This has been a pretty intense summer. Why? Because I’m focusing my energies on addressing how images are shaping my daughter’s life.
My daughter is sharp – she reads like a fifth grader even though she’s only six. She’s observant, curious, and a bit sneaky. Over the last year I’ve seen how her thoughts, her ideas about herself, her intentions towards others are being shaped by what she sees and hears. The best example yet has surfaced in our many discussions about how she wears her hair. And in these talks I find myself reliving a major battle of my own childhood – the quest for straight hair.
My mother can attest to the years of arguing and bouts of tears because I wanted to straighten my naturally kinky hair. I wanted to look like all the other girls whose mothers let them get perms to straighten out those kinks. Without straight hair I felt like an outcast. I blamed every social slight on my hair. If only I had a perm everything would be ok. My mom fought hard to preserve my natural hair because she viewed my insistence to straighten my hair as a rejection of my natural, African descended self and an embracing of European beauty ideals. Self-hate at its most basic. The lines were drawn and we battled for years. And in the end I got that perm. Victory! And a mere seven years later, I grew it out and went "natural." Fast forward to today and I'm in between. Sometimes I wear my hair kinky, sometimes I wear it straight. I feel very comfortable about my own sense of beauty.
So back to my daughter. I’ve been working with her on her sense of identity and her take on beauty. In a world of Disney princesses, glossy lipped dolls, and lingerie-clad superstars defining beauty for oneself can be a challenge.
|The latest Disney princess|
|Girls Run the World... in lingerie?|
|Da Bratz in full glossy glory|
My daughter’s solution was to create her own show. She calls it the “Kids Can’t Wear Show.” She thought it would be a good idea to tell other kids about how what they see is impacting what they want, and maybe she could tell parents too.
In this episode, a young girl is telling us that she wants to look a certain way BECAUSE she sees that in front of her everyday. Why shouldn’t she want straight hair? Whether it be a Disney show, a PBS cartoon, or a doll, straight hair is the norm. Why shouldn’t she want to put make up on? Even cartoon girls wear lipstick and mascara. If she’s to be expected to FEEL beautiful in her natural state it might take more than being TOLD to do so. What she sees in the mirror does not match what she sees in the world around her. If she knew she were blue and everyone else was green would she think being blue was all that great? What forms of beauty are we presenting (and embracing)? If there’s only one standard then what more can one expect from a really perceptive little girl. She wants to be what our culture says she should be.
So now it’s up to us: the families, the media creators, the mental health protectors, the educators, all the people who hold a vested interest in young girls and boys and the adults that they will become. Media is influencing who our children want to be, which is who they will ultimately become. If that doesn't sit well with us then it's time to act. Lend time, attention and resources to the messages that contribute to positive development - and take away those things from the images that detract. And never forget - media does matter, but so do we. My mother never tired of telling me that my natural self was beautiful. It took me a long time to learn the lesson that she taught me. But the point is that I finally did.