Offering a free class to help teen girls with their body image sounds like a great idea. Not so great: advertising the class with a flier depicting only thin white girls.
According to the New Haven Register, that's what the city's Cornell Scott Hill Health Center did when it advertised its Girls' Group via email yesterday. Though Hill Health Center serves a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, the emailed flier features five white girls, who may in fact be the same girl in different poses. Community members were extremely disappointed — said activist Ken Ewing on Facebook,
Who can tell me what is wrong with the flier trying to recruit girls for work on their self-esteem and body image? What message is it sending our little black and Latino girls?
Unfortunately, it's a common message: that eating disorders and body image issues are problems only for already-skinny white girls. This message can make it harder for girls (or adult women, or men) of color to get help, and it can blind laypeople and clinicians alike to the fact that not everyone with an eating disorder "looks like it." Then there's the fact that girls dealing with body image problems may not respond especially well to a poster that includes only girls with America's most privileged body type. Luckily, the flier, which has been sent out before, hasn't kept kids out of the class — it's been filled to capacity each time it's been offered. And Hill Health Center officials have already changed and re-sent the flier. So hopefully their mistake won't keep girls from benefiting from the program. But it's a good reminder that, when it comes to body politics, images matter.