Have you ever looked in the mirror and hated your reflection?
Um, yes. I'm raising my hand. But ... why do we do that?
Whether we realize it or not, media plays a HUGE role in the process: looking in the mirror, interpreting what we see, and then evaluating our appearance as "good" or "bad."
That might be oversimplifying things a bit, but basically that's what it comes down to. And in the end, it's all about money. Because if we feel "broken," we will spend money to "fix" ourselves.
Media makes us feel fat so we will buy diet plans, gym memberships, exercise equipment, and foods that are low-calorie or low-carb or low-whatever-the-latest-fad-is.
Media makes us feel impotent, sick, useless or helpless, so we will buy whatever big pharma is peddling at the moment.
Media says our hair is too flat or too frizzy and our teeth are too yellow so we will buy all sorts of "health" and "beauty" products.
It's sad, but true.
And of course it affects not only us, but our kids as well. And the cycle continues.
Teaching the Truth
So how do we combat the programming? How do we end this vicious cycle of self-hatred? We EDUCATE. And lucky for us, there are resources out there to help.
If you follow my work, you know that Educate & Empower Kids publishes great resources for parents. But their latest project is actually for kids. And it directly tackles the body image issue. There are two books in the series:
Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story A Girl’s Journey to Healthy Body Image
Messages About Me: Wade’s Story A Boy’s Quest for Healthy Body Image.
As a mother of three boys, I'm really grateful they did a book especially for the fellas. Sometimes we forget this isn't just a female issue. Our boys are affected too.
I admit I'm a little biased since I helped with this project. But the approach in these books is pretty genius. Throughout the story, we watch the main characters go through the all-too-familiar process: receiving messages from the media, feeling inadequate, and trying to "fix" themselves. But the books capture this process in a very unique visual way.
For the cartoon characters in the book, this becomes a literal process. For example, Sydney sees an ad for shiny hair, so she clips that hair from the ad and makes it part of herself. She hears her friends talking about a certain lipstick, so she sticks on some new lips to look just like the other girls.
Throughout the process, Sydney loses pieces of herself--like her hair and her smile--and puts on the "new and improved" versions from the media. As the book progresses, she becomes a collage of magazine hair, lips, clothes, and accessories. Before we know it, there's hardly any "real Sydney" left to look at!
There is also a deeper, emotional transformation, and the book addresses that too. At the beginning, Sydney loves to run track and go out for ice cream with her mom. But as she changes her body, she loses the ability (and the desire) to do these things as well.
In the end, Sydney and Wade realize that their transformation isn't all it's cracked up to be. They don't feel happy, like they thought they would. Luckily savvy peers and supportive parents step in to help them see the truth: that they are beautiful just the way they are.
Learning the Right Lessons
Maybe it's the kid in me, but I seem to learn better with pictures. And the pictures in these books really are worth a million words!
The bottom line is ... If we want to break unhealthy patterns in our culture, we have to wake up. We have to realize what the media is doing, and we need to counteract it with purposeful parenting.
As a parent, I'm excited about these tools to help teach my kids. And who knows? Maybe the lesson will stick with me too.