledge.
Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students’ discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305)
Kervin, L., Jones, S., Mantei, J. (2012). Online advertising: Examining the content and messages within websites targeted at children. E-Learning and Digital Media. 9(1), 69-82