Sandra Hawken Diaz
VP, Marketing and Communications, Canadian Women’s Foundation
Every day, our daughters are bombarded with lies.
They see these lies everywhere; they are never free of them. They see them on billboards, in TV ads, in movies, in magazines, in video games, and online, especially online.
Every day, our daughters are presented with one acceptable definition of female beauty: white, tall, thin, large breasts.
This image is a lie: unrealistic, artificially constructed, and simply not true.
The lie also comes in the form of body-shaming messages from, well, just about everywhere. Just last month the twitter handle #fatshamingweek appeared, accompanied by the vicious comment: “Fat shaming is essential in creating a society of thin, beautiful women who are ashamed of being ugly.” Fortunately, a woman in the U.K. immediately responded with #bodyconfidenceweek.
In our nation’s quest to conquer obesity, we skip over the fact we can have any body shape and still be healthy — but the focus is on being thin, thin, thin! Celebrity magazines gleefully publish full-page photos of movie stars who gain a few pounds or dare to display their cellulite on the beach. Teenage girls yearn to have legs so thin there is a noticeable “thigh gap.”
The fallout from these lies is all around us.
According to the American Psychological Association, the portrayal of women in media has become so unrealistic and sexualized it is now damaging girl’s mental health. In grade six, 36 per cent of girls in Canada say they are self-confident, but by grade 10 this has plummeted to only 14 per cent. In just one year, the number of girls in the U.S. aged 18 and younger who had breast implants nearly tripled. In one B.C. study, half of all the girls said they wished they were someone else.
A recent study from the Canadian Women’s Foundation found that 21 per cent of Canadians know a girl who thinks she’s fat and 17 per cent of Canadians know a girl who thinks she’s ugly. I wonder how many of us know girls who believe these things, but never tell anyone.
We are raising a generation of girls who hate their bodies and therefore hate themselves. Unless we intervene, our daughters will grow up believing that whatever else they may accomplish, if they are not “beautiful” they will never be good enough.
Parents, it’s time for us to speak up.
Given the size of the problem, we need big long-term solutions. If self-regulation won’t work, then maybe we need legislation.
But we also need small, everyday actions. We can start by banning the word “fat” from our homes.
We can nurture resilience in our daughters and teach them that their most important assets are not external, but internal. We can help them to shift their focus from their outward appearance to their unique interests, whether they love books or basketball or baking or bugs.
We can demand that our schools offer a media literacy program, for both boys and girls. We can become more media literate ourselves, and share our new knowledge with our daughters. Most importantly, we can begin the slow process of learning to love our own bodies, because we too have believed the lie.
We can tell our daughters we adore our fabulously full hips, our gorgeous pillowy bellies, and our sensational crooked noses. Maybe if we say it enough, we will start to believe it.
Ask any parent what they want most for their kids. Chances are, they’ll say “For them to be healthy and happy.” A girl who hates her body is neither.
Let’s get louder than the lie. Our daughters are counting on us.