Dear Girls of America,
There is so much pressure on young girls today. In school, we are pushed to get straight A’s, play varsity sports, star in the school play and run for class president. At home, we are expected to do our chores, babysit the neighbors’ kids, go to church and volunteer at the animal shelter. Also, we need to find time for our friends and boyfriend while staying up to speed on the latest “Jersey Shore” gossip. Basically, we need to be Supergirls.
Oh, and there’s one more thing: don’t forget to keep smiling while you squeeze into your size 6 jeans. If it’s not enough to do it all, we need to look good while doing it.
Unrealistic images of skinny models with flawless skin and silky hair smile up at today’s youth from the glossy pages of their magazines, HD TV screens and movie posters. These photos serve as a constant reminder to wear the right clothes, lose weight and be “perfect”. They can do it all, so why can’t we?
But, there is something you need to know: you’ve been lied to. These images are just that, images. The photos in your magazine have been altered; blemishes erased, teeth whitened. Artists on the radio have been auto-tuned, and Barbie is no more than plastic. These things are not real, and we shouldn’t be expected to live up to them because no matter how hard we try, we will fall short of this man-made perfection. After all, young girls are only human. When you were little, you were told: “You can do anything boys can do.” This doesn’t mean you have to do everything boys do – and more.
There is so much pressure on young girls to be “perfect,” but who is to blame? Is it the fault of parents? Media? Barbie?
According to one study, 69% of American girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape, and 47% of these girls want to lose weight because of the pictures. Another study conducted by the Kaiser Foundation found that one in every three articles in leading teen girl magazines focuses on appearance.
But the focus on beauty goes beyond magazines. This same study found that women’s and girl’s appearances are more frequently commented on in movies, TV shows and commercials than those of men’s and boy’s.
The constant reminder to be thin, pretty, and “do it all” is taking a toll on the health of young women. It is estimated that 8 million or more people in the U.S. struggle with eating disorders, and 90% are women between the ages of 12 and 25.
But this problem isn’t just found on American soil. According to anthropologist Sigal Gooldin in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, “In Israel, about 2 percent of all girls between 14 and 18 have severe eating disorders, a rate similar to that of other developed countries.” With the hopes of combating eating disorders, on March 19, the Israeli government passed a law banning the use of overly thin models in local advertising. Additionally, Israeli publications are now required to disclose when they use altered images in their advertising. It is yet to be seen whether this legislation will have any lasting effect on the number of new cases of eating disorders in Israel.
While the United States seems far from passing similar legislation, there are other possible solutions forAmerican girls struggling with eating disorders. Singer/actress Demi Lovato, who publicly struggled with an eating disorder, is joining forces with Seventeen magazine and the Jed Foundation to share the message that “love is louder than the pressure to be perfect.” This campaign hopes to bring attention to the burden placed on the shoulders of young girls and lets them know that they are good enough.
In a recent interview with Seventeen magazine, Lovato shared this inspiring message: “I wish I could tell every young girl with an eating disorder, or who has harmed herself in any way, that she's worthy of life and that her life has meaning. You can overcome and get through anything.”
You don’t have to be a size zero to be beautiful. You don’t need to get straight A’s to be smart. You don’t have to “do it all” to be happy. Striving for “perfection” can lead to self-destruction. Let’s end the war we are raging against ourselves by taking a stand. Do the things that genuinely bring you joy and cut out the rest. It may be difficult at first, but in the long run you’ll be happier and healthier. Trust me, you deserve it, and don’t let anyone, not even yourself, tell you otherwise.