Memory of a Beauty and Boys-obsessed Teenager

from "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" Movie

from “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” Movie – 12th Zürich Film Festival 2016

So there I was: 12 years old. A new phase of life had started.

Finally I was allowed to grow my hair longer and choose my own clothes. What I thought was the freedom of “expressing my identity” (when really I couldn’t have a clue what my identity was) turned gradually into a never-ending search for the right image and a constant, growing insecurity of getting it wrong and not being wanted.

I was the smallest and youngest girl in my class – due to having started school a year earlier – and I wanted to project the image of a strong, assertive, secure girl who nobody would mess around with. Nothing wrong with this one I think, especially considering that this was the image I’ve always identified with during my earlier years.

But of course there were “the boys” too…I attended a mixed school, so there was a continuous attention coming from them: something completely new to me which I was not used to…something that totally fascinated my teenage self: in other world, I was excited in discovering the “power of seduction”, when I had no idea of all the usual drawbacks that come with it…

Drawback number 1)

I started to look at myself and compare my face/body with the images of beauty in the media around me, and the “real women”, pubescent bodies of my peers and best friends (I was the only one in the class still waiting for my menarche the first period – to “turn me into a woman”). All my best friends were so much bigger and bustier than me; all of them played with pads and tampons, they shared their “menstruation stories” and missed gymnastic class during that time of the month. I was envious of them and felt incomplete; I was impatient to experience it all.

Result: I wished I was bigger, taller, and with a prominent breast to impress boys.

Coping Strategy: I was indeed quite petite and in my view the only way I could claim more of their attention was through wearing provocative clothes and make-up (of course…with quite disastrous outcomes most of the time!)

Drawback number 2)

I became constantly concerned with my appearance, even during situations where I used to truly enjoy myself. Despite this – and as far as I can remember – at this stage I was not yet experiencing any resentful feeling regarding the constant urge to look good (this will develop later, after a couple of years). I was enthused by the new possibilities of gradually becoming a woman I guess. I was basking in anticipation: it was a new game, a new world to discover, something exciting, new identities to play with!

Result: I was quite self-conscious and pretending most of the time. I was convinced nobody would actually like the real me.

Coping strategy: I had to use different masks depending on the people/situation I was dealing with. I had to project a different personality, a façade that could protect me from that unbearable critical scrutiny of the world around me (my parents/family, my peers, my teachers, “the boys”).

Drawback number 3)

Everything that was important to me in previous years became the hallmarks of childhood: something I had to distance myself from at every cost.

Result: My interests and attitude, my favourite toys and play were all abandoned in favour of the “new me” and more “mature” pursuits (make-up and making-up with boys were on top of my list).

Coping strategy: Bye bye to the studious, dutiful girl: the “new me” was a provocative and rebellious one, who would skip classes to smoke cigarettes in the school toilet, wear ripped jeans and knee-high boots and write indecent graffiti everywhere I could.

This scenario will sound familiar to many teenagers girls today, despite this being an account from thirty years ago (the ’80s). This means that we didn’t have computers, the internet, social media, mobile phones or tablets. We had fewer TV programs we could watch (4 or 5 channels) with typically one TV per family, so that watching time was restricted to a minimum and parental control was almost inescapable. We had no access to pornography, we could not get much information about sex (my only source was girls’ magazines at the time) and there was no way to be tempted to share a compromising picture/video online and to be shamed publicly after that.

Forwarding to the digital revolution, I wonder whether teenager (and young adults)’s feelings and coping strategies have changed that much and whether they are being aggravated by the hyper-connectivity of today’s world. While there is little doubt that the main issues remain the same  – all boiling down to the elusive quest of one’s own identity (who am I?) and fear of rejection (will I be loved?) – the increasing demands of our hyper-connected world hardly allow modern young people to escape

Recalling the memories of my teenage self makes me wonder about how I would have coped with living in such connected world and played my identity-games in social media. When I observe my son I wonder about the pressure he must be feeling: he told me that with Instagram and Snapchat “it’s all about appearance”.

How are young people coping with all this? How does it feel to be complete pioneers in a new, unknown territory? How does it feel when your parents are less savvy than you in using gadgets and digital technology? Can they take adults seriously enough for advice when all sort of information is available to them through a simple click on their portable devices? Do they consider all this an advantage or are they wishing to live in a less connected world? Are they screaming out for protection or do they revel in this newfound independency from adults’ control? As parents, should we leave them free to play their “identity’s games” online and how much privacy should we allow them in the process?

We desperately need more research to address these questions 😉

Watching “Sexy Baby”: a Movie Documentary

“We are constantly amazed at the challenges girls are presented with today. When we were growing up things just didn’t seem as complicated. With the Internet and social media bringing sex and sexual content right into our homes, we have often wondered what the impact is on young girls and women today. The new feature documentary film, Sexy Baby, gives us an inside look into the new cultural shift taking a hold of America. Intimate, candid conversations and personal storytellingng expose this new reality. It is shocking and disturbing, but also a wake up call”.
(from http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/sexy-baby-sexiness-the-c…/)

This is another brilliant (although a bit painful to watch I must admit…) 2012’s movie documentary from co-directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (the same directors of the recent Hot Girls Wanted), available in full format from You Tube.

After a powerful intro consisting of a fast-paced collage of images and clips cuts from popular media /news effectively depicting the sexual saturation of today’s mass media, the movie documentary starts with some young girls watching Lady Gaga in her sexually provoking “Poker Face” video while imitating her moves – a familiar sight for most people these days – then the camera filmed what appear as a 5-6 years old girl giggling “Britney Bitch”, mimicking the famous Will i Am ‘s song.

The documentary follow the lives of 3 women (one of them is actually still a young girl just becoming teenager): an ex porno-movies star who is trying to get pregnant, a 12 year old girl experimenting with her identity and a 22 year old who yearns for “normal” private parts.

What I’ve liked about this documentary is the non-judgemental way is filmed and the way it captures the reality of living in a media-saturated world.  I would have loved to see more racial diversity in it, but that’s about it. The documentary is available now to watch in different formats and, considered its sexually-explicit nature, the authors have produced an edited educational version aimed to a younger audience for its screening into schools (which I’d be really keen to show to the girls taking part in my offline projects).

Sexy Baby is the first documentary film to put faces to a seismic cultural shift: the cyber age is creating a new sexual landscape. While doing research for the film, we had intimate and candid conversations with kids in middle school classrooms, suburban shopping malls, nightclubs, college dorms, and even conducted an informal roundtable during a high school house party. While chronicling trends among small town and big city kids, we discovered this: Having pubic hair is considered unattractive and “gross.” Most youngsters know someone who has emailed or texted a naked photo of themselves. Many kids have accidentally or intentionally had their first introduction to sex be via hardcore online porn. Facebook has created an arena where kids compete to be “liked” and constantly worry about what image to portray – much of what was once private is now made public. And the list goes on… –– (C) Sexy Baby Official Site

“We are the first generation to have what we have, so there is no one before us that can… kind of GUIDE US…I mean we are the PIONEERS” says Winnifred – a 12-year-old girl from New York.

What Winnifred says reflects the thinking of many other kids: they often feel that they live in a world which adults can’t understand fully. They are suspicious of our judgements and our perspective on things because after all we grown up in a completely different era, where computers, internet and social media were not around, so – in their view – how can we possibly guide them through this new sexual landscape? As parents and educators, perhaps we should ask ourselves: how much do we truly know about this new world and about our children’s world?

Empowering Girls & Women through Adverts?

Today I came across another empowering advert for women and girls. It seems that the trend is growing year by year with more and more brands jumping on the bandwagon.

Some people criticise the trend by labelling companies as hypocrite (“they are trying to sell beauty products/wax and raisors to shave our bodies after all!”). But isn’t wonderful to see this type of empowering messages promoted by adverts instead of the usual “fix yourself -be this or that” stuff?

At the very least these adverts diversify the range of images and role models available to girls and from my point of view this could be the start of a gradual change taking place…if we start to reward the companies sending this type of messages instead of criticising them under the “hypocrisy label”, more and more of them will follow and the entire advertising landscape could gradually transform into something more real and inspiring than the fake beauty images currently surrounding us: it makes perfect sense.

Check out the full playlist of empowering adverts here and don’t forget to comment!

 

How the Beauty Imperative Influences Our Life

beauty myth

We are constantly surrounded by symbols of beauty – gorgeous tanned women in bikini on the billboards, mysterious smoky-eyed seductresses, mothers that manage to take care of career, household and children, while still looking like goddesses. Female beauty is, as we’ve been taught, something essential. A woman needs to look her best at all times. But it turns out that “her best” is quite a slippery term…

“The Beauty Myth”, published in 1991, is one land-marking book focusing on how the beauty idea influences women’s life. With power come responsibilities, the book says, and these responsibilities – at least for women – mean adhering to certain standards. The “iron maiden”, as Naomi Wolf refers to it, is the impossible standard that punishes women both physically and psychologically for their inability to achieve it.

The ideal of female beauty isn’t new. It has started as early as the ancient times, with the ancient Egyptians using kohl to blacken their lashes and upper lids, and Romans darkening their eyes with burnt matches and fading their freckles with young boys’ urine. In history, beauty has always been a symbol of power and social status. The wealthy Renaissance women had to pluck their hair lines in order to make their foreheads seem higher, and to bleach their hairs to make them blonder. This trend continued up to the 1990s, where the ideal for female beauty was Kate Moss, the symbol of extreme thinness, with a strung-out and emaciated appearance, both in face and body.

We’ve all heard about the Photoshop debates and the unrealistic beauty standards, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about how many magazines publish dietary and exercise tips that guarantee you to “lose weight quickly”. How many tabloids compete to be the first to “comment on” (“shaming” is probably a better word) a celebrity’s weight gain. It’s not surprising that the incidence of eating disorders have doubled in the last 15 years.

The problem is not surrounding women with unreal physical standards. The issue is that women believe they’re expected to look like this, because they can. This is how the horrific cycle of self-loathing begins. Every time you open a magazine, you’re urged to lose weight quickly, to dye your hair, to shave your body, to be as feminine as possible. You can’t be beautiful if you have pores or gray hairs. You have wrinkles or freckles? Then you better do something about it. The problem is intensified by the pervasiveness of todays’ media: it’s very difficult to escape all these images, slogans and messages as they are ubiquitous and thus become the very fabric of our constant preoccupation with the way we look. Young girls’ role models are YouTubers like Zoella, whose videos are all about teaching girls how to achieve “that perfect look” through hours of make-up.

So many more girls today suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, depression, self-harm/cutting and trichotillomania. The more girls self-objectify, the more likely is that they will suffer from these issues. The worst problem is that we believe we need to be beautiful in order to be happy, successful and loved. We always fear that all our other qualities – no matter how great – won’t be enough to make us feel worthy in the eyes of others; unless we achieve the standard of beauty which we deem acceptable, we feel that we are falling short, while in reality whom we compete against are only abstract ideals. We will run and starve to death, or binge and purge, to get thinner, but they’ll always be a next magazine cover with a thinner or fairer model. I’ve personally practiced 15 years of this struggle before I started considering that perhaps my perspective was flawed…

The “beauty ideal” has influenced women’s throughout history, regardless of the country or culture. The beauty standards may change according to country-based preferences (although there is evidence that the white/western type of beauty is increasingly held as a standard more globally; an example is offered by some Asian countries – see this article about South Korea – where the western beauty ideal has prompted an alarming growth in the number of girls resorting to cosmetic surgery to “fix” their  Asian features. South Koreans currently have more plastic surgery than in any other country according to 2013 figures, with the craze particularly popular among 19 to 49-year-olds), but still these beauty standards dictate our life and judge who can be happy and who needs to “work more” in order to achieve their dreams.

In a world in which other skills and qualities in a girl are – should we say? – “less regularly” emphasized, beauty has become synonymous with happiness and girls are constantly pushed towards it, and punished if they fail to conform. The question is how can we revert the brainwashing once done and “unlearn” the bits of a beauty-obsessed culture that doesn’t serve us well, while keeping the ones that make us feel empowered. If only we could teach girls (and boys too) that there is nothing inherently wrong in the appreciation of feminine beauty or the grooming practices in themselves, but that, rather, the problems start when we take as imperative what society/media/advertisers tell us in regard to what our beauty ideal should be (particularly if that ideal of beauty become narrower, unrealistic and applied universally) and when we fail to strike a balance with all the other dimensions of our life, self and world, so that our preoccupation with appearance gradually becomes an obsession.

I know that for me and many other women, awareness has only come with age. I am still convinced in the power of awareness and participation, but I wonder what type of experiences can permanently raise young girls’ consciousness of being beauty-bound? And would that consciousness – once raised – be able to eradicate the feeling of unworthiness many young girls are battling with? Or is this – like many seem to contend – just a process that necessarily most girls will need to go through, living it and experiencing it in their own skin before finding themselves “liberated” only at a later stage of maturity?

Modern Feminism & Celebrities: Engaging the Masses or Losing Focus?

bey-feminist

“Feminism is flawed, but it offers, at its best, a way to navigate this shifting cultural climate. Feminism has certainly helped me find my voice. Feminism has helped me believe my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard. How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism fall short of our expectations, we decide that the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.”
Roxane Gay “Bad feminist” (2014)

 

That moment at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards when the queen herself, Beyoncé, dramatically slid across the stage with the word FEMINIST emblazoned in massive letters behind her is undoubtedly unforgettable. With her tight, glittering outfit, perfectly made-up appearance, and her status as both a career woman and a devoted wife and mother, Beyoncé single-handedly and single-mindedly embodied the major characteristics of third wave feminism, bringing the whole package to the viewers everywhere in one gloriously dramatic show of theatrics. In that moment we all knew modern feminism had arrived, right? Most major publications seem to think so, including Times Magazine, and the Twitter hubbub that followed Beyoncé’s performance was largely excited and favourable. Even Taylor Swift, who once avoided feminism as she felt it pit “girls against boys”, jumped on the bandwagon. Seemingly overnight, celebrity feminism became a bona fide phenomenon.

All appears well, at first glance, with this large-scale embrace of a word that, in years prior, was polarizing at best. True to its message that one can love men, be freely sexual, and celebrate one’s femininity (reclaiming it as a source of personal power), modern feminism has been key to banishing the old negative stereotypes associated with the “other F word”. And to its credit, one is no longer automatically presumed, by most, to be a lesbian, a “man hater”, or a prude, if one self-identifies as a feminist.

Despite the gleaming surface and celebrity endorsements, however, modern feminism – or fourth wave feminism as some has suggested (see Baumgardner 2011, Cochrane 2013, Munro 2013, Penny 2014) (1) – has been experiencing some serious criticism, even all-out backlash.  Feminism is not, in fact, new. Nor is its celebrity cachet; indeed, modern feminism is not currently doing anything truly revolutionary in terms of feminism’s perception in popular culture (even if Twitter and the news media seem to think it is). The Spice Girls were conveying roughly the same message to the masses that Beyoncé is twenty years ago, back when third wave feminism was just getting started. In fact, this last wave feminism has been bound together with celebrities and popular culture more or less since its inception.

The issue – according to celebrity feminism‘s detractors – is that feminism is not, at base, about popular culture, or even popular perception, but that it’s about systemic change and that this, arguably, may be where modern feminism is failing, raising the question of whether celebrities taking up the cause is helping the movement, or hindering it via distraction and glossy misrepresentation. These detractors are not without a point: throughout the western world over the last decade, women’s rights have either not made significant gains or, in some regions, have moved backwards. In the United States, for example, state politicians have enacted more than 200 restrictions over the last four years that make it harder for women to obtain safe, legal abortion care. To put that in perspective, that’s more restrictions in just four years than were enacted over the whole of the previous decade. (2) Likewise, in the UK, anti-abortion lobbyists have grown more aggressive, waging what the UK Times calls a “stealth war” on abortion rights. (3)

Speaking of the USA again, there has also been increasing pressure in many states to limit access to birth control. Already in some states, such as Arizona, a woman’s boss has the power to deny her insurance coverage for birth control if she is taking it for contraceptive reasons. (4) Goals like “securing the right to an abortion”, and “making it acceptable for women to delay or space their children with birth control, or even to not have children at all”, were the causes of second wave feminists. (5) How is it that modern feminism has the word “feminism” appearing everywhere in popular culture and social media, while the actual sum of women’s rights stagnates or erodes? Even the #glassceiling — something second wave feminists were relying on their daughters to break, building upon the gains the second wavers had made for women in the workplace over the span of their careers — remains securely in place.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal/Gallup survey, half of all female managers named reasons related to their gender as what is holding them back at work, including: “male chauvinism, attitudes toward a female boss, slow advancement for women, and the simple fact of being a woman.” Likewise, 61% of the women executives reported having been mistaken for a secretary at a business meeting; 25% said they had been thwarted on their way up the ladder by male attitudes toward women, and 70% believed they are paid less than men of equal ability. (6)

Meanwhile, the popular #everydaysexism project launched by Laura Bates in 2012 has collected over 50,000 personal statements from all over the world documenting actual experiences of sexism. All of this begs the question: have we allowed modern feminism to lose its focus? In an effort to make feminism more welcoming and inclusive, are we watering down what it really means?

Yes, we probably have and are, but to blame celebrity involvement alone for this would be terribly short-sighted. The real problem with modern feminism may lie within the movement itself, and how, in its efforts to be “all-inclusive” (breaking down barriers created by race and gender orientation), it has sadly and ironically become splintered and full of exclusive sects. Many third wave feminists report finding themselves shut down or unwelcome in conversations if their sexual orientation or race doesn’t match the mainstream. Thus, feminists who happen to be people of colour and gay feel unwelcomed among feminists who are heterosexual white (and viceversa), or if they happen to be cisgendered among transgendered individuals (and viceversa). But these divisions exist not in the ideals helded up by feminism; they are simply created by people’s different perspectives: some class/group of people feel more oppressed than others and wrongly excluded from the conversation, while some other class/group of people feel guilty and far too privileged than others. These feeling create barriers and barriers that painfully obstruct communication and progress. In forums and articles across the web, I read about different experiences  and contrasting points of view: some white — along with male feminists—feel accused of “derailing” conversations, not checking their “privilege” enough, and generally taking the focus off the people who — by their own estimation—really matter in that conversation, because they are the ones who are really oppressed. Take, for example, the experience of Generation-Y feminist and writer Devon Murphy:

“For as long as I can remember, I have been a feminist and proud of it. You could say I fell in love early, and like one who had found a high school sweetheart, I barely turned my head to see what other options were available. But now that I’m in my mid-20s, things seem a lot murkier. While I will always consider myself a feminist at heart, it’s no longer the simple movement I signed up for as a child. It isn’t just peace signs, birth control pills and that extra 30 cents on the dollar. What I once saw as a solid rock of ideals turned out to be a prism. And the more light that shines on it, the more the idea splinters into areas I can’t reach or even begin to understand. This is both exciting and difficult. I’m not sure where I fit in anymore, since, as it turns out, I was born into the white, upper-middle class section of feminists. We’re not always the most popular, and some say we have the least to be angry about.” (7)

Meanwhile, writer Liz Henry of The Broad Side laments the fact that, while the LGBTQ movement has conquered both pop cultural exposure and the dismantling of “state-sanctioned and federal government-endorsed homophobia”, feminists “have yet to decide if Sheryl Sandberg is the anti-Christ or the power unicorn the movement deserves; if women of color “stir the pot” or have a damn point. Or about the future of feminism in and of itself.” (8) Henry raises a valid question: If we’re wholly occupied attacking other women’s right to be feminists, and alternately building up and tearing down our own idols, how do we go about, as a unified whole, defending women’s rights within the political systems of our nations?Within this environment, it’s all but impossible to ascertain whether celebrity endorsement is harming the message of feminism or whether, conversely, it’s the last bit of glue holding the splintered third wave of the movement together, a beacon of hope and inspiration to young girls regardless of their race, class, or orientation.

Perhaps we should all relax and accept for ourselves the “Bad Feminist”‘s label  the adorable and witty Roxane Gay (2014) embraces in her book? But before we can effectively criticise the message that this new form of celebrity feminism or fourth wave feminism is spreading, we have to agree — if not unanimously, at least relatively cohesively — on what the right and proper message of feminism actually is. Before we can properly call ourselves feminists, we have to act on it. After all, no amount of celebrity exposure and pop cultural dissemination can step in and cause change for us. 😉

  1. Baumgardner, J.(2011)F 'em!: Goo Goo, Gaga, and Some ThoughtsonBalls, California: Seal Press. Cochrane, K.(2012.)All the RebelWomen: The rise of the fourth wave of feminism. London: Guardian Books. Munro, E. (2013)‘Feminism: A Fourth Wave?’ ThePolitical Studies Association. http://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/feminism-fourth-wave. Penny, L. (2014) Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/laws-courts-shrinking-access-to-abortion/2014/10/10/efd0aef4-4f25-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html
  3. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/thunderer/article4363365.ece
  4. http://www.ibtimes.com/arizona-birth-control-bill-banning-use-contraception-employers-back-spotlight-798937
  5. http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/historical/Third-Wave-Feminism.html
  6. http://www.feminist.org/research/business/ewb_glass.html
  7. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/24/modern-feminism_n_3471768.html
  8. http://www.the-broad-side.com/the-jezebelification-of-feminism-liz-henry
  9. Roxane Gay (2014) Bad Feminist. Harper Perennial

Media’s Perfection through a Young Woman’s Eyes

sunset strip billboards jun12

by Dusty Rose (USA, age 25)

I live in Los Angeles, self-proclaimed “Entertainment capital of the world.” Every waking morning the denizens of this overcrowded mini-state are inundated with images. Billboards on the work commute or daily walk, magazines in the grocery stores, banner ads in the email sidebar or website of choice, commercials and trailers for every conceivable product, film, and TV series.

I have lived my life so swamped by these images that I have learned to tune them out for the most part, which only prompts bigger, flashier, more attention-grabbing ones to take their place as advertisers realize we’re becoming inured to their attempts.

The few times I actually stop and look at what is being sold, I realize that it is always Perfection of some kind. If they are not directly showing you how YOU could be Perfect, they are showing you actors and actresses who set a standard for “Perfect” that few can reach naturally.

I remember growing up hating myself all the time. Before I knew the diagnosis label Trichotillomania, I was pulling out my eyebrows and eyelashes from anxiety, and would spend hours meticulously tweezing my knees because it calmed me down. When I hit puberty, skin-picking was added to the mix. The pulling and picking eased my anxiety, but directly fueled a raging self-hatred. Several passages in my old journals spew vitriolic sentences about how “Princesses don’t have scabbed and scarred faces” and “Princesses don’t have gaps in their eyelashes.” I never actually referenced Disney princesses in this, but rather the idea of Perfection that I saw everywhere and was embodied in the term “Princess.” Whatever it was, it wasn’t me, and I belonged “in the garbage with the trash.”

As I have grown, I have struggled and continue to struggle with overcoming my self-hatred. I don’t wear makeup unless I completely lose an eyebrow, and then it’s just a little eyebrow pencil. I feel shame some days, but prefer not to hide behind a mask like there’s something terrible that I must hide about my appearance.

I have also made many friends, and at least three were actively bulimic when I was with them. It was when their fingers were down their throats that I most raged at the images everywhere, the worshipped model of Perfection that made them think they were “less than.” I hated the pain my friends were in, and wished with all my heart they would see themselves as beautiful, even as I could not see myself as anything more than garbage.

If I could change one thing about how the media presents women, it would be to strip away the concept of perfection. Not that women don’t go around all day without makeup, many do. But do they wake up in Perfect eyeshadow? Do they swim with gloriously thick mascara? Is every blemish properly concealed to avoid the horrifying truth of nature? Must every single woman walk around looking like she just spent half the day in a high-end salon? And, in the vein of stripping away “Perfection” as it is known, I would add in a boatload of women in various sizes and shapes as actresses in main and supporting roles, whose role in the film is NOT to be fixed, degraded, or made fun of. I would have some struggle with their appearance, reflecting our own struggles, and I would have some rejoice in their reflections to give us some hope that we, too, can enjoy ourselves in any shape and size.

Maybe one day the standard for Perfect will be different, or maybe we will outgrow the need for Perfect. Until that day, the best thing we can do is build each other up in the places where we are constantly torn down.

LetMeBME Project: An Outsider Perspective

website screeshot letmebme

by JL Field (Canada)

I can vividly remember the first time an image in the media truly impacted my self-image; it was back around the turn of the millennium, when I was enduring that awkward, spotty, slightly pudgy preteen experience so many of us go through. I desperately wanted to emerge from that chrysalis, to find my adult being, to establish a sense of personal power over myself and surroundings.

I opened a fashion magazine, and I saw her: Incredibly thin—I can still remember the bone-white elegance of her frail wrists to this day—immaculately airbrushed skin, face with barely a hint of visible makeup (as was popular at the time), and simple, millennium-sleek powder-blue jacket and plain white tank. She had brown hair and eyes, just like me. I wanted to be her; I don’t know why. Something in her cold grace called to me, became my personal idea of perfect, the measure against which I compared myself for years to come.

“Perfect” is a word you’ll hear echoed a lot by the various participants in the LetMeBMe project, a revolutionary new initiative launched by Media Savvy Girls. This worldwide video project has gotten underway by asking women from many diverse backgrounds to share—in 45 seconds or less—what they would like to see changed in the media’s portrayal of women. This question is to be the first in a series of three, aimed at shedding light on the unique needs, values, and voices of women around the world. LetMeBme was initially developed for girls and women alone, but after receiving many comments from men and boys, the creator of the project realized how important it was to include their voices too. As the recent UN “He4She” campaign so aptly put it, “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue.”

The format of the LetMeBMe project will be, I feel, a large part of its success; it is brilliant in its brevity and simplicity, easily digestible by the social media generation while remaining personal, poignant, and powerful.

The answers to the main question really struck a chord with me. So many different women and men — over 100 have already contributed to the video project by posting their video with the hashtag #letmeBME, which shows strong signs of going viral — from so many different countries are echoing similar statements: a sad comment on how obviously flawed the media’s current portrayal of women really is. The majority of contributors speaking cited the need for a rapid and thorough end to the unrealistic expectations of physical perfection and the limiting, idealized stereotypes regarding female roles and behaviour. Instead – say these people- we need more realistic, multifaceted depictions of women as complex, flawed people whose beauty is found in the inner strength that allows them to carry on despite adversity, not in their superficial blessings and the unrealistically perfect lives that are always shown to accompany them.

I couldn’t agree more. Nobody has ever given me an “opt out” choice for any of the tragedies or hardships in my life because I look a certain way or because my body is a certain shape, and I think when I realized that—when I realized how irrelevant many of these superficial qualities the media so wholly focusses on in women are to the actual story of life—I realized the phenomenal lie we as women are told by the media on a daily basis.

How we look is not who we are. You are not actually likely to be any more successful or happy because you are a size 4, a certain height, or look younger than you actually are— trust me! No such qualities, no matter how much they match my old concept of “perfect”, have helped me overcome a single struggle that I have faced; instead, my brain, my tenacity, and above all, my positive and enduringly generous attitude, have carried me through.

By telling young women anything else, we are rendering them ill-equipped to deal with the struggles their lives will actually present them with, giving them the wrong tools to deal with the challenges that the world will, almost certainly, throw at them.

A message countering that lie in this medium has, if you ask me, been a long time coming. While the occasional video project empowering women has made quite a splash on mainstream media during the last decade or so, too many of those have been the buzz-grabbing brain-children of corporations (think Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign). While such campaign’s as Dove’s are not entirely without merit, they not only inherently involve a certain level of hypocrisy (“You’re beautiful the way you are—but buy this product to make your flat hair look more radiant”), they verge on being all-out patronizing to women, such as the by-now infamous “Patches” series, in which Dove evidently went out of its way to find women insecure and naive enough to believe that wearing an empty patch would “make them look more beautiful.” When the women were told the patches were fakes, Dove was on hand to film their reactions, as if making a fool out of “real women” on national television would help the self-esteems of women everywhere.

Personally, I feel that treating women as though they need a corporation to enlighten them, to enable them to see themselves as they really are or to measure their own potential, is an inherently flawed approach anyway—and that’s why the LetMeBMe project is so inspirational. LetMeBMe puts all of the power in the hands of women themselves, with a complete and truly refreshing absence of agenda. It simply lets us speak. More importantly, I find the inclusive nature of the project – the fact that men and boys are not excluded from the conversation – absolutely crucial in these days and time. As a contribution to the empowerment of women and girls everywhere, this raw, individual emphasis on the female voice is long overdue and truly invaluable.

What Men Really Think about Women in the Media?

Finally!  It was about time that we open the conversation to men!  Today we have almost reached the 50+ mark for male contributions (!!): these men and boys speak from all over the world and the majority of their voices seem to allineate perfectly with women and girls’ concerns.

So what do they think? Check this short promo first

and then move on the full playlist at

It is all very exciting and I cannot wait to see more contributions coming in, so please keep sending in and keep sharing!!

<3

Launching LetMeBME: A Worldwide Video Project

What would happen if I start asking women and girls around the world to answer 3 simple questions? This is the first short film produced from a selection of the first contributions received 😉

Eventually I would like to invite contributions from the men/boys, to see what is their view on question 1: I think it’s paramount to include all views and allow the project to be as inclusive and agenda-free as possible.

The project website www.letmebme.org is still under construction and I am looking for sponsors to effectively power the website with in-built video-uploading technology: this will bring the project to the next level as contributors will be able to directly share their uploaded videos through YouTube/Vimeo and other video sharing links. For now everyone interested in sharing their thoughts can send their short video via email to letmebme@mediasavvygirls.org or via tweet/facebook with the hashtag #letmeBME; our editor will upload all new contributions on a monthly basis.

In this era of social media and advanced video technology there is not excuse for not joining in and letting our voices be heard!

The Big Tween Market Machine: Why Pre-adolescents are Marketers’ Dream

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“What do you call a consumer who wants to buy everything you have, doesn’t care what it costs and is less than five feet tall? A marketer’s dream? Nope. You call them kids.” 

AdRelevance Intelligence Report, 2000

While marketing to children is nothing new – having first been introduced in the 1960s – the aggressive marketing to those on the cusp of adolescence (ages 9-14) is a phenomenon that has arisen much more recently, in direct synchronicity with the “internet age” and the rise of new media (1990s-present). This demographic, the so-called “tween” group (for “in between”), was in fact entirely developed by and for marketers, and took on economic significance before it took on cultural significance (1).  It would not be a hyperbolism to suggest that tween culture was, in fact, entirely manufactured by the marketing machine. To understand the aggressive and pervasive nature of tween marketing, it’s important to first understand why this arbitrary distinction was created. Why “tweens”? What tweens have to offer to marketers that is so important vs. what children and teenagers already provide as consumers? Why has this market exploded the way it has in the last decade? The answer boils down to the fact that tweens, being in a transitory period, face a great degree of sudden vulnerability. And, at the same time, they retain full access to parental funds. This juxtaposition of susceptibility to influence and spending power is more prevalent among tweens than it is among teens or children.

Tweens’ Influence on Household Spending

Tweens are too young to legally earn their own money in order to attain what they want, so retain a child’s relatively unquestioned reliance on (and thus access to) their parent’s funds. According to BusinessWeek magazine, “Of the reported US$ 51 billion spent by tweens themselves, an additional $170 billion was spent by parents and family members directly for them” in the United States annually (2).  In the UK, we have 11 million people aged 15 and under, with a remarkable total expenditure of £12 billion from children up to 18, money often coming from own pocket money (alas parent’s pockets!) and part-time jobs (2b). This does not merely represent an access to more money on the part of tweens, but also a far greater lack of discretion about what they will spend it on. Teens, by contrast, who have begun to earn and control their own funds, have more awareness of the fact that money is finite and needs to be prioritized around what they really want, introducing a level of agency and choosiness about what they buy which is the precursor to adult spending habits. At the same time, tweens have just enough independence to exert power over household spending decisions owing to a shift in family dynamics which took place during the 1990s, and is known to play a key role in modern marketing strategy.(3) This shift saw a large number of tweens living in households where both parents work and in single-parent households (in 1994, one in four households in the United States with children was headed by a single parent, up from one in eight in 1970 [Miller, 1994]), and led to far more responsibility being placed upon tweens and teens (e.g. grocery shopping duties, which fully one-third of tweens have), giving them greater purchasing power and more independence. (Cuneo, 1989; McLaughlin, 1991; Miller, 1994; Rickard, 1994)(3) Tweens have been shown to have more “discretionary purchasing power than younger children or older adolescents, to shop at least three times a week, and to save 30% of their spending money for higher ticket items.” (McLaughlin, 1991) This access and right to adult funds and influence over what is done with them combined with tweens’ unique psychological vulnerabilities make them extremely appealing to marketers, and has been a strong factor in the developing pervasiveness of marketing directed at them.

The Role of Peer Pressure in Marketing to Tweens

As mentioned earlier, tweens are in a unique phase of psychosocial vulnerability. Most children in this age group are going through a fundamental change in their place in the social hierarchy around them, moving from schools where they were the oldest, most respected, “coolest” kids, to environments that are new, alien, and place them as the youngest and most vulnerable members. They have to “start over” socially at exactly the same time as their own bodies are developing in sudden, often troubling ways. The tween years are a period of intense change: mental, physical, emotional, and social. This breeds an incredibly intense pressure to “fit in”. Most surveys conducted on the priorities of tweens note fitting in on the top of, or very near the top of, the list. Naturally, this creates a deep need to have what their peers have and look how their peers look — a marketer’s haven for creating trends around brands. Teens, by contrast, are increasingly rebellious and eager to carve out individual identities, meaning that mainstream pop culture (and therefore the marketing therein) is something many teens grow to define themselves against, rather than by, an obvious challenge to marketers (for whom mainstream appeal is the goal, as it brings with it maximum profit potential). The pop idols and Disney shows that were the height of cool when they were twelve are the epitome of “lame” by 15 or 16 — hence why many pop stars (e.g. Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus) are aggressively marketed to smitten tweens while often being almost universally loathed by older teens. Research confirms the fact that tweens place even more emphasis on brand names than do older adolescents (Cuneo, 1989; Fitzgerald, 1992; Koester May, 1985; McLaughlin, 1991; Simpson, 1994). They are particularly concerned with having the “cool” brands when it comes to clothing and other matters of appearance. They much more strongly associate conformity with the need for acceptance, approval, and harmonious relationships with others (Batra, Kahle, Rose, Shoham, 1994).(3) Today’s tweens are also the most “wired” generation in history (heavily using the internet and mobile devices), meaning this peer pressure travels with them everywhere they go, and thus so does the potential to market to it. Tweens are also far more likely to click on things like banner ads than other age groups and are more susceptible to viral marketing tactics that promote the spread of a message from one user to another. Marketing to tweens via interactive social venues like chat rooms, forums, and e-mail have been noted to be especially effective.(4) Due to this, the prevalence of online marketing (both obvious and subtly worked into interactive media) has risen sharply over the last decade.

The Impact of Puberty: Body Image and Gender Roles

No discussion of tweens could be complete without examining the role of puberty; the rapid changes taking place in tweens’ bodies throws how these young people relate to one another into chaos, thrusting gender roles into sudden and stark relief and raising big questions about sex, dating, marriage, and the possibility of having children. Little girls and boys who were simply playmates a year or two prior suddenly find they have to redefine their peer roles around their emerging sexuality. This creates a deep need in tweens to understand themselves as gendered persons, and tween marketing capitalizes on this by offering strongly gendered media that plays into tweens’ heightened body awareness and subsequent concerns about their appearance. While this newfound awareness is hard on the self-esteem of both genders, it has been found to be significantly harder on girls (owing in large part to an intense perceived pressure to be thin), with research conducted throughout the United States, Korea, and Australia showing that the body dissatisfaction which arises in girls during puberty “is associated with lower levels of self-esteem and increased likelihood of depression among early adolescent girls.” (Newman & Newman, 2006, p. 303.) The earlier a girl physically matures, the worse this impact tends to be, and the more likely serious consequences (such as eating disorders) become.(5) As self esteem is a “central component of personality and identity” and is centrally tied to one’s “confidence in one’s ability to think and to cope with the challenges of life and confidence in one’s right to be happy” (Clancy and Dollinger, 1993)(6), young girls’ desire to identify with themselves in a positive way (and thereby achieve greater agency and success) makes the consumption of images of beautiful, thin young women incredibly appealing—something tween television programming and advertising media taps into (and profits from) frequently. To assess this phenomenon, Ashton Lee Gerding, a humanities student, and Nancy Signorielli, professor of communication at the University of Delaware, analysed 49 episodes of 40 distinct American tween television programs that aired in 2011 on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Nickelodeon and the Turner Cartoon Network. They catalogued and examined more than 200 characters in terms of their attractiveness, gender-related behaviour and personality characteristics such as bravery or ability to handle technology (7): “Tween viewers are undergoing an important developmental stage and actively seek cues about gender,” said Gerding. “Television programming can play an important role in that development, so we examined tween television programming. Overall, girls were portrayed as more attractive, more concerned about their appearance, and received more comments about their appearance than male characters. However, female and male characters were equally likely to be handy with technology and exhibit bravery. This sends the message that girls and boys can participate in and do the same things, but that girls should be attractive and work to maintain this attractiveness”. “Tween television programs may help to shape the way kids think about the roles that are available for them. Therefore, we advise parents to watch these programs with their kids and talk with their tweens about their roles in society. We also advocate for media literacy programs that could mitigate some of the potential negative effects of these programs.”

Tips for Parents: How to Moderate the Impact of Tween Marketing

Marketing is an inevitable part of the world most of us live in, so parents cannot hope to entirely shield their tweens from the impact of marketing on their developing adolescence. Parents can, however, give their tweens tools to help them cope with the barrage, and parents should never undervalue their role in this area. No matter how pervasive the media and marketing have become, tweens still cite their parents as their biggest influence when it comes to important decisions, even in “private” areas like sexuality. Parents can, absolutely, make a strong difference in how teens interpret and deal with the media and the marketing that is so aggressively aimed toward them. Prof. Agnes Nairn and Ed Mayo with the help of UK charity Care for the Family completed a “pester power” online survey and published a pamphlet Pester-power: Families surviving the Consumer Society (2007) which include a comprehensive summary of “survival tips” adopted by parents against the current marketing pressure. The booklet can be downloaded from this link: http://goo.gl/Q34ME9 (10). In this blogpost I want to include some suggestions provided by the Media Awareness Network, the Canadian Paediatric Society, and Susan Linn (psychologist and author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood)(8), which should help parents navigate the murky waters of children commercialisation:

  • Start young. Children are influenced by marketing from a very young age.
  • Limit children’s exposure to advertising on television and on the Internet. Don’t allow them to have televisions or Internet-enabled computers in their rooms, and limit TV time to one or two hours per day.
  • Talk to your kids about how advertising works and what advertisers are trying to accomplish. Explain that advertising is a multi-billion dollar business whose goal is to get people to buy things, and that they are very good at it.
  • Encourage kids to think critically about marketing messages. You can start as small as you like: last year a Grade 6 math class in Thunder Bay, Ontario debunked a “fun fact” on a package of Smarties, which claimed that Canadians eat enough Smarties each year to circle the earth 350 times. They found that in order for the claim to be true, either the earth would have to be a lot smaller, or each Smartie would have to be 3.5 metres in diameter.
  • Help kids to understand the strategies used by advertisers. Talk with kids about specific ads: “How do you feel about the people in the ad? Do you want to be like them? Why or why not? Does the ad make you feel uncool for not owning the product, or that you’ll feel good about yourself if you buy the product? What are some other ways you could get those feelings, without buying the product? Has the ad used any ambiguous words or impressive-sounding facts and figures to make the product sound better than it is? At the end, did the announcer say anything like ‘some assembly required’ or ‘batteries not included’?”
  • Explain about product placement: if characters in a movie or TV show are using a particular brand, the advertiser probably paid a lot of money for it to be there.
  • Discuss how your kids can be smart, responsible consumers by knowing what is good for them and what is not, what is good for the environment and what is not, and what is good value for money.
  • Educate children about nutrition using your country’s Food Guide. Discuss whether eating only things you see on TV makes for a healthy, balanced diet. Make a distinction between “everyday” foods and “sometimes” foods.
  • Before going grocery shopping, decide exactly what you plan to buy, including snacks and treats. Having a list that you and your kids have discussed ahead of time makes it easier to avoid impulse purchases and set limits in the store.
  • Monitor your own media habits and buying habits, and change them if necessary. Children pick up early on what is important to their parents.
  • Most importantly, make sure TV, Internet, and video games “screen time” is well balanced with family time, active/creative play, playing outdoors, reading, and other activities without marketing attached!
Main references:
1. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=bgsu1119390228&disposition=inline
2. http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2005-10-11/marketing-and-tweens2b. www.tgisurveys.com/tgi/Youth2006.PDF  and Youthscape Report: Attitudes, Behaviour and Spending Habits of UK Kids & Teens, Q4: 2013 https://www.marketresearch.com/Swapit-v3893/Youthscape-Attitudes-Behaviour-Spending-Habits-8261648/
3.  http://42051.faithweb.com/Tween%20consumes%20catalog%20clothing%20purchase%20behavior.html
4.  http://www.cdc.gov/youthcampaign/research/PDF/LitReview.pdf
5. http://www.brighthubeducation.com/teaching-methods-tips/3320-development-in-early-adolescence-puberty-and-low-self-esteem/
6.  http://www.drwrite.com/research/sample2.shtml
7.http://www.science20.com/news_articles/tween_programming_is_disney_promoting_stereotypes_or_creating_what_kids_want_to_watch-134661
8. http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/en/news/newsandfeatures/pages/target-market-children-as-consumers.aspx
9. http://www.slideshare.net/gerdavandamme/whitepaper-digital-marketing-to-generation-spongebob
10. http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/301-08-ppinf02-pester-power-booklet-10-september-2008.pdf