by Anya Josephs
Young women hear a lot of messages coming from the media, and most of aren’t very positive. Three in four girls feel worse about themselves after reading fashion magazines. A 1996 study found that teen girls’ exposure to certain types of TV programming affected their body dissatisfaction. Watching TV lowers the self-esteem of all groups of children except white males. 56% of ads teen girls see include a focus on beauty products.
And as many of you know, these are just a few examples of the negative effects the media has on girls’ self esteem.
Magazines and advertisers are beginning to feel some backlash against all the damage they are doing to teen girls and their self-esteem. The awesome work that fellow SPARK activist Julia did with Seventeen is one way girls are fighting back and insisting on positive messages and representation of all types of beauty. In some ways, girls are being heard. Seventeen’s Body Peace Treaty promises to represent all kinds of girls and inspire self-confidence, and more and more ads are featuring tags like “I Love My Body” and “Hotness Comes in All Shapes and Sizes.”
These are exactly the kind of messages that girls deserve to hear about their bodies. Unfortunately, take a look at the two ads that go along with these words:
Frankly, these ads are hypocritical. They act like they’re encouraging positive body image for girls of all shapes and sizes, but the only bodies they show are nearly identical: very thin, feminine, and conventionally attractive. Honestly, in some versions of the Levi’s ad, where the model’s faces aren’t shown, it could be three pictures of the same model. This is incredibly far from showing the diversity of real bodies.
To me, and I think to most people, “all shapes and sizes” means including respectful images of fat girls and women. It means actually representing diverse women of color, not the tokenism that both these ads show. It means women with disabilities getting equal attention and representation. It means trans* girls and women being shown as beautiful and equal. It means all kinds of bodies, and that’s not what this ad shows.
What it shows is multiple images of the exact same kind of body we’re all used to seeing in ads, in a way that’s even more damaging than most ads… because the presence of the words “all shapes and sizes” does even more to erase bodies that don’t fit this norm than most ads do. It’s saying these very similar physiques are all shapes and sizes- and those girls of other shapes and sizes don’t even exist.
The women in the Victoria’s Secret ad are also more or less identical, and, what’s more, the ad is for a product that allows women to change the natural shape of their breasts! Really, what it’s advertising isn’t loving your body at all, but loving what your body could be, if you’d only buy this product… like we haven’t heard that one before. Words like “I love my body” should be used for images that empower and encourage girls. It’s not fair for advertisers to steal this kind of empowering language and use it to sugarcoat the same messages of sexual objectification and body policing that companies have been selling to girls for years.
Besides, I’m tired of the implication that the only thing to love about your body is how “hot” it is. It’s time to see images of girls who love their bodies because of their strength in overcoming illness, their power in playing sports, their grace onstage—their real, individual talents, not how their butt looks in jeans. Girls are capable of so much more than looking good, and so are girls’ bodies. Let’s start selling that message.
So here’s a few new requests, from a teenaged girl to the media: stop paying lip service to body positivity while continuing to show the exact same images. Please show some of the diversity of strong, beautiful bodies that exist in the world. Find out what girls really want and care about, and start showing them doing those things. Stop watering down the powerful message of body positivity. Don’t erase me and girls who look like me, or all the other kinds of bodies out there.
And then maybe I’ll buy the kind of “loving my body” that you’re selling.