Don’t Let the Media Define Your Beauty

January 8th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Health | Life

How would you define beauty if you’d never watched a movie or television show, got on the internet, read a magazine or saw a billboard?

In a survey of girls 9 and 10 years old, 40% have tried to lose weight, according to an ongoing study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

By the time a girl is in 2nd or 3rd grade 4 out of 10 have already dieted. #BeginRage

Thankfully, I made it to 6th grade before I started hating the way I looked. As an active kid I was always thin. Then puberty struck, hormones went haywire, and I put on about 20 pounds between 5th and 6th grade. This was the beginning of my gain/lose weight evolution.

WeightI remember Dad teasing me about my hips. I remember my face breaking out so bad I’d cry and beg my Mom not to make me go to school. I remember boys teasing me saying I had ‘dog hair’ because I hadn’t quite figured out how to tame my frizzy, wavy locks.

In 5th grade I was happy and confident because I had self-esteem that was not contingent on my outward appearance. I was fiercely competitive and often dominated field day events. I was smart, and prided myself on finishing my homework before class even got out so I could go ask the teacher if there was anything I could help them with in the classroom. I don’t recall ever thinking about how I looked. The only memory I do have is when my Mom finally caved and bought me some Levi’s shorts that all the cool kids wore.

In a few short months all that changed and I entered middle school feeling like a foreigner in my own body. Puberty is traumatic. This experience was made 100x worse as I started reading fashion magazines, wearing make-up, and obsessing over keeping up with the ‘cool kids’ fashions. From that point on to my early 20’s I learned that no matter how athletic I was, or how smart I was, what really mattered was what size I wore and how pretty I could make myself look.

Last week I had the chance to watch two incredible documentaries that touch on the impact the media has on female’s body image, self-esteem, and overall mental health. Miss Representation is available to watch instantly on Netflix, or for $1.99 on Youtube. If you are a woman you should watch this. If you have a daughter you should make her watch this. If you are a man you should watch this. Get the drift?

film1America the Beautiful is a few years older, and not quite as ‘flashy’ as Miss Representation, but I enjoyed it because it was produced by a man. It was interesting to see his take on how the media attacks women. This film is also available to view instantly on Netflix.

A few years ago I decided to get rid of cable and I quit reading most magazines. Maybe I’m hyper aware of the effect they have on me, but I could tell that they were having a negative impact on my psyche. I don’t care how much I workout or how hard I work I’ll never be thin enough or rich enough to live up to those standards. Nor do I want to be. After I watched these documentaries I had a few tweets scheduled to go up and the first one was ’10 ways to make your weight loss resolutions stick.’ I deleted it as soon as I saw it had posted. It just seemed so silly after everything I had learned that day. Clearly I’m a health nut, I love to workout 5-6 times a week, and I still count calories to make sure I’m eating an appropriate amount. However, I don’t want it to seem as though I do this all for vain reasons. Of course I want to look ‘good’ (whatever that means), but I also want to be healthy, and happy (exercise is my anti-anxiety medication.)

Companies will continue to use unrealistic ideals of physical appearance to sell their products, and consumers will continue to fall for their empty promises.

When will we take responsibility for how we spend our money and decide that enough is enough?

Have you ever felt bad about your appearance after seeing something in TV or a magazine?

What do you think the first step to stop this cycle is? 

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21 Responses

  • MIZ says:

    I have no idea what the first step is…and Im just PRAYING I CAN LEAD BY EXAMPLE and head off of this off with my child.
    Im not sure I can.

    • Erica House says:

      I think leading by example may be the first step. I’m sure your awareness of the issue is making you a wonderful example for your daughter!

  • Linz says:

    that stat about second and third grade girls makes me so sad! are you familiar with caitlin boyle’s operation beautiful? i love everything itz about and she even has a book geared towards kids which i bought for my classroom!

  • Barbara says:

    I’ve noticed lately that if I do read a magazine it’s mostly old information by the time it gets to print. The glossy pictures are not reality and I don’t keep a lot around since we have two girls.

    • Erica House says:

      I wonder if I have a daughter (or son!) how I could protect her from the onslaught of media images portraying unrealistic versions of what she ‘should’ look like. Unless we live in a cave I think it would be virtually impossible, so the best I can do is educate her on the reality behind those images and standards.

  • Awareness is a huge first step! This makes me so sad, too… and it’s scary as a mom of a girl. Hoping we do our part to instill confidence and self-worth in her!

    • Erica House says:

      I’m sure you are setting a great example for your little one! From what I’ve learned about you on the blog you portray yourself as a very strong, intelligent, and capable women and your daughter is lucky to have such a positive role model to look up to.

  • Kelsey says:

    I definitely have & I think us not being able to afford cable, or even want it, really helps because you don’t get drawn into judging and comparing yourself. Yes, I watch new episodes of Pretty Little Liars and Biggest Loser online after they premiere on TV, but I love those shows for what they are, so I never find myself comparing. I also quit magazines because I started to notice the negative comparison trap I was putting myself in. Now, I only buy food-related ones, or The Box and Paleo magazine. Can’t wait to watch the documentaries – maybe it will give me an idea of what needs to be done. I think magazines and shows and movies just needs to get “real”, but that is one heck of a word to define.

    • Erica House says:

      It’s amazing to me when women say reading fashion/diet magazines don’t have any effect on them. I wonder if they are just totally clueless, or if I’m overly sensitive to the images and self-comparison trap. Let me know what you think of the documentaries if you watch them!

  • Helen says:

    That is a really scary statistic. Girls so young should be focusing on being children, not their looks!
    I, too, was not worried about my appearance until I was in 6th grade. I started gaining weight and my face was breaking out. I don’t wear make-up but I still have problem with my weight sometimes. I always feel terrible about myself whenever I look at TVs or magazines. But, I know that it’s not possible. I know that I am worth more than that. It just took life experiences to learn it the hard way.

    • Erica House says:

      Yes, it took a lot of life experiences for me to realize the same! I think it’s inevitable for most women. Luckily, I grew out of that phase and wish I could go back in time and tell myself to quit being so hard on myself!

  • I’m hoping to get started with Girls on the Run in my community. I’m hoping I can lead by example and also tell them a story about my own struggles they can relate to. Getting involved with young girls (or your own children) can help, but boys need some education too!

    • Erica House says:

      That’s awesome! I looked into Girls on the Run before and there weren’t any nearby. I’ve always wanted to work with preteen girls somehow. It was just such a volatile time for me and I’d love to be a resource for girls struggling with the issues I did.

  • I watched Miss Representation last summer and absolutely LOVED it. I wish it were shown in high schools. Seriously. I still struggle a ton with my body image but I have moments of clarity- like watching this movie and the weeks that followed- but I still have a ways to go. PS- I think we would be good friends if we lived near one another. I always feel like you write what I’m thinking and just haven’t put to paper!

    • Erica House says:

      I’m sure we would be good friends! The #1 thing I’ve gotten out of this blog is making friends (online and in real life) all over the world. I still can’t believe I went to Chicago last month, randomly tweeted ‘who wants to hang out’, and actually met incredible new friends that way!

  • This makes me so sad! I need to watch Miss Representation. I pray that my future children see my example and don’t let the media influence them as much as I can influence them!

    • Erica House says:

      I wonder if I have kids how I will protect them from the media, without hiding them from it. Like, I’d love to not have cable and regulate what types of books/magazines are brought into the house, but I don’t want them to be the ‘weird’ kids in school (I still remember knowing a family in elementary school that didn’t have a TV. I thought they were freaks!)

  • Totally going to watch this on Netflix later!

    I have definitely felt bad about myself after seeing things. I think I am most self conscious about my skin. 26 years old and my acne is still out of control all the time. Frustrating and seeing women airbrushed and perfect looking skin all the time on TV and in magazines annoys me to no end

  • AMEN! Thank you for writing such an important post. It can be so difficult to maintain a healthy body image when we’re constantly bombarded with images of “perfect” bodies. Remembering that these companies WANT us to feel bad so we buy their products is so important.