Recently, “The Beauty Within” reported that one editor at a teen girls’ magazine announced that her magazine would refrain from featuring diet stories and would use more realistic models of all shapes and sizes in the magazine’s stories and advertisements. This change came as a result of more aware consumers who spoke out. Other magazines are also beginning to send healthier messages about body image to girls. The cover of the first issue of Teen Vogue included “Making It Big: How Curvy Girls Are Changing Hollywood’s Stick-Thin Standard.” Also, the movie Real Women Have Curves featured the main character, played by America Ferrara, advocating for her right to be respected for her larger body. And in one of the most inspiring scenes to appear in recent movies, she undresses and instructs the women working with her to see themselves for the beauties they are cellulite.

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What Parents Can Do

✱ Teach your daughter to become a critical consumer.

✱ Become knowledgeable about what advertisers are trying to sell your daughter, how the products are packaged to attract her, and how they manipulate consumers using idealized images of men and women.

✱ Look at your daughter’s magazines and read them with her. Explain how she is being targeted as a consumer and that messages from the media, while selling services and products, are also conveying information about body images, self-worth, and appropriate behavior.

✱ Review websites and programs targeted for your daughter, and discuss them with her.

✱ Know about retail and Internet companies that sell “cool” clothes in regular sizes.

✱ Be intentional about what you praise and how you express what is important to you.

Remember, “the medium is the message.” Girls will emulate what they see at home.

We are encouraged by examples that challenge the status quo and expand the notion of what is acceptable. Change happens in incremental steps.

Since Title IX (the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education and athletics) was passed by Congress in 1972, we have seen an explosion in the visibility of strong, competent female athletes. Some believe that girls who become more media savvy may reflect the more realistic bodies of superior athletes, such as Serena and Venus Williams. You can use this attitude shift to reinforce the idea that being fit and healthy is beautiful. “Self-Esteem and Young Women” reports that the African-American and Latina influence to the broader culture is helping to redefine the mainstream notion of beauty. Mariela, an 18 year-old Latina, said, “I don’t need to see my ribs or feel my bones. In fact, when I’m thin, my face looks sick. Size 12 (on a good day) and size 14 are fine for me. Hey, I’m just a big girl who likes to feel powerful.” Mariela speaks for many girls of color who do not feel the same pressure to conform to society’s standards of beauty that white girls feel.

Television is beginning to offer girls honest, intelligent, and highly capable role models. Pick almost any prime-time drama, and you now find women portrayed as competent professionals and equal to men. Although still conforming to mainstream standards of beauty, female characters on such shows as “West Wing,” “NYPD Blue,” “Judging Amy,” “Crossing Jordan,” “CSI,” and “The Practice” are portrayed as skilled professionals. Women in these programs play characters who are confident and independent, no longer the damsels in distress waiting for the prince to save them. In Reflections of Girls in the Media, Lois Salisbury reports that television programs, movies, and commercials studied by the advocacy group Children Now show the proportion of women depending on themselves to satisfy their goals to be within a few percentage points of how men are portrayed.

We are aware that the definition of “girls” is slowly changing, as demonstrated by new magazines, fashionable clothes that reflect a real body, and movies such as Real Women Have Curves, Whale Rider, and Bend It Like Beckham, and you should draw on these examples to build resiliency in your girls. If you teach your daughters to be critical observers and consumers, they will learn for themselves the differences between what feels right to them and what doesn’t. They will develop confidence in their own opinions, rather than allowing themselves to be overly influenced by what others may think.

trends and parenting

Your efforts will enable them to have a broader sense of what is attractive and to put that more accurate vision into perspective. There are more choices for girls in terms of careers, skills, and relationships. We find this to be very encouraging. These are choices girls did not have before. You can use the media as resources to get your messages across. If you have certain values about what is important—achievement, kindness, self-sufficiency, “being sturdy”—you can fight alongside your daughters to resist the barrage of media messages claiming there is only one standard of beauty.

As reported in “The Beauty Within,” an international campaign, Turn Beauty Inside Out, now in its third year, focuses attention on how different forms of mass media—movies, television shows, magazines, music videos, etc.—portray girls and women. The goal of this campaign is for industry executives to take responsibility for the images they present and become motivated to create positive messages focused on promoting girls’ self-esteem. Creating roles that portray girls and women who are valued for things other than their sex appeal or beauty sends a powerful message to young girls.

parents with baby girl

You can empower your daughter by teaching her to become a smart consumer and cautious observer of the world around her, including supporting her when she expresses dissatisfaction with what she doesn’t like. You can provide guidance by carefully and intentionally choosing what you praise and what you deem to be important. When you praise your daughter’s school efforts and athletic abilities, you give her the message that competence and intelligence are what’s important. As one mother said, “Looks fade faster than your brain.”