So this is interesting. It seems that my friend Cameron Diaz, (her besties like me call her Cammie), has written her first book. And it looks like the reviews are pretty positive so far. Good for you, Camdog! The book is called, The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body. Crazy-long title, but according to reviewers, it’s got a pretty solid message. And it’s that message that really appealed to me. And of course, got me thinking.
What makes her new book so intriguing to me, even though I haven’t read the whole thing cover to cover yet, is that she wrote it as a tool to help teach girls that being pretty isn’t everything. And I love that she did that. Because all too often, the first and most significant impression that people get of us, comes from how we look. And that’s especially true with kids whose kooky adolescent brains haven’t developed enough to make rational judgments yet.
So often, someone’s popularity “stock,” for lack of a better word, is higher simply by virtue of what they look like on the outside. And that, I absolutely hate. Because I really just can’t stand how someone can be judged just on outward appearances alone. Drives me crazy. It’s just not right, on so many levels. But unfortunately, especially when you’re young, it’s usually the way someone looks on the outside that dictates a first impression. It’s that old don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover trap. Nails us every time.
According to Cammie, she wrote her book because she was worried that girls are conditioned to value themselves and judge each other by the way they look. And she’s absolutely spot on, because they are conditioned to think that way. And the world around them makes them do it.
Look no further than Abercrombie ads or shows like Pretty Little Liars (which, by the way, happens to be a staple in my house every Tuesday night). It’s imagery like that—that’s targeted specifically toward adolescent and teenage girls—that paints a pretty unrealistic picture of what girls are supposed to look like. I mean, does the average teenage girl have a California Closet filled with enough clothing to prevent outfit duplication over the course of an entire school year? Definitely not in any of my family’s little Marblehead Closets. Expecting young girls to have an American Express Black card is like setting a high jump bar at twelve feet and then telling a bunch of middle schoolers that they should be able to clear it.
Unfortunately, though, that’s the message that’s being sent to this generation of young girls. All the billboards and ads and commercials and ABC Family shows they watch have girls with these tiny little bodies popping into size zero skinny jeans with room to spare. Now granted, pop culture has loosened up a lot of their standards of beauty in the last handful of years, showcasing girls that are everything from handicapped and anorexic to gay and morbidly obese. And I think it’s about damn time. Because that the real world we live in. But it’s still not enough in my opinion to offset the overwhelming amount of focus still put on stereotypical beauty.
Understand that just because I notice something and I talk about it here with you, doesn’t mean I’m a zealot coming out guns blazing and trying to sniper off all the ad agencies and TV producers out there. Because I’m not. This is just an observation. Something to stimulate conversations in the school pick-up line.
I don’t know what goes on in your house, but in my house, we talk a lot, and very openly, about how unrealistic most of what we see in the media is. And we laugh. A lot. Because Dave and I have made sure that our girls know that what they watch and hear about body image and self-worth from the spin doctors is mostly manufactured and not real life. And for the most part, they get it. Although public opinion is a powerful thing, so even they’ve been hit by some shrapnel every once in a while.
But the fact is, too many young girls are still measuring themselves against these unrealistic expectations of what’s considered beautiful in our world and all that’s going to do is make it impossible for them, as they get older, to see the real beauty that exists everywhere else around them.
The fact is, girls can be their own worst enemies. (Women too, but that’s a whole other issue.) Instead of embracing who people truly are on the inside first, young girls just gravitate to what society teaches them looks, smells, acts, and seems beautiful to the naked eye. And they end up buying into the idea that the more traditionally beautiful something is, the more worthwhile it is.
Now I’m obviously not saying that all girls are like this. Duh. But I’m pretty sure we can all agree that, at least to some degree, most young girls go through that stage when common sense and rational thoughts dissolve into a sticky paste that calcifies around the brain, a lot like cement, obstructing normal brain function. And this usually happens around middle school. You know, when everything in the human teenage body wakes up at the exact same time. From the air, it looks a lot like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
Look, I’m the mother of two girls so I see first-hand how the attitude of perception develops in the mind of a teenage girl. It’s like what happens when a ski jumper leaves the start bar and hits 85 mph, then hits the air. Everything happens so fast. And then they have to figure out how to land while they’re in mid-air. There’s not much time to think about the situation they’re in, so they just go on impulse. And teenage girls in middle school are pretty much in mid-air for most of seventh and eighth grade.
See, girls have a knack for emotionally beating themselves bloody and raw over how they look and how their looks compare to the people around them. There’s so much measuring up and posturing that goes on in the name of fitting in that so many girls risk losing who they really are and what makes them special in the process. And it’s all in the name of what girls think they’re supposed to be rather than who they really are.
Cammie wrote her book for lots of reasons. She did it, in part, to give girls a holistic, long-term approach to making good choices and living a long, strong, happy, healthy life. And she also wrote it for her own former 16-year-old self because she remembers how much she was typecast because of how she looked on the outside and ignored for who she was on the inside.
If you have a teenage daughter, then you know what I’m talking about. Because at some point, on some level, you’ve seen a shift in her thinking. You’ve probably seen her go from not caring a bit about the baggy sweats and the hoodies she used to wear to being completely preoccupied with what every other girl around her was wearing and of making sure she looks the same.
So that’s why we need to keep hammering at them to see people for the total package they are and not just by how they’re wrapped. And I know that’s not easy, but it’s our job and we have to do it. We have to.
But there’s good news. Trends are showing that strong is becoming the new beautiful. So it’s only a matter of time before that really catches on and everybody trades their jeggings and Naked Palette eye shadow for cross-trainers and kettlebells. Then everybody will be a hot, sweaty mess and it won’t matter what you look like.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.