Tips on how to limit your daughters’ consumption and exposure to damaging influences.
by Vicki Courtney
A University of Minnesota study found that teenage girls who frequently read magazine articles about dieting were more likely five years later to practice extreme weight-loss measures than girls who never read such articles. The study further found that “girls in middle school who read dieting articles were twice as likely five years later to try to lose weight by fasting or smoking cigarettes, compared to girls who never read such articles. They were three times more likely to use measures such as vomiting or taking laxatives.” Coauthor of the study, Patricia van den Berg offers this advice to parents: “It possibly would be helpful to teen girls if their mothers didn’t have those types of magazines around.”1
One has to wonder if the primary agenda of the fashion magazines is to create a level of dissatisfaction among their female readers regarding their overall body image in an effort to keep them running back for more and more advice on how to achieve this impossible beauty ideal. As they absorb this message that their worth and value stem from their outer appearance and their chief aim is to please the opposite sex, parents are left to sweep up the mess in the years to come. As a longtime opponent of fashion magazines and their message of objectification to our young women, I would love to see parents put them in the same dangerous category as drugs and alcohol. It’s time to ban this harmful filth from our homes and begin the detox process if we or our daughters have bought into the lie.
When I was growing up, the word slut was whispered under one’s breath and used sparingly. If you were labeled a “slut,” your reputation was sealed.
Today, the word is commonplace in every teen’s vocabulary. Since when did it become a compliment to be called a slut? Good girls are called sluts. Bad girls are called sluts. Church girls are called sluts. If your daughter is in high school or older, chances are, she’s been called a slut. And unless you step in and do something about it, she will probably just smile and shrug it off as a term of endearment.
How did such a word become so acceptable? Could it be the hip-hop/rap culture that cranks out song after song depicting women as “hoes” whose lifelong aspiration is to serve their “pimps”? Of the thirty-two songs with an “explicit” rating in 2004, twenty-seven were in the hip-hop/rap genre.2 These are the songs being played over and over again on the pop radio stations, MP3 players, and at school dances. And we wonder why it’s become acceptable and even in vogue to be called a “slut.”
If we are to counter the culture’s lie that our daughters are nothing more than objects, it’s time to ban our children from buying and listening to songs that objectify women and take a stand when schools, and other cheer/dance organizations, allow the imitation of these objectifying dance moves. You might consider banning songs that fall into the rap/hip-hop genre or requiring preapproval. If a song comes onto the radio and lyrics clearly objectify women, turn it into a teachable moment before you change the station.
TV, Movies, and the Internet
I highly suggest that parents block channels like MTV, VH1, and other like-minded cable channels that are known for their constant objectification of women. Additionally, sit in and listen to the shows your kids are watching to ensure they are appropriate, and take advantage of sites like pluggedin.com and http://www.screenit.com to review movies before allowing your children to see them. Also, the Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org) rates the most popular shows among kids and compiles a “best and worst shows” list based on the content. They also have a fabulous feature where you can select a popular show and read the corresponding review.
When it comes to objectionable Web sites, I highly recommend that parents install Web filters and monitoring software to add as many layers of protection as possible. It will be impossible to protect them 100 percent of the time; and as they get older, they can access these channels/shows at friends’ houses. This is why it is of utmost importance that parents take advantage of critical moments and point out the media’s objectification of women as well as discuss the fallout that can result.
Whether it’s popular clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch’s screen-print tees with messages like “Who needs brains when you have these” or the 1.6 million dollars spent on thong underwear by girls aged seven to twelve, clearly we have a problem.3 Victoria’s Secret now has a line aimed at tween, teen, and college girls. It used to be that you didn’t set foot into Victoria’s Secret until you had a ring on your finger. Nowadays girls as young as middle school are stopping in to pick up a birthday present for their best friend. Mercy, what happened?
As parents we must help our daughters realize that their clothing is like a label. When they wear skin-baring fashions, it often sends a message to others about their character. When we (parents) allow our daughters to dress in a revealing manner, we play a part in sexualizing and objectifying them. Not to mention, many girls are not yet able to make a connection between what they wear and the reaction it may generate among the opposite sex. The APA study found that “girls are experiencing teen pressures at younger and younger ages. However, they are not able to deal with these issues because their cognitive development is out of sync with their social, emotional and sexual development. Let girls be girls.”4
In Shaunti Feldhahn’s fabulous book For Young Women Only, she cited the results of a survey where guys were asked questions pertaining to the way girls dress. The study found that when girls dress in such a way as to call attention to their bodies, 85 percent of guys said that they would have a temptation to picture her naked (either then or later). The survey further confirmed that the majority of guys thought she was dressing that way because she wanted them to picture her that way. Her survey of girls found that in reality only less than 4 percent of girls dress in a revealing fashion in an attempt to get guys to fantasize about them.5
It is up to us to have this necessary conversation (over and over again) with our daughters and remind them that clothing sends a strong message; and it may, in fact, be a message that misrepresents who they really are. When it comes to sporting the perfect outfit, we need to let our daughters know that there is nothing wrong with dressing fashionably as long as it meets God’s standard of dress — “modestly, with decency, and propriety” (1 Tim. 2:9).
While I don’t watch (or endorse) Desperate Housewives, I’ve seen enough pictures of these women to know that they have all had Photoshop makeovers, ahem, not to mention, a few other costly makeovers as well. With slews of images like that, is it any wonder women of all ages are resorting to Botox injections, plastic surgery, and break-the-bank skin care regimes that promise to take ten years off their lives?
Sometimes the challenge seems insurmountable when it’s everywhere we look. Redbook magazine was criticized for putting thirty-nine-year-old, country music star, Faith Hill on the July 2007 cover and photo-shopping the picture to lengthen her neck, slim her arms and thighs, trim her waist, and airbrush away her wrinkles.6 Redbook, for heaven’s sake! My grandmother used to subscribe to Redbook because it wasn’t considered a fashion magazine. In The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used against Women, author Naomi Wolf said, “Magazines, consciously or half-consciously, must project the attitude that looking one’s age is bad because $650 million of their ad revenue comes from people who would go out of business if visible age looked good.”7
How do we even begin to tackle this topic with our daughters and give them a more realistic picture of the natural aging process? How can we convince them that “gray hair is a crown of splendor” (Prov. 16:31) when many of us, myself included, are rushing to our hairdressers and paying them to cover it up, one gray hair at a time? Ouch! I for one am not feeling so led to give up my highlights, occasional manicures, and magical eye cream, so it’s important to find a balance. Are you at peace, for the most part, with the aging process, or are you kicking and screaming about every gray hair and facial wrinkle?
We need to make sure our daughters realize that the images they are seeing in the media of models and celebrities who appear to have found the fountain of youth are not real. Most have been prepped for the photo session by hair and makeup artists, Botox, plastic surgery, and even after all that, will likely be airbrushed beyond recognition. We need to set a positive example for our daughters and make friends with the aging process. That doesn’t mean we have to let our hair go gray and wear it in a tight bun atop our heads and fill our closets with holiday sweaters and Naturalizer footwear. There is nothing wrong with beautifying the temple as long as it’s done in good taste and is not your primary focus. If our daughters are constantly subjected to our grumblings as we journey through the aging process, it will leave them with the impression that life is somehow less appealing in the latter years. Let’s quit this nonsense of being shocked and surprised when our bodies begin to show some wear and tear. Some (if not many) of the most beautiful women I know are over fifty and put the polished and airbrushed models and celebs to shame. The over-forty cast of Desperate Housewives couldn’t hold a candle to these women when it comes to true beauty. Will you be one of them
Used by permission. Excerpts taken from 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney c. 2008 B&H Publishing Group.
1See http://cjonline.com/stories/010207/tee_dieting.shtml, citing a study in Pediatrics, January.
2Information based on author’s observation.
4APA study; (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996).
5Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice, For Young Women Only: What You Need to Know about How Guys Think (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2006).
7Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002). I do not endorse this book as a whole and disagree wholeheartedly with the author’s radical feminist view and negative view of Christianity, but found some of the research to be useful in citing the media’s damage when it comes to the “beauty myth.”