Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What will you believe?

The Dove Beauty Campaign is a self-esteem fund aimed at young girls. Whether, you have heard of it or not, check out the following 2 short video clips (45 seconds each)

This is a great example of a high profile company using their ‘success’ to really try and make a difference with one of many examples of backward thinking in our society and culture. Basically, through ads and confidence building programs, Dove is bringing awareness of self esteem issues among young girls – the reasons, how society plays a role, how the family plays a role, and then building programs to educate and get the right messages out. Often low self esteem among girls, and combined with family, and other issues can easily lead to an eating disorder.

A lot of this comes down to media and what we choose to believe vs. what is real. What messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis. And if you think that young girls are not affected, think again. 8 % of women suffer from an eating disorder, and it is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescent girls. Sure, there may be genetic predispositions. But if the genes are the seed then the environment is what makes it grow. Even higher, are the general self esteem numbers - 50% of 11 year olds wish they could look different. 11 years old!

Mixed messages permeate our culture today. Catholic churches emphasize spiritual perfection while protecting pedophile priests. A nation that advocates moral values, supports the world’s largest pornography industry. A government that is fighting a war against terrorism, yet is the largest illegal arms dealer in the world. There are many examples of all sorts of messages. Today, there are more opportunities for girls then ever before, but too often girls receive the conflicting messages of ‘silence and assertiveness at home, school, and from boys.’ Then, they grow up and are encouraged to lead companies, raise families, run marathons, meanwhile taking their fashion and fitness cues from models half their age – most who have been surgically enhanced or whose photos are air brushed. Too many are trained to be meek and taught to be daring, and these contradictions only intensify with social class and age.

If you’re a parent, have you evaluated yourself and these habits? Chances are if you are caught up in the way you look, constantly dieting, or have low self-esteem your daughters will pick up on this. Too many times I’ve talked with women who are very concerned about their appearance and are always on a diet, who have children with eating disorders. Their response is very often ‘ I just don’t know where she gets it from or why she developed this.’ Perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror. It’s not easy, and the above mentioned contradictory messages make it sometimes very difficult. But we need to start somewhere.

Who are our role models today? Are we teaching our daughters, sisters, nieces to look up to people who have accomplished real goals – not just plastered their faces on reality shows and make their mark by copyrighting the slogan “that’s hot”. Do we look up to Oprah and Hilary Clinton? Or how about great male role models – Wayne Gretzky, or Lance Armstrong to name a few.

What if you know someone who has an eating disorder? Do you ignore it, or do you talk to them? Are you a parent, teacher, sister, friend, aunt/uncle and someone you know is affected? Don’t just sit ideally and watch them turn into themselves. Talk to them. Allow them to speak and open up. Don’t blame, or make excuses for them. Just listen and offer advice. An Eating disorder is a complicated psychological disorder – and you’re not expected to cure this person. But a lot of times, the person will feel like they are in their own world, or be ashamed. And it’s surprising how much someone who is stuck with this disease has to say. Allow them to open up and trust, don’t let them be silent. Encourage them to find someone, anyone, to talk to.

What we can do now - Educate girls on being healthy – and liking themselves for who they are. Allow them to realize their many talents other then ‘looking pretty.’ – athletics, intelligence, funny, etc. Get your daughters involved in sports – allow them to build confidence with this. Celebrate athletic and academic achievements. Introduce girls to positive role models, and stop worshipping the Paris Hiltons and Pamela Andersons (this goes for dads too).

There’s lots more to be said, and a lot more we all need to work on, but ultimately it does come to each of us an individual. It’s a choice we consciously make every day – will I fall prey to media advertising and what marketing wants me to believe – or do I use my own very intelligent brain to realize that’s wrong, and make a choice for myself to not be affected and educate my daughters to not be affected?

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