To Survive And Thrive In An Airbrushed World

You live in a world where, from a young age, girls are taught that their appearance is valued above anything else. Girls must live up to this standard or the ridicule that follows will be a deserved consequence.

"Too much advertising depicts women, and to a lesser extent men, as just pretty objects. Flip through the pages of Vanity Fair or even GQ, and you can't help but feel all there is to life is pouting your lips, sucking your cheeks in, and looking pretty. Preferably with an off-camera fan blowing your generously conditioned locks," says Paul Venables, founder of the San Francisco advertising agency Venables Bell & Partners. He's talking about the growing societal problem that is the objectification of women. We need more realistic and positive images of women in the media. End of story.

As a girl growing up in the twenty-first century, constantly surrounded by advertisements, movies, songs, and more, referring to my gender, I've begun to notice this problem more and more. Seeing these repeated negative images of women in the media makes those images seem like the right way to be. Could the increasing number of ditzy women on air be increasing the number of ditzy women? Could the rising number of advertisements featuring huge breasts and tiny waists be contributing to the rising number of my friends who may have eating disorders? And could the constant bombardment of "Be like this," "Be like her," "Be skinny," "Be popular," "Be dumb," be the reason behind self-consciousness and the desire to be like that, to be like her, to be skinny, popular, dumb? Could it?

Renowned scientists and doctors agree that low self-esteem, poor body image, depression, perfectionism, and rigid thinking patterns can lead to anorexia in adolescent girls. All of these are things that can come from viewing negative images of women in the media. Studies have shown that even a small exposure to these types of images can cause immediate drops in self-esteem, positive body images, and happiness. Rigid thinking patters can come in the form of stereotypes that girls feel the need to conform to, and the idea of perfectionism collides with the idea of the "perfect" body.

Really, what is that? Does anyone have the "perfect" physique, hair, eyes, nose, face, breasts, everything? Whose job is it to decide what the "perfect" person is like? We look at the outcome of whatever godly planning meeting decided this, in every from of media, everyday. But who decided? Why are we mindlessly following these people who we do not know, these stereotypes of what we should be? Why are they forced upon us? Why do we allow them to be forced upon us?

As I go from childhood, to teendom, to adulthood, I have questions about myself, life, the world I live in. We all do. We have all asked ourselves, gazing at some form of "beautiful" or "perfect" person in the media, "Is that how I'm supposed to be?" We are looking to the unrealistic images in the media for role models that will allow us to discover our own realistic images. Really, the models on television should not be our looking glass into the real world.

Our chance to find role models should be a day-to-day look at the strong, powerful women that exist in our society. These are the images that should be publicized. The facts that we should receive should not be the ones that sell size zeros, not the ones that make anything else "fat," not the ones that make girls feel ugly for achieving academically. Those are not the facts that we need to take in, in this time of growth in our lives. Instead, we should get facts that empower both girls and their role models.

In my experience, adolescent girls are at an age during which they are finding themselves. They look to each other, and, when peers do not know all the answers, they look to the media. When we watch TV, we look at the way the pretty heroine walks, talks, dresses. We might try on her persona, walking her walk and talking her talk. Of course, when the women that we are shadowing breaks the dress code on a daily basis and act as dumb as anything, following them does not help us to grow. It affects us negatively.

This is something that I feel personally affected by. In sixth grade, I tried to be myself by being out of the box, by being anything but what I saw in the media. Looking back, I realize that this is a separate persona projected by the media. There's "perfect" and there's "other." There are also those who fit neatly into "trying to be perfect." As we look to the media for advice, "trying to be perfect" is what most of us become. Only recently do I feel like I have grown up into myself, a comfortable "other," though not the negative "other" projected by television and advertising. I realized that "perfect" is entirely fictional. I now wear clothes because I like them, not because Selena Gomez's stylist does or does not. I feel like I have overcome some pressure from the media, but it will always be there. One must be strong and continually try to overcome it.

When facing all these facts, which, in reality, bombard us every day, in the media, it becomes quite clear that the objectification of women is a problem that needs to be fixed. This will take effort from all of us: the advertising community, women, men, everyone. Some people who have been making a commendable effort are socially responsible advertising agencies like Venables Bell & Partners. Venables said that his firm values talent over looks. "From my perspective," he laughed, "rejecting pretty faces in favor of real people who have real talent is kind of a fun part of the job."

Those who are directly involved in the media are not the only ones who can do good. At this point, you are probably wondering what you can do to help. First of all, spread the word. When girls and boys, men and women, understand that there are still problems in our society with the objectification and degradation of women, they will want to help. A raised awareness is one of our most powerful weapons. Also, products and companies that use advertisements that unrealistically or negatively depict women should be notified of the severe problems with this. Write a petition. Call in. Anything and everything helps. Advertising agencies and other forms of media are not out to get women, though hurtful projections of women may make it seem this way. Tell them what they're doing wrong, and, chances are, they'll want to stop, and make it right. Finally, do your best to remain unaffected by negative images of women in the media. Do not allow stereotypes, negative expectations, or anything else to get the better of you.

Don't believe in stereotypes; believe in yourself. Don't look up to airbrushed and enhanced female role models; look to your mom, older sister, or best friend. And don't fall in love with the "perfect" everything; fall in love with you.

This post originally appeared on the site The F Bomb. Republished with permission.

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