Body Image for Young Girls

You’ve probably heard the online outrage over the dance troupe of 8-9 year old girls performing a sexually provocative routine to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”.  Of course, I agree that this is completely inappropriate, an example of irresponsible parenting, and a tragic exploitation of the innocence of young girls.  But I am surprised at, well, the surprise of the blogging community.  The idea that this sort of uber-sexualization of children should somehow be unexpected.  I mean, seriously?  Why is it shocking that little girls would want to emulate one of the biggest pop stars in the world?  Why are we appalled at parents choosing to let their daughters perform in provocative outfits when much of women’s fashion capitalizes on our sexuality?

Yes, I agree, the parents should have been more thoughtful, more protective, more aware of their daughters.  But the problem is a bigger one, endemic to our culture, and one which we, as women, promote every time we buy into the same marketing, the same advertising, the same promotion that objectifies women.

I’m the mother of boys, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  How do I want to teach them to view women?  How do I accept the reality that they will live in this culture, see some of these same images, have advertising and promotion thrust upon them and yet teach them to respect women, to see beyond bodies, to value all people as persons?  It’s a tall order, and one without easy answers.

I thought this group of YA writers did a great job of compiling some resources for further reflection.

One of their links was to this Dove commercial, which you’ve probably seen.  It never fails to make me cry a bit at the brokenness of our femininity.  But it’s worth another view, because it makes me want to do things differently for my boys – and for all the other children.  Check it out, and let me know your thoughts.



Filed under Thoughts

10 responses to “Body Image for Young Girls

  1. victoria

    I am also a mother of boys and wonder how I can help them navigate through this over-sexed culture. I am the most important female in their lives and I know they are watching me and I really hope I mostly help their developing views about women. One thing I read that has stuck with me, is that if boys see their mothers being interested in things besides them, they will be given the opportunity to understand that women are people who contribute to society, as well as serve their families. Let me clarify by saying that when we show interest in the world outside the family, we actually enhance our families. So it’s a win win. That’s what I think, anyway.

    Marissa, I’d love to know how to not buy into the marketing that objectifies women. The lines seem pretty blurry for me here. For example, would buying make up fall into this category? Maybe this is a question each of us needs to answer on her own. What do you think? Thanks so much for reminding us of our responsibilties. A tall order indeed!

  2. marissaburt

    V – I honestly don’t know. Sometimes it feels overwhelming. G & E like to watch me put on makeup (and play with all the little brushes – ha!). Just the other day, G asked me what the concealer was for. I realized that I didn’t really like my response options: “To cover up my dark circles and wrinkles” or “To look nice for my date with daddy.” It’s tough to figure out how to respond. It doesn’t make me ready to quit makeup altogether, but it does make me consider why I buy into the beauty marketing I do. For myself? For others? To reach some unattainable standard?

    And it does make me re-evaluate which companies I’m supporting – how they portray women and beauty – and it makes me really watch what I’m saying. No more comments about how big I look (or old, or fill in the blank) while pregnant in front of my boys.

    I like what you have to say about showing them that women have other interests, other valuable contributions to make than their sexuality. I think you’re spot on. It’s not enough to just try and keep the negative at bay. But we have to work really hard at shaping a positive definition of beauty.

    For me, right now this looks like pointing out the beauty we see in nature, in art, in color and variety. There’s this shirt I wear sometimes that G loves – and he loves it for the color (his favorite) and the pattern. I want to capitalize on that now so that when they grow up into men they can have a more complete picture of attraction to a beautiful woman, if that makes sense.

    I don’t think there are any easy answers, but what else can we do but try and be thoughtful and intentional about what we are directly (or indirectly) teaching our little men.

    I’ll tell you what, though – there’s something healing and redemptive about having little boys who still tell you nearly every day “Mom you’re beautiful.” And they mean it.

  3. An incredibly insightful classmate of mine observed that “I feel that in the U.S. the main purpose of breasts is to sell beer and cars, and feeding children is viewed as sort of secondary” Haven’t been able to get that out of my head. Because so many of my friends are African-American women, I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about how what the hip-hop culture idealizes is so different from what is idealized by the more “fashion” “mainstream” side of things, and how both of those ideals are so damaging to the health of women.
    Yes, it’s personal in a way….
    But it’s a huge public health issue because society considers valuable about women is their appearance…and a poor sense of self-worth is connected to SO many risky behaviors.
    And this is such a minefield, demonstrated by the growing assertions that obese women should not be pressured to change because they are beautiful and perfect the way they are…

    Didn’t mean for that to be so long. Short version: You made me think…about things I’m already trying to think about. Thanks!

  4. marissaburt

    Charis – Good points – especially about the connection to risky behaviors. And it’s interesting to think about the variance among American subcultures. I wonder if it’s fair to say that, though what is accentuated may be different, it always results in objectification. Hmmm…

    And I agree – it’s odd how touchy people can be about breastfeeding. I always want to say, “Um, have you seen the superbowl ads?” Ha!

    Congrats again on your comps!

  5. I stumbled on your site because I interviewed Cindy Pon on my blog:

    I’m a native of Ghana and I realize that in all cultures girls want to emulate women, be they Beyonce or Madonna. (I always wanted to be Donna Summer and I particularly loved “I Love to Love you Baby” and “Bad Girls”.) What disturbed me about this commercial is not the fact that girls may be exhibiting early sexuality. It is imagining what’s going through the head of a male audience watching the commercial. The little girl looks alluring, then the picture cuts away to fully developed women with sexual behavior. I think it’s likely to stir the blood of the pedophile or rather encourage that behavior. A man looking at a little girl with a charming smile can suddenly picture her as a woman, naked and welcoming. That’s quite disturbing. Now, men are naturally prone to visual stimulus. Is it something we can train away or even want to train away? How do we raise our girls today, do we stamp out signs of sexuality in an effort to protect them? What a burden it is to be a parent!

    Thanks for this thought-provoking blog.


  6. marissaburt

    Thanks for visiting, Bisi! It is such a challenge to thoughtfully and intentionally raise our children within our culture without isolating them from culture. You make an interesting point about the commercial itself, and the horrible thing is that there is so much fodder for sexual predators anyway. I do appreciate what Dove is trying to do with this marketing campaign – maybe there’s a challenge there for us not to just consider the over-sexualization of women on behalf of our girls, but also ourselves?

  7. Its a great video, but its disturbing to me that a corporation is trying to provide a moral framework.

  8. marissaburt

    That’s an interesting point. Do you think they’re trying to make a moral statement, though? Or just a statement about what we are teaching our girls?

  9. I didn’t watch the commercial; based on the comments, I just think it might make me too sad about an already saddening situation.

    I like the idea of not complaining in front of G&E about pregnancy size. I think those sort of comments really shape a child’s perspective. Even today, when my more slender friends make comments about how “fat” they are, *I* experience insecurity. I try to avoid making any comments to people about what I think of my body, in case I might be hurting someone else. I have close friends who I can go to if I have a body image struggle, but I don’t need to air to the world that the foremost thing on my mind is my weight. And I don’t want to be that kind of person.

    I have stopped wearing makeup for the most part (I have a mineral powder I put on occasionally that helps with my acne), and it’s been an interesting experiment. I save time in the mornings, and people see my real face, with the dark circles, acne, and the weird little hairs that pop up on my chin when I least expect it. But makeup is expected of women, especially during formal occasions. It’s interesting that in early Christianity, the women didn’t wear makeup because it was associated with a paganism, loose morals, and was considered dishonest.

  10. marissaburt

    Thanks for jumping in, Gina. This is such an area of brokenness in our culture I think every step counts – and monitoring our words is a huge step!

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