Friday, March 18, 2011

Educating our teens to be independent and strong is the key

When we were little girls, my sister and I didn’t just have one Barbie from each country, we had two Barbie’s from each country. I remember feeling jealous and at the same time in awe at this “perfect specimen” of the female form. I wanted to look like her. I longed to have her life. She would never have a problem. What kind of difficulties could a women who’s looks alone captivated men and inspired women to emulate her have? Which shoes should she wear on her date with Ken? The pink stilettos or the leopard print thigh-high boots?

Barbies “problem” is not what real women experience and dimensions like hers are not what women in the real world have either. To try to live up to her would set a person back hundreds of thousands of dollars. The sad truth of the matter is that women are trying to emulate this characters looks. These desperate women go under the knife while doctors erase every bit of what makes them unique and replaces their features with what they(mostly male doctors) find attractive. So far, two women have been shown in the media to have expressed the interest in emulating the Barbie Doll. Cindy Jackson who’s had 31 operations over the span of 14 years and more recently, Sarah Burge, breaking her record with 100 cosmetic surgeries. I cant help but to wonder if these women had even a speck of self esteem before they made the decision to go under the knife.
Sarah Burge before and after

Cindy Jackson

As teens we’ve moved on from styling Barbie to reading teen magazines and styling ourselves. Cosmo Girl, TeenVogue and Seventeen magazines encourages girls to wear make-up, buy new clothing and style hair to perfection. Similar to “the training bra” teen magazines prepares a young woman to be what men consider feminine. The features teens were born with, are obviously not good enough. Their naturally beautiful faces and bodies can always be improved upon. What teens are told is that they need to look like the popular celebrities and models pictured to feel happier and lead more fulfilling lives while gaining popularity among their peers. Simultaneously grooming young ladies to feel that being appealing to the opposite sex (and future husbands), they must do all the purchasing and primping necessary. Young women are particularly easy to manipulate. Cosmetics, haircare and clothing are sold easily to young girls who definitely don’t need them.

As Gunther Wykes explains in The Media and Body Image,”Young women are prepared for this adult journey….. These chart the rite of passage to adult femininity as if only a very limited kind of woman exists there.”(p.270) This gives the teenager the ultimate goal to be "perfect" which means to look "perfect" and get the young man as a heroine would in a romance novel. Mainly, ideal images use blond, white and slim girls as the “pretty girl”. They are also airbrushed and made-up to show not even one single blemish.

Unfortunately, adult women’s fashion magazines are just a continuation and confirmation of the teen magazines. If you feel good about yourself, just don’t look at a fashion magazine. Flipping through magazines like Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire whittles away at your confidence. This avoidance of glossies is hardly a proactive way to remedy the situation that exists. The only other solution to the problem I can think of is education. By teaching young girls the underlying messages and blatant misrepresentation of women found in the media, we can empower them to think critically and not be seduced by the alluring images. If we instill in them a strong self image and independence, while also encourage them to dream big and never give up on themselves, they will succeed in their lives and they will remain impervious to the messages sultry and seductive advertisements try to send.

This is a recent news story about Abercrombie and Fitch attempt to sell sexy push up bikini to young girls:

Questions About Barbie & Visibility of Personality:


  1. We were being brainwashed since we were young. If we can not change the industries, then it’s better to have gender education at a young age.

  2. I think as a society, we get information from sources that just encourage us and make us think we need to attain perfection. It is inevitable and the sources that are actually trying to say the opposite - that we are perfectly fine the way we are without having to buy into the impossible expectations are not as popular.

  3. I agree that education and awareness is the biggest and most effective way to fight the negative images and stereotypes of women portrayed in the media so that we can recognize it as women being objectified and not feel that this is what we need to live up to. I think this method goes for gender roles, sex, and soo many other issues women, teens and all people face in our society. "This avoidance of glossies is hardly a proactive way to remedy the situation that exists." Exactly.. we cant avoid it. Thats unrealistic and probably not healthy either.. giving children (and adults) both sides of the spectrum and allowing them to identify and understand each is a good idea. Denial doesnt fix the problem.