So, in the beginning of this week I wrote about boys and pornography. Yesterday I received an email from my colleague, friend, and media-busting crusader, Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth asking for input on the sexualization focus she is doing. Then last night I read an article in The Baltmore Sun about a new study on the pro-ana and pro-mia websites out there telling girls how to be thinner and of course, how not to “god-forbid” get fatter. Ugh; what the heck are we doing?
Pornography. Sexualization. Thinspiration. To put it bluntly; we are receiving a steady diet of crap. So, it’s gotten me thinking globally. We’ve heard the argument that America is being left behind because we’re not doing enough in schools to fill our children’s minds with extra doses of new math, old history, and cutting edge science. But I don’t think that’s the problem—I think the problem is that we are filling our children’s minds with so much garbage that, in many cases, there isn’t enough room or time to reflect on things that actually matter.
Think about it. If boys are downloading their first porn at the average age of 11 (see www.GailDines.com for an outstanding video of one of her seminars on pornography consumption), and porn is addictive, accessible, and encouraged by the media, what do you think many boys think doing during their free time? No, not every boy and not all the time. But I doubt many of them, when provided a computer and no supervision, are looking for new ways to cure cancer.
Sexualization doesn’t help. It hits us from all sides. It tells boys to demean, use, and objectify girls and women. It tells girls to be seen and not heard. To be thin or unvalued. To conform or be picked apart. We spend so much time analyzing ourselves and others, who has time, energy or interest to develop other assets that actually matter? No, not all girls and no, not all the time. But when given the choice between looking up historical facts or looking in the mirror, many girls are sadly choosing the latter.
And thinspiration—images of rail-thin girls and women urging us to starve, purge, and do whatever it takes to shed the pounds–well, that’s just sexualization gone mad. By objectifying women, shoving them into a box most can’t fit, and yet sending the message from every direction that they must—even if it means shaving off pieces of themselves (it’s possible! Celebrities easily do it everyday with air-brushing and photoshop, right?), girls tell themselves that they can’t measure up as they are. They must DO something to change. They must become a little less of themselves.
A new study out of Johns Hopkins tells us that of the 180 sites promoting eating disorders that the researchers investigated;
- 84% offered pro-anorexia content
- 64% provided pro-bulimia content
- 85% offered thinspiration to their readers
- 84% provided overt suggestions on eating disorder behaviors like how to purge, what to eat, how to fast, and how to hide rapid weight loss from concerned family and friends.
There are some sites that provide recovery information and encourage girls to get help—yet they are in the minority. I talk more about this in my book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, coming out October 1st. The whole thing has made my stomach turn. I literally feel sick when I’m investigating this stuff. Perhaps that’s not all that ironic.
As parents and educators—and even as adults—we have to do better. If all one has to do is click a mouse—and in some cases, merely open their eyes—to see images of pornography, sexualization, and thinspiration glorified, idealized, and idolized, our kids won’t be striving for what will make this world better but rather, how they can fit into a fanatical, fantastical, frenetic world that all makes us a little bit worse for the wear.
What are you doing to help your children and teens thrive in a society that fist-shoves gallons of negative images into their beautiful heads each day? We’ll be sharing on my FB Fan site and of course, you are welcome to leave comments here. If your child is making it, we want to know how. If you are doing something to help boys or girls navigate the media waters, we want to know about it. We know you’re out there– we are seeing some progress–and we thank you in advance. We all must pool our resources and share our tips. Together, we can rise above the deluge of crap.