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Angelina, “the most beautiful woman in the world” with her daughters

The Internet is inundated with criticism about media’s responsibility for girls and women’s body image these days. With the proposed Self Esteem Act, which demands responsibility of both government and media, and well-meaning, do-gooding, activist, pro-girl and pro-woman websites and non-profit organizations sprouting up like spring flowers all over the web.

I have to say I don’t like the tone of the general conversation. I also have to cop to having participated quite extensively in the things that I now see as a major misperception in the conversation. So, first I’ll say there is a place in the conversation for many perspectives and my former perspective came from a pure place of helping and it was how I genuinely felt at the time. I know it is coming from a pure place in the other pro-female, girl empowerment, positive body image websites as well. Many, many of these women and organizations do great work and help a great many people on their path to a positive body image.

Still, I have an issue with the direction in which the conversation is going. Let me explain my perspective.

It is disempowering to hand over so much power to media, advertising, marketing and corporations. Corporations and Photoshopped advertising do not have the power to decide or influence how I feel about my body. Because I have not handed my power over to them. I do not look at pretty photos of other skinny girls and women and think, “I am ugly because I don’t look like her.” That does not serve me. I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got to work with. I have a positive body image. Because I choose to.

Definition: Body Image is how you feel about your body. 

Thus, it follows that body image is in only YOUR control. You’re the only one who has any power whatsoever to change it or influence it or focus on it or feel good about it or trash it in front of the mirror. These are choices you are making.

I’m reading statements that are ultimately disempowering to women and girls because they set women and girls up for inevitable failure. I’ll keep the statements anonymous because my intention is not to call out any one particular group.

 “Marie Claire asks its readers: “what will it take for you to love your body?” Uhhhh I don’t want to be a downer, Marie Claire, but it will probably involve magazines like yours getting rid of super-photoshopped models/ads and “GET YR BODY BIKINI READY” and “FREEZE YOUR FAT OFF” headlines, just sayin’. Does this seem disingenuous to anyone else?” 

The reason this is disempowering is that it ultimately sets girls and women up for successfully feeling good about themselves only if “magazines like yours get rid of super-photoshopped models/ads and various body-negative headlines.” Which is a fine and dandy dream but — IT IS NEVER EVER GOING TO HAPPEN. This is the United States of America and Marie Claire makes money off these body-negative headlines and images and they have a Constitutional right to do it. Congress is not going to change this. The President is not going to change this. We believe in Freedom of Speech and advertising and media is a form of that First Amendment.  They will continue to use negative body talk and edited Photography until it stops making them money, so indefinitely. Screaming into the Universe about the unfairness and wrongness of this may feel good, but it is essentially futile. Let’s say Marie Claire suddenly decides it can make more by going body positive — fine, then there’s still Cosmo, Cosmo Girl, People, tabloids, Glamour and on and on.

Fundamentally, women are responsible for the existence of these magazines and this type of advertising. Men don’t choose to buy these magazines or the products that have been sexualize, but targeted to women and girls. Women do. One has to wonder, if it makes them feel so damn bad about themselves, why they keep buying these rags? But the tragic fact remains that they do and that’s the sole reason that these magazines continue with this strategy. If women stop buying, they will change and not a minute before.

Because the drastic altering of American capitalism that women and girl advocates are demanding and dreaming of is never going to happen, and you’ve just declared that you can’t feel good about your body — and girls in general can’t feel good about their bodies — without this condition being met by entities entirely out of our control, you’ve just handed your power over the feelings about your own body to corporate America. “Here you go, you can control how I feel about me indefinitely and I’ll just keep screaming about how unfair it is,” is the true message. It’s powerless. It’s destructive. Handing over responsibility for one’s feelings or believing you have control over another’s feelings is a false believe and it sets girls and women up for all sorts of relationship disfunction, abuse, coercion, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, poor self esteem, negative body image and bad choices. This is one of the core issues I deal with in Love Distortion: Belle, Battered Codependent and Other Love Stories.

“Standards of beauty have always existed. Beauty will continue to exist. It’s not beauty that’s the problem. It’s our commercialized culture’s obsession with peddling a narrow, one-dimensional and unrealistic image beauty that is used as the sole measure of a woman’s worth that torments and teases girls + women into reducing their aspirations + goals to a dress size or numbers on a scale.” 

This is another comment that disempowers women and girls because it hands our own personal power, a completely integral power innate to each individual, to “commercialized culture’s obsession with peddling a narrow, one-dimensional and unrealistic image beauty that is used as the sole measure of a woman’s worth that torments and . . . yada yada yada”

Really? In your everyday life are you looking at magazines and advertising and deciding that your worth is about one-dimensional beauty? Does looking at magazines, Internet and television really torment you and change the way you feel about your body and make you decide that you can’t be a lawyer, doctor or scientist? Really? Goodness, perhaps you should tune in to Oprah’s Lifeclass and figure out how to resolve these issues. I find the whole idea that media has this kind of power over our individual feelings about ourselves extremely disempowering and very minimizing to the authentic and powerful tenacity of girls and women.

Tracee & Ainsley, the two most beautiful women in our world

I also find it extremely removed from my reality and my daughter’s reality. Extremely removed from the reality of every woman I’ve ever met, truly. My daughter doesn’t feel one-dimensional because Hannah Montana and Demi Lovato are pretty and Photoshopped in magazines. Nor does has she decided she’ll just be a shop clerk because she saw too many minimizing Photoshopped photos of pretty, thin girls. These things don’t torment and tease her. They don’t torment and tease me.

Why? Because we aren’t defining ourselves from the outside. We are defining ourselves from the inside. If a person defines themselves from the outside they are screwed, tossed around by every person’s opinion, every fad or trend, every marketing ploy. That is something women and girls, humans in general, need to work on. Self image an inside job. It’s difficult work, fraught with confronting the ego, but no one else can do it for you.

My daughter and I are filtering craptastic media out of our lives so they have little influence, that’s huge. (Girl and women advocates are saturating themselves in the worst of it and it’s skewing their perception of the issue.) My daughter and I are deciding that it feels better to accept a compliment as truth instead of refusing one out of false modesty. We are choosing to accept our bodies and choosing to treat them kindly. We are not handing our individual power to feel great about who we are and what we look like to anyone else, especially not the soulless media.

To do such a thing is well, quite simply, stupid. Don’t you want to keep the power over how you feel about your body and who you are for yourself? As your personal domain? Because, guess what? You have complete and total dominion over your own self esteem and body image and it’s not that complicated, it’s not rocket science. Most of it, almost all of it, is just habit. You either build self esteem-building habits or self esteem-destroying habits. You choose. Because its yours. It doesn’t belong to the media and it never will. You Choose.

To be clear, women and girls have every right and obligation to stand up to advertising that diminishes and sexualizes women and girls, reducing them to objects. It is intentional and it’s not fair and it is wrong. But, I’m a big believer in language. God created the entire Universe with words. They are enormously powerful. There is a world of difference between saying “I don’t like your advertising and I’m not going to buy your product and I’m going to flex my considerable muscles to influence as many people as I can to join me in not buying your product until your advertising improves,” than saying “I can’t feel good, and girls in general can’t feel good, unless you change your advertising.” The first statement is powerful and it will make a difference with enough powerful women’s and girl’s positive energy behind it. The second statement is so disempowering it can only increase poor body image.

Lastly, on a Spiritual note: that which you focus on expands. It’s a Universal Spiritual Law. Maybe its time to reevaluate what you really want to expand in this great Universe of ours.

Tracee Sioux is a Law of Attraction Coach at www.traceesioux.com.  She is the author of Love Distortion: Belle, Battered Codependent and Other Love Stories. Contact her at traceesioux@gmail.com.

17 replies
  1. nicole says:

    I love this article very inspiring..Thanks a lot for featuring Angelina Jolie i like her shes a great mother to their kids..Thanks for sharing..

  2. katneon says:

    Because of media’s influence of posting those curve and well kept fickle free girls, the public has somewhat the need to imitate them, which is not healthy for the mind. We should be at peace with our body whatever or wherever curve exist in it. Too bad that perfect thin body is what always the media implies everybody to have. The tendency of those flabby one wearing skirt or dressses just like those models is to feel inferior about themselves

  3. Heather says:

    Great post! And I agree that certain issues are ones that we have to look within to deal with. There is sort of a disempowering tone with regards to the bullying issues as well. Dealing with the criminal and cultural aspect of it is beneficially but I get the sense that because parents are not able to handle things well, so they are trying to make a big system handle it. To me it is about the individual and instilling confidence in them. This as you say, goes parent to child most efficiently. It’s best to remove influences instead of adding a bigger one.

  4. Seth@OffOurChests says:

    Thanks so much for adding your voice to the conversation we’re trying to foster around and with The Self-Esteem Act. I think you make a lot of good points, and one of your core points about the potentially disempowering quality of the Act’s empowering the media is a really interesting one. Sadly, not everyone is as enlightened, informed, and media literate as you are. And while I think we’d all agree that no one should feel a certain way (or not) because of pictures, the sad reality is many people do feel a certain way (or not) because of pictures. The research and data on the cause and effect relationship between what we see and how we feel are clear and there’s nothing ambiguous about their conclusions. Again, this is for many, not all. Us, we’re wide open to thoughts on how to better address the undeniable and epidemic crisis of self esteem amongst girls and women (and boys and men). We don’t mean to suggest The Self-Esteem Act is perfect or panacea…we just couldn’t do nothing just because the idea wasn’t perfect. Lastly, we 100% agree with your closing note on Spiritual Law. 100%. Our intent isn’t to focus on the pictures nor their digital manipulation, rather, it’s to focus on transparency, truth, and clarity. Truth in advertising can’t be a bad thing, can it? Thanks again.

  5. Tracee says:

    @Seth, I too have seen the studies about media and body image. I’ve also studied the statistics and research concerning domestic violence, child molestation and coercion.

    Let me explain how those two are related: In each case – whether body image or intimate violence – the girls believe that they are either in control of someone else’s feelings or someone else is responsible for controlling theirs. The boys believe this too – putting the blame on girls (the victim) for their violent behavior.

    In dating violence situations boys and men report that the girl is “making them” behave violently because the girls are failing at adequately controlling the male’s emotions. In child molestation cases the girl believes that if she gives her abuser what he wants (inappropriate sexual behavior) then she will get what she wants (make him love her). The reason it keeps happening over and over and over is because the girl vows to be better at controlling her boyfriend’s feelings and can’t understand why she’s failing at it so miserably. For a girl to get out she has to finally, place responsibility on the boy.

    In body image and self esteem studies girls are reporting that media is “making them feel badly” about their bodies. Placing the responsibility of their feelings on an outside source in the exact same way as in dating violence situations. Rather than understanding that emotions and controlling them is an inside job and a matter of good or bad emotional habits.

    I propose that the problem goes much deeper than you suggest- with the media, many religions, fairy tales and romances – instilling the belief that outside sources can “make us” feel something or that we can “make” someone else feel what we want them to.

    The truth is that no outside source “makes us” feel anything, any more than the beaten girl “makes” her boyfriend attack her. Though the opposite message is drilled into us from birth. That doesn’t make it true though.

    All of this is based on a dangerous and erroneous assumption about the way feelings themselves work. The most effective thing, in my opinion, is not to demand that congress and media change (because we can’t make them), but to educate our children and young people about the nature of their own emotions and ways in which those emotions can be manipulated by both media and others who wish to seduce and coerce them into negative behaviors.

    Rape and dating violence will never stop unless and until men and boys are both taught that they are solely responsible for their feelings and must learn how to control them.

    Likewise, women and girls will never stop emotionally battering themselves if they continue to believe that they have no control over how they personally and intimately feel about themselves.

    I delve more deeply into this – with statistical and anecdotal evidence to back it up – in my book, Love Distortion: Belle, Battered Codependent and other Love Stories.

  6. Seth@OffOurChests says:

    Ok, so just a few things…

    Broadly, I agree with most everything you’ve said (I’m sure you’re relieved!) Your view is very consistent with our world view and exactly the way we’re trying to raise and teach our 2 kids. So with that said..

    Yes, all our children (and adults) should be media literate and media critical; that’s an ideal situation. The fact is, however, we aren’t all media literate and media critical.

    The “truth in advertising” stipulation we propose in The Self Esteem Act is nothing more nor less than that expected of car ads or soup ads. You have to show me what the car looks like – in real life. You have to tell me that the guy shot out of a canon who lands safely in a bowl of chicken rice soup wasn’t actually shot out of a canon and didn’t really land in a bowl of chicken rice soup (i made that spot up).

    Our intent is not to “demand” anything of anyone as much as it is to “demand” something of each of us and all of us. Specifically, to take responsibility for our actions, inactions, and to your point, our emotions. It’s our conviction that we’re each and all responsible, and we’re each and all accountable – for ourselves and to each other. We’re not “demanding” anything of anyone that we don’t expect of ourselves…truth, transparency, and clarity…and that we shouldn’t already expect from marketing.

    It seems to me, that if you’ve ever laughed or cried or squirmed or screamed at a movie, tv show, commercial, book, article, you’ve shown yourself able to be situationally manipulated, coerced even, into feeling a certain way. To suggest then that the $20 Billion dollars spent on beauty advertising annually, the 00s of millions of dollars spent on Motion Picture and TV advertising and promotion, that the bazillion dollars in equivalent value created by curated editorial, ought reasonably have no effect on any of us seems unrealistic…to us, anyway.

    We wish we felt The Self Esteem Act was unnecessary. We wish everyone knew what you do and thought the way you do. Truly. But not everyone does, and the costs to individual and collective happiness, image, identity etc etc etc is just too high to do nothing about it. In our opinion.

    Again, we’re not suggesting it’s perfect or panacea. We are suggesting that doing nothing is no longer an option, that we each and all need to take responsibility and accountability for our (sorry to be redundant) actions and inactions…and that includes marketers. Remember, the core job of marketing is to capture your attention and make you think and act a certain way. The data shows that a lot of marketers are doing this very well…but with terrifically negative consequence, for despite what people should be able to do and see and know, and despite what parents should teach their children, it currently is what it is – and it is not good. In our opinion.

    Again, I’d just ask what the possible downside is to requiring transparency and truth in advertising, especially in light of the statistics.

    Finally, I bumped into your piece on all this quite by accident (Google alert)…so thank you for letting me share our POV, and thank you for disagreeing so productively and openly. We all get smarter that way.

    Viva the Revolution.

  7. Tracee says:

    @Seth, I get where you’re coming from. We all want to DO something. I simply don’t agree that the Self Esteem Act is a good use of awesome activists’ resources. For the reasons I’ve outlined here: http://thegirlrevolution.com/the-self-esteem-act-is-a-stupid-waste-of-time/. It’s time consuming and resource consuming, Congress is ineffective and no one reads fine print.

    I’ve also outlined what I believe are actions that will yield more media education among young people and will require far less time and energy: insisting that school districts teach media education in health classes and even in elementary schools, running PSAs during popular teen shows on Disney and Nickelodeon and Gossip Girl and creating viral videos like those of Campaign for Real Beauty, but written for and targeted to tweens and teens.

    The thing is that the car IS Photoshopped, food is covered with shiny glaze and they add extra vegetables and plumper meat to the Big Mac and then they Photoshopp it, beer bottles and Coke bottles are Photoshopped, purses and jewelry and sunglasses are Photoshopped. Inanimate objects and humans and even animals are all Photoshopped. It’s not an exclusive attack on girls’ self esteem – all advertising IS photoshopped. There is no truth in advertising. Kids WANT their own images Photoshopped and often manipulate their own photos for their FB and MySpace pages.

    I totally get where the desire for an Act of Congress is coming from. It feels more powerful to take action than to just complain about it. I just don’t think this particular action will have any impact at all on anyone’s self esteem.

    Thank you for commenting and carrying on a productive conversation. Come back anytime.

  8. Seth@OffOurChests says:

    Hah. We hadn’t seen your first piece till now. Love it. We don’t agree with it…well, again, we agree with your broad perspective and parenting philosophy, for sure, but not your conclusion about the need for transparency and truth, obviously.

    I do feel like I’m hijacking your page, and so do not mean to so I promise this will be our last comment on the matter and this post. The fact is, however, not every parent is a good parent. Not every well intentioned parent, parents well. Some good and well intentioned parents are working 2 jobs to pay the rent and aren’t home much. My kids (5 and 6) were watching an animated rollercoaster video on YouTube yesterday (whihc we pre-screened weeks ago) and this time an Estee Lauder ad was served up to them…which, having pre-screened the video…we didn’t see until they’d left for school.

    Everything you’re saying about parenting and children is right and true…especially in an ideal world. We just don’t think we live in an ideal world (to say the very least).

    The one thing we’d love if you’d be willing to answer is the one question we keep asking of everyone who disagrees with the TSEA. What’s the harm, what’s the downside to truth in advertising, and why do we look at any one option, as mutually exclusive to all others? Can’t we encourage good parenting and media literacy, and still have truth and transparency in advertising?

    It costs nothing and might save a lot.

    Thank you again…you’re doing such important work (and have been for far longer than we have). And maybe all of us together can make the differences we want to see (with apologies to Gandhi.)

    P.S. we’d actually love to run your “The TSEA Is A Stupid Waste of Time” on Off Our Chests, if that would be okay with you. Our readers may be a little tired of the topic, but we love serving up opposing points of view. LMK. seth

  9. Tracee says:

    The harm as I see it is that it uses time and resources that cold be better spent.

    Also, we, as a nation need Congress to focus on things that are of more critical concern to its citizens – unemployment, cost of living, Wall Street, the mortgage crisis, equal pay for women (so these girls can enter a more fiscally equitable world whether they hate their thighs or not), etc. These are the things, I believe, Congress needs to focus on.

    I don’t think I’m an idealist about this issue. Something needs to be done and there is not one answer, but as you can see I’ve listed quite a number of effective alternatives. Perhaps the Self Esteem Act is idealist – believing that an Act of Congress will have any impact on what kinds of advertising corporations are allowed to do and that this will improve girls’ self esteem. There is nothing more important to our representatives than Freedom of Capitalism and they most likely will never vote to limit that in any way.

  10. malunggay56 says:

    Because of media’s influence of posting those curve and well kept fickle free girls, the public has somewhat the need to imitate them, which is not healthy for the mind.

  11. Anna says:

    I think the biggest challenge fro us as parents is to teach our daughters (sons) that they shouldn’t listen to and believe everything that is shown or heard on media, but accept themselves as they are and treat themselves kindly and with respect.

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