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Good news: Girls today feel more empowered to pursue a range of career goals, says a new survey The State of Gender Equality for U.S. In fact, 71% of girls of the 1,000 children and teens ages 10 to 19 polled say that having a successful career is a “very important” goal in their lives. Almost equal numbers of girls and boys like math and science at school, and there’s “not much of a gender gap in political ambition.” Progress, right?!
Here’s the rub: The majority of girls polled say physical attractiveness is the most common trait that our society values in girls. Still. Seventy percent of girls ages 14 to 19 say they feel judged as a sexual object in their daily life at least once in a while.
How can we still be here?
It’s probably not surprising given that teen girls consume eight to ten hours of media a day, most of which hammers them with the message that they have to be more skinny, more trendy, more sexy. The more important question is, how do we get out this place?
First, we asked our MEDIAGIRLS editorial volunteer, Izzy Silver, age 17, for her thoughts on the topic:
Girls and women see so much toxic advertising with that anonymous voice of a “how- to” tutorial, always reminding us of everything we aren’t in an angelic tone of guidance. YouTube “beauty gurus” assure us we can have shinier hair, thicker eyelashes, and leaner legs. They say we should rub avocado on our faces and straighten our hair and wax our unwanted body hair and shape our eyebrows right. It is always with the promise of being happy.
The same media that promises us tips on happiness are, ironically, the ones chipping away at our self esteem, our time, our ability to focus, and, yes, our happiness. What the headlines should say are: “If you want to be happier, stop reading what we post!”
What girls need to know is that looking to beauty products and regimens to give us happiness or peace of mind is absurd. The very idea that any media pitching us products even cares about our happiness is insulting.
To find true contentment, we need to go into ourselves, and stop obsessing about our exteriors. Nobody, other than us, has the answer to what will make us happier. Because it has everything to do with ourselves, who we are as individuals and how we live our daily lives.
In my experience, happiness comes indirectly. Shifting my attention away from my own happiness is, ironically, the key to having it. Engaging in a project, meeting a goal, really connecting with someone, or doing community service puts us in a flow. It’s about doing and not craving. In the words of psychologists Ken Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomisrky: “Change your actions, not your circumstances.”
4 tips to equip our girls to transform the culture of media
1. Label true joy.
Show this post to your girl(s) and ask her what activities and actions bring her the most joy. Is it cracking up with her friends? Dance class? Debate team? Staring at the stars? If she isn’t sure, have her recall the activities she engaged in during the past few days and how they made her feel. Sometimes we don’t notice joy unless we look for it and label it.
2. Teach girls resilience, not happiness.
Let your girl know that happiness, wherever it comes from, is a feeling to be enjoyed but not a state of being. It comes and goes like any other feeling. Instead of shooting for being happy, aim for resilience, self-awareness and being content.
3. Encourage girls (and boys) to volunteer.
Invite your girl(s) to volunteer somewhere where we she can see the impact in real time, whether it’s helping to serve people at a soup kitchen, cleaning a park, tutoring a cousin, or walking dogs at an animal shelter. Share this study that examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness; the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Why not give it a try? The worst that happens is you make the world better.
4. Girls shouldn’t adjust. They should revolt.
Encourage your girls to take part in our #realmediagirl challenge, in which girls use social media to express their authentic selves, speak up for what they believe in, and lift one another up. This is the perfect way to strike back against mainstream media saying that looking hot matters most. We’re giving girls the tools to make over the media.
This piece was originally published on MEDIAGIRLS.ORG and is republished with permission. Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS®, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content.
She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Katie Couric’s talk show “Katie,” “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
Visit www.mediagirls.org to learn more.