Friday, August 7, 2009

What Size Are You?

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Not too long ago Hollywood actress Jennifer Love Hewitt claimed to be a size 2. The night after seeing her discuss “being the fattest one at the party” I talked to my husband. I started naming women he knew who comfortably wore a size 8. “Can you imagine Bridget wearing a two or zero?” I asked him.

“Not good,” he said.

“If Bridget started wearing a size two, I’d accuse her of being ill. Do you think if I saw Jennifer Love Hewitt in person, I’d think she was ill?”

But we and our children are bombarded by media images that make size-2 women feel fat. I hear of third grade-girls obsessing about their weight, and I have to think, “Are you kidding me?”

Eating disorder expert, Dr. Anne Becker, and medical doctor and author, Dr. Nancy Synderman, have each discussed the influence of media on our daughters’ perception of themselves.

Dr. Becker suggests “young American adolescents are…vulnerable to mistaking television characters as role models for real life.”

Snyderman asked her readers, “Is your daughter culturally sophisticated enough to realize that the images she’s looking at—in magazines, on CD covers, on television—have been altered and enhanced, digitally and otherwise? Does she realize that the bodies (not to mention the skin, hair and nails) presented as ‘ideal’ may also have been specially lit, ‘altered’ or ‘enhanced’? Are her mathematical skills sophisticated enough for her to recognize what a teeny percentage of the female population on this planet actually is born looking this way?”

Even I have taken advantage of the wonders of photo enhancement. When taking photos to use for my website, the photographer pointed out my imperfections.

“Would you like to remove this extra flesh under your chin?”

“Extra flesh,” I thought. “I have extra flesh under my chin?”

He used a pointer to show me the offending skin.

That extra flesh had to go.

He worked other magic, too. With a click of a button many of my wrinkles vanished. Every now and then you’ll catch actresses or models unprepared for the cameras or the victim of an unbrushed shot. Sometimes it’s surprising the difference in how they look and how you think they look.

The website can help us deal with what’s coming at our daughters at warp speed.

My Pop Studio, for younger girls and tweens, uses creative play to strengthen critical thinking skills about television, music, magazines and online media directed at girls.

The information on the website tells parents, “Developing media literacy skills is increasingly important in a world where girls spend much of their everyday life consuming and creating media.

Parents and educators can highlight the learning outcomes of My Pop Studio by encouraging girls to share and discuss activities on the site, and by extending into offline activities from the curriculum guide.”

The site has three suggestions to help our daughters use the information provided. Ask your daughter to share what she has done on the site. With many interactive games and activities, she’ll have much to show. Secondly, ask your child questions about the activities themselves.

Talking to your child about her experience and interpretations means that you too are playing a vital role in helping her digest what she sees in the media. And finally, help your daughter reflect on the purpose of doing the activities and then help her make connections to the role of media in both your lives.

Concerned about how media is impacting your daughter? I highly recommend My Pop Studio as a starting point.

Allyn Evans
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