Why don’t girls like their bodies? Body hatred is the dominant theme of most popular magazines re-inforcing the fact that our perpetual state of discontent moves content. Actually it is the content. This one got fat. This one got too thin. This one got a hot post-baby body. This one got butt implants. This one let herself go. This one has cellulite. This one isn’t wearing makeup. This one is hot. This one is not.
I can’t imagine a rack of magazines boasting pictures of blokes in the same scenario. It’s no wonder women don’t like their bodies. If they did, there wouldn’t be a market for cosmetic surgery or eating disorders. Or lip plumpers. Or $5,000 handbags. Women who hate themselves make much better consumers than women who love who they are.
As a mother to four girls I have always been super-sensitive to the strong gender-identifying messages we unwittingly reinforce by simple clothing, video or toy choices. The other day my 6-year-old Ivy came home from school wanting a deep-and-meaningful about pink. ‘Mum, girls don’t have to like pink do they?’ ‘No, of course not.’ ‘I don’t like pink. All the girls always pick pink. But I like blue.’ ‘Blue is a great colour.’
Wow, my budding feminist is already questioning gender typing and feeling ostracised because she picks blue. It’s not that she’s been teased or ridiculed; it’s just that she is aware that the act of picking blue makes her different.
What is perplexing is that in a world where we supposedly have equality, the oppressive messages of the dominant culture still remain. Why do girls still pick pink over blue or green or red or yellow? Why do we still worry so much about being beautiful and hot as a measure of our worth? The burqa is often criticised for its oppressive nature, but isn’t over-sexualisation and the constant bombardment with idealised images just as damaging to the positive expression of a woman’s body? In fact I’d say the negative impacts of the objectification of women has got worse in the last decade rather than better.
Poor body image is one of the top three issues listed in a Mission Australia survey of young Australians, with girls as young as five reporting weight concerns and wishing they were thinner. If you are wondering where these messages are coming from, then have a good look around the playroom. Barbie is still public enemy number one. Good old Barbie: she’s been smashing self-esteem for more than 60 years! With her flowing blond locks, her flawless skin, her large super-firm breasts and a waist so thin it’s surprising the weight of her tits doesn’t cause her spine to snap, this nipple-less hairless siren continues to set unattainable goals for our little girls. No-one will ever look like this without significant financial outlay on implants, lifts, brazilians, and three-monthly Botox sessions.
Why do our little girls play with miniature versions of idealised adult women? And why are they always so perfect? Has there really never been a market for the Fat Mandy doll? Wheelchair Barbie? Socially Phobic Wendy? Multiracial Mary? What about Dwarfism Daisy? Why don’t little girls play with dolls that look like them?
If we want them to grow up with positive body images then maybe we need to give Barbie a hotness reduction. Make her more like the doll my mum bought me, called Jenny. Jenny was a flat-footed sandshoe-wearing short-haired small-chested Amazonian flight attendant. She smiled contentedly and was perplexing. She was too big for Barbie clothes and when they did fit she looked stupid. She wasn’t really the type to go to pool parties with Barbie so it was hard to know what games to play with such a sensible and practical looking woman. She totally intimidated Ken. He wouldn’t get out of the Jeep.
Eventually Jenny got her pilot licence, teamed up with Action Man and became an explorer. Breaking the stereotypes in kids’ toys changes the games they play and when you change the games, you change the way they think. A local family has created a wonderful new range of dolls called Beetle Bottoms with toys that aim to ‘keep kids kids’ by showing them it’s okay to be exactly who they are. For more info go to beetlebottoms.com.