Verizon Viral Ad for Girls: What are We Telling Our Daughters about Math and Science?

It was a great Good Morning America segment this morning!  We focused on a new viral Verizon campaign and ad that questions whether it’s time to move from telling our girls that she’s simply “pretty” to telling them that they are “pretty brilliant” too. What are we telling our girls about their abilities in math and science?  Can we attract more girls into STEM?  We explored this topic.

GMA_verizongirlsvideo_800400Why are we seeing greater numbers of ads reaching out to young girls and women giving them the message they can be more?

First, let’s not forget that these companies want to sell products and in these ads they are appealing to big markets, women and girls. But aside from that, I think these companies are seeing that by moving away from looks and celebrating the strong minds of girls, they can inspire a larger pool of future game-changers.  These are the people who can invent something important and become the next generation of leaders in their companies. We are looking for leaders, not hood ornaments.

The ad quotes a statistic- 66% of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18% of all college engineering majors are female. So where does the disconnect happen? Is it the fault, as the ad suggests, of parents?

Parents get such a bad rap—but it’s not just parents, it’s society as a whole.  If a girl is interested in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, many of the toys that support those interests are in the “boy” section, the protagonists of the majority of books & movies in this genre are boys—and while there are companies and wonderful grass roots efforts to change that, there is still a Read more

Dr. Robyn Silverman on The Today Show: Abercrombie’s Push-up Bikini Bras for 7 year olds?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGQyKxWjbYA]

We had a great conversation on The Today Show today with Meredith Vieira, talking about the very controversial Abercrombie and Fitch padded, push-up bikini tops for the 7-14 year old age bracket.  I’ve been receiving some questions about this, so here, I answer a view of the big ones.

Early sexualization of girls is wrong and sick and has enormous repercussions.

Are there really any repercussions or are we blowing this all out of control?

Girls feel hurried by society to “grow up” and act like an adult. The early sexualization of girls has been linked to several negative effects; body image issues, mental health problems like eating disorders & depression, poor self image, low self esteem, and sexual health problems. As you can imagine, when girls are receiving unwarranted sexual attention that is not developmentally appropriate and that they are not developmentally ready for, it can taint the way they see the opposite sex and how they regard sex and sexuality now and in the future.

So this garment can do all that?

No. It’s not just the push up bra. It’s the push up bra, plus dolls that are supposed to be “sexy,” plus fashion that has adult sexual messaging on them like “flirt,” or “So many boys so little time.” Girls are learning that society Read more

Dieting and Body Image Issues Getting Worse, WSJ says

scale_weightDr. Robyn Silverman

Well, it’s not like we didn’t know it.  Reporter/writer Jeffrey Zaslow reminds us today in the Wall Street Journal that life ain’t what it used to be.  It was 23 years ago that he interviewed some fourth graders in Chicago trying to determine if dieting and poor body image really was as big of a problem as the studies said it was.  Well, it was.  And now, it’s worse.

The celebs in 1986 were into the fitness phase, as your recollection of leg warmers and off the shoulder “flashdance” shirts might remind you– so girls were thin but they were still rather healthy.  Now, well, you know what celebs look like now.  If it’s not Jessica Stroup, it’s Glamour Magazine photoshopping the hell out of Kelly Clarkson making sure her waist looks as tiny as an unrealistic Barbie Doll. Now studies show that kids are striving for zero (or double zero, or triple zero, sheesh) and being sexualized early in the process. As I’ve asked before, what IS the new normal?

I love the way one 1986 fourth graders summed up what she saw in the media when interviewed back then by the WSJ– and what she thinks now as an adult:

Models look like popsicle sticks,” Suzanne Reisman told me in fourth grade. Today, she amends her observation: “Now they look like toothpicks.”

But don’t get me started.

Studies, as cited by the WSJ, suggest:

Researchers have seen a marked increase in children’s concerns about thinness in just the past few years. Between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of girls who believe that they must be thin to be popular rose to 60% from 48%, according to Harris Interactive surveys of 1,059 girls conducted for the advocacy group Girls Inc.

And

A preoccupation with body image is now showing up in children as young as age five, and it can be exacerbated by our culture’s increased awareness of obesity, which leaves many non-overweight kids stressed about their bodies. This dieting by children can stunt growth and brain development.

That’s right– age 5.  Kindergartners are wondering if they’re too fat. Other studies I’ve read in preparation for my book have suggest that even preschool children understand that in our culture “fat is bad.”

I get that we are trying to keep our children healthy by discussing obesity and the need to keep children physically active and eating healthy foods.  But what about the flip-side?  I can’t tell you how many schools have approached me asking about programs for their school only to reveal that while they have some obesity awareness programs in place, they speak nothing about body image, fear of fat, media’s influence on our behavior, and eating disorders.  It’s a crying shame– their schools just don’t have the funds to provide programming for the flip-side of the coin.  Obesity is a hot topic and poor body image is left in its wake.

My colleague, Claire Mysko, author of “You’re Amazing,” hits the nail on the head here– as she told the WSJ how she also feels that so much worry over obesity can make girls obsessive about weight. Of course she acknowledges that the programs are great vehicles to fight a growing problem, “we have to be really careful how we are implementing nutrition and body imaging.”  Yes– we do.

Isn’t it possible to teach girls to be physically active, eat healthily, and feel good about their body shape and size?  it seems to me, that psychological well being is just as important as physical well being– and in fact is tied in so tightly together that separating them out is not only silly, it’s careless.

Your thoughts?

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Hey Kelly Clarkson: Your Real Self isn’t Good Enough For SELF Magazine

kelly-clarkson_untouched and photoshopped

SELF Magazine Warning Needed?

Subject on Cover is Bigger Than  She Actually Appears

Dr. Robyn Silverman

When I was sitting in my Sassy Sisterhood Girl Circle showing how magazine editors photo-shop the hell out of every photo that comes their way, something clicked.  Meaghan, age 13, looked right at me and said.  “So what you’re saying is…the girl on the cover doesn’t even look like the girl on the cover?”

Yup.

Case and point: The Kelly Clarkson cover of SELF Magazine.

I can’t say whether magazine editors are incredibly stupid or off the charts brilliant.  Placing a very slimmed down photo-shopped version of Kelly Clarkson next to the words “Total Body Confidence” is definitely a great way to get our attention.

And  after the buzz of the Kelly Clarkson cover of Self has been scrutinized, dissected, and discussed on many forums in cyber-space, Self’s Editor-in-Chief, Lucy Danzinger, admitted with a shrug, that “Yes, of course we do post-production corrections on our images…SELF magazine inspires and informs our 6 million readers each month to reach their all around personal best.”  Translation: Of course we shave off pieces of someone’s body.  It’s what sells magazines and products advertised in our magazines! Airbrushing  makes people feel that their personal best is not good enough—that’s why they need us!”

Look. There’s no question that the Kelly Clarkson photos were retouched. Everyone admits to it. Other magazines do it– heck– nearly all media does it! I think what troubles me is the “ho-hum” attitude that taken place in media.  We saw it with Miley Cyrus recently and the controversy over whether she did or did not do a stripper pole dance at the Teen Choice Awards—again, it wasn’t about the pole but about how jaded we’ve become about seeing teens push the limits on stage so that they can sell more.  The SELF magazine cover of course wants to sell more magazines—we get that—but their message is so convoluted now.

Case in point: SELF as the title.  Figures that SOMEONE should look like “SELF,” right? Perhaps “SELF…not” or “SELF…photoshopped” would be more appropriate.  In the magazine itself, Kelly Clarkson talks about her weight.

“My happy weight changes… Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more. I’ll be different sizes all the time. When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’ I’ve never felt uncomfortable on the red carpet or anything.” (Kelly Clarkson)

Thus the words in the magazine say one thing—but the images say another.  It’s very smart…and very hurtful to girls and women.  It says “This is Kelly  Clarkson…she is happy with her weight…but look how thin we can make her look!” Sad.

The editor in chief talks about how proud she is of Kelly Clarkson and her confidence–

“Kelly Clarkson exudes confidence, and is a great role model for women of all sizes and stages of their life. She works out and is strong and healthy, and our picture shows her confidence and beauty. She literally glows from within. That is the feeling we’d all want to have. We love this cover and we love Kelly Clarkson.”

Translation: She glows from within—we just needed to fix this yucky outside she has.  Ya know…fat doesn’t sell.

But the thing I hated the most was the nonchalant way they explained themselves. SELF editors actually felt that they were right to  give Kelly Clarkson a thinner body on their September issue—not because they want to sell magazines—not because they thought there was a bad angle– but because they don’t think that covers should reflect reality (i.e. people are actually normal and human), but “inspire women to want to be their best”.

Their best? By providing something that doesn’t actually exist?  By degrading the woman on the cover by putting a version of herself on there that isn’t actually her?

I think our friends over at Jezebel.com said it well:

Danziger was right: the point is that magazine covers “inspire women to want to be their best.” And the best way to keep women reading Self‘s workout recommendations and buying the useless beauty products advertised on its pages is to inspire them to keep chasing after a version of themselves that Doesn’t. Really. Exist.

Unfortunately—Kelly Clarkson doesn’t seem very bothered by the cover shot.

She says makes that clear so her blog:

“we decided the cover of the album and just in case you haven’t seen it i’ll post it! it’s very colorful and they have definitely photo-shopped the crap out of me but i don’t care haha! whoever she is, she looks great ha!”

Whoever she is?  Is this SELF or The National Inquirer? Next stop: Aliens. Especially if they’re thin.

And how might this affect our girls? Because we can’t forget– there are millions reading this magazine and looking at the pictures for “inspiration.” According to one grieving mother over on Self.com where she commented about this topic she wrote:

I was appalled at seeing Lucy on the Today show trying to rationalize the drastic photoshopping Kelly Clarkson. People cannot be photoshopped. My beloved daughter died in May of consequences of Bulimia. Her 8 year struggle with body image was not helped by the constant barrage of “the right look”. Of all publications, Self should be promoting health and acceptance of ones self, not some fake Hollywood ideal. The cover of Self is a sad spectacle of our society. You should be ashamed of YOUR self! Signed Grieving Mother

There ARE repercussions to our actions.  Girls and women actually look at this stuff and think “I should look like this.” But even Kelly Clarkson doesn’t look like this! Can you say “false advertising?”

Oh well. See? Nobody seems to care about this stuff anymore at all.  We’ve just gotten complacent. Of course, more and more teens are suffering from body image issues—but please, keep going folks.  Provide us with our best version of ourselves.  Even if they don’t exist.

So…perhaps magazines need to come with a warning label like on cigarettes—or like on the side mirror of a car.  “Object on cover is bigger than she actually appears.” What do you think?

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Too Fat? Discrimination Against Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin

Too fat to be Surgeon General?

Too fat to be Surgeon General?

Too Fat to Be Surgeon General?

Discriminatory Claims Circulating Against Dr. Regina Benjamin’s “Fitness” to Be Surgeon General

Dr. Robyn Silverman

There have been some unfortunate derogatory groans about Dr. Regina Benjamin’s Fitness to be President Obama’s pick for Surgeon General.  Her weight is throwing opinions of her fitness for the job off kilter.

Case and point from one angry blogger:  “Rather than select a fat Black woman Obama should have chose a Black woman with a body mass index of 25 or less.”

Someone else asked: “How can Dr. Benjamin promote healthy eating if she herself is obese?”

and

“One of the greatest health threats in our population is obesity. Now we have an obese Surgeon General as a role model. How is she to impact the nation’s health if she can’t even take care of herself?”

Of course, her qualifications speak for themselves:

  • Bachelor’s degree in 1979 from Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Attended Morehouse School of Medicine from 1980 to 1982
  • Received a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1984.
  • Completed her residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in 1987
  • Founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in 1990 in Alabama
  • Serving as Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic its CEO since.

Today, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is speaking out saying that Dr. Benjamin “personifies the message of NOW’s Love Your Body Day (LYBD) campaign, which promotes equality for all people regardless of physical appearance.”

My friend and body image book contributor, Chenese Lewis is also an actress, plus-sized model, and chair of the LYBD committee for Hollywood NOW. She had something to say on the topic:

“Discrimination based on appearance is wrong in any form, period,” Lewis said. “It’s unfortunate that this is even an issue when Dr. Benjamin is more than qualified and capable of handling the position of Surgeon General. This is yet another example of how society puts more value on outer appearance over ability, integrity, and character.”

Zoe Ann Nicholson, President of Pacific Shore NOW, was also outraged about the discriminatory slaps Dr. Benjamin was receiving due to her weight:

“When I see Dr. Benjamin, I see a woman I can trust,” Nicholson said. “If I have chest pains, it might not be a heart attack or something related to weight. She might understand that just because I am big, a doctor should not give me double doses. Both of these things have happened to me. Since most American women are size 14 or more, I am really encouraged to have a Surgeon General who can see us as people, not as number on a body fat scale chart.”

So…what do you think?  Should the Surgeon General pick be thinner? Does weight negate her stellar qualifications? Give us your opinion.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

The Impact of Dads on their Daughters' Body Image

dads and daughters

Dads impact on Daughters Body Image

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Do dads have an impact on girls’ body image development? You betcha!

I just finished a great interview with Joe Kelly aka “The Dad Man” in preparation for writing the chapter on Dads for my body image book.

Number 1 question on my list: How important are Dads when it comes to girls’ body image development?  After all, moms and daughters have been studied, analyzed, discussed, and discussed again—but issues of Dad’s and daughters have taken a back seat.

The impact of Dads (and step dads) on their daughters is profound.  As the first man in their lives, Dads set the precedent of how daughters believe men see them.  What do they value?  Are looks a major issue?  Do they see their daughters as a full “human” with thoughts, feelings, interests, and principles—or simply as a girl who should look and act a certain way?

Studies tell us that what parents say– yes, that includes Dads too– have a powerful influence on how girls see themselves, their dieting habits, and their overall views about body shape and size. Fathers, who tend to tease their children more than Moms, have been reported to have a very harsh impact on their daughters and their self image. In fact, girls whose dads made fun of them are far more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies,  to exhibit eating disordered  behavior, to have low self-esteem, and suffer from depression. Of course, Dads can also have a positive impact on girls and how they view themselves– so what can you do, Dads?

Mr. Kelly underscores that Dads need to see their daughters as individuals not just as girls.  Every girl is different—every child is different—what is their daughter all about? Certainly weight shouldn’t be the first thing (if at all) that comes to mind! In fact, weight should be irrelevant considering looks change constantly and should not have a bearing on who your daughter is as a person.  Weight is a cultural issue now—it shouldn’t be YOUR issue.

So how can Dads have a positive affect on their daughters’ body image development?

Mr. Kelly’s advises Dads to stop buying into all the cultural crud and see their daughters as multifaceted people. Show her that the media , the “product” world, the celebrity world and the advertising world fosters a bunch of lies and the measure of a woman is based on who she is, who she helps, how she feels, how she uses her mind—not on how she looks, how much she weighs, and what size she wears.

He also wants Dads to remember that for every advertisement out there– imagine your daughter’s face on the model or actresses body.  Would you really want that to be YOUR daughter? Do you really want her receiving THESE messages? For example (thank you for this ugly gem,  Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth, of which I am an advisory board member)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB2MDYzx5OY]

I know…yuck.

Remember, Dads, your daughter is looking to you to understand how she is viewed by 49% of the world.  What do you want her to see when she looks in the mirror? What do you want her to think when she is around boys—and later, men?  Talk to her about it.  Show her how you feel.

And for those of you who are telling your daughters that they are “too fat” or some other form of appearance criticism, please know that you are overtly contributing to the body image problems your daughter has now and your daughter will have in the future.  But to those Dads who are remaining silent, don’t think you are in the right.  By saying nothing at all, you are covertly contributing to the problem.  Yes, by saying nothing at all, you are letting the world speak for you.

Take a stance—then take a stand. Be the father she needs and deserves.

**Have a story about how your Dad or step Dad influenced your body image (negative or positive)? Please send me your story for the book (to be published in 2010 by Harlequin Books)!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Dr. Robyn on the Radio talking about Body Image

Dr. Robyn SilvermanCraig Cohendr. pauline wallin 6-15-09 body image

Dr. Robyn Silverman, Dr. Pauline Wallin & host Craig Cohen on SmartTalk radio this AM talking about body image. Listen now!

This morning, I had the pleasure of being on WITF SmartTalk radio, a division of NPR, talking about body image. We discussed everything from the media’s influence, the parental influence, peer influence, and plastic surgery.

Some of the topics:

(1)   How early can issues of body image be seen in children? Studies over the last 40 years tell us that children as young as 3 or 4 (and certainly by kindergarten) already perceive the societal pressures to be thin.  Whether the children themselves are thin or what the medical world would call “overweight” when shown pictures of all different children they label the largest one as the child they wouldn’t want to look like at all, the one who has the fewest friends, the one who they’d least likely want to be friends with, the one who is the meanest—and I’ve had plenty of parents who’ve come to me and said that their 4 year old asked them if they were too fat, their 5 year old wants to know if they need to go on a diet, and other weight-oriented comments that would cause any parent alarm.

(2) How pervasive is this problem of negative body image? Let me first say that the issue is so pervasive that it is no longer a “clinical” issue—we have created a culture of girls who are obsessed with weight such that it is more normal to be on a diet than not—to feel bad about your body than not—to think about your weight than to not– There are many good studies on this topic and the statistics can be startling—

  1. Some studies tell us that up to 80% of girls are dissatisfied with their bodies and have a fear of being fat
  2. And over half are dieting at any given time
  3. Almost 2/3 of girls use “unhealthy weight control behaviors” (whether it’s laxatives or purging or diet pills or powders)  to lose weight
  4. Anywhere from half to ¾ of girls say they weigh too much whether the medical world would say they do or not
  5. The main thing to notice here is that feeling fat and going on a diet is becoming the norm—and dieting is more prevalent than not-dieting.

What are the body image issues for boys? Boys are dealing with something that is now informally being called “The Adonis Complex”—named after the Greek mythology figure Adonis who was half man and half god—he was considered the ultimate in masculine good looks and ideal physique for men. And, if you are familiar with Greek mythology, Adonis had a body that was so perfectly beautiful that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, fell in love with the site of him. Boys are hearing messages about how they are supposed to look too– and they internalize these messages and are prone towards negative eating practices, steroids, and other alternative methods to thin out and buff up.

I want to add this fascinating and “sick” new development. “Now even Vogue thinks you can be too thin”

And how about this for insane? Bony models are digitally retouched to look fuller.

Listen to the broadcast to find out more!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Kim Kardashian Body Image Message: Hypocritical or Genuine?

kim-kardashian_lifeandstyle

Kim Kardashian, curvaceous reality star, is featured in Life and Style Magazine this month.  She’s talking about her body (not surprising– everyone else does!) and what she really thinks of her curves.  It’s amazing how controversial these reality stars and celebs can be– even if they seem to be doing something good for women. On the one hand, she’s got some great quotes that relay a “say what you want” attitude and an “I love my body the way it is” message.  Yes, of course we like that! or example, she says;

“I love my body the way it is,” the 28-year-old tells Life & Style magazine. “I’m not perfect. I have cellulite, so what.”

And “If there’s a picture that’s not perfect, where I have cellulite, then people say I’m big. I’m built a certain way, and you just can’t change the way you’re built,” the reality star says of her body. “In Hollywood, people are used to stick-skinny women, and that’s never going to be me.” Again, good stuff.

What’s more, the magazine says that the pictures of Kim Kardashian in her swimsuit have not been retouched and are therefore au natural…for all to see. Again, good.  Reality for the reality star.

On the other hand– and here’s the possible hypocritical part– you tell me… Kim happens to be promoting her new fitness DVD series called…get this… ‘Fit in Your Jeans by Friday.’  If she’s so “OK” with her body and wants others to be as well, why not just get jeans that fit instead of the other way around? Anyone?

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Weigh In: Is this Woman too Thin to be Miss Universe?

Stephanie Naumoska anorexic for miss universeDr. Robyn Silverman

What are we saying to our young people, when one of the selected finalists for Miss Universe is so underweight, she looks like she needs a hamburger more than a crown? What are we teaching our girls about what is beautiful, celebrated, and rewarded? What does the media tell them, show them, and cram down their throats?

Who? Stephanie Naumoska, a 19-year-old Australian model, was selected from more than 7,000 hopefuls to make it into the finals of the Miss Universe pageant.

What now? The finalist is now being criticized and showered with concern from the public who is not quite won over by the body image she represents. Dietitians and doctors are concerned for her welfare and are frustrated that someone who looks like “skin and bones” is given such accolades as a slot in the Miss Universe contest.

Something really to be worried about? You tell me.  She’s 5’11″ and 108 pounds.  Yes, you heard me right. That’s a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 15.1 which puts her firmly in the anorexic slot of the BMI chart.

Weigh in: Is this just one more body type we need represented or do we want this gaunt body type presented to our youth, as a symbol of world beauty, on the stage at all?  Has this whole weight thing gotten out of hand or are we just getting started? You tell me.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Dora Makeover another Blow to Girl's Body Image?

dora the explorersil_dora_newdora the explorer as a tween

Dora too Modelesque to Be a Girl’s Role Model?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

bratz

Many parents and my fellow bloggers were feeling a bit queasy when Mattel released their controversial silhouette on March 6th. We couldn’t help but wonder if Dora was becoming the new Diva– the new Bratz, or the new Lindsey Lohan or Miley Cyrus Look-a-like. There was worry that she could compromise body image, threaten her ability to empower our powerful girls, and stomp on their confidence. There was even a petition…that I was ready and willing to sign as soon as I got to see the full Dora (as of March 8th over 2000 signed).

But parents and bloggers are changing their tune for this toon.

Dora isn’t wearing a micro-mini as originally feared, but rather, a long shirt over leggings. How nice of Mattel to get so much extra media play before the reveal– only to dish out the final reveal with a heaping helping of crow for all those who pointed fingers. Not nice. Smart marketing. But not nice at all.

strawberry shortcake

We are programmed to criticize, aren’t we? But as parents, we are sensitive to media influence on our children as well as change that can affect how our children think and feel about themselves. And we should. And, well, nobody likes change. Remember how they changed Strawberry Shortcake from a pudgy, cat-carrying kid to a slimmed-down tween and that was tough. Perhaps something to do with nostalgia? Leaving well enough alone? Or, as a body image specialist, we can say that it’s also about taking down that belly fat and strapping on some shape-skimming outfit can have a negative effect on our girls. Somehow “freshening up” means going on a diet these days and of course, getting a little nip-tuck.

Well, back to our explorer in question. Well, she’s not a Sesame Street Walker as we might have assumed. But there are some issues. She’s traded in her exploring boots for ballet slippers and her practical exploring shorts for a fashionable frock and leggings– what does that mean? Well, no more jungle explorations. Which hurts. I kind of liked how Dora wasn’t afraid to get dirty while traipsing along with her jungle friends. She lost her stocky toddler-like body and traded it in for a stream-line look. A distinct lack of Latin curves is obvious. Did you really expect them to be included?

And yes, she’s pink-afied. And appears to be wearing some kind of lip gloss or lipstick. Not so great. And let’s not forget that on her interactive computer games, girls can change her eye color and hair– which threatens her Latina roots once again. Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Packaging Girlhood and co-founder of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women in Waterville, Maine, and a person who I admire and appreciate, questions, “why change her appearance at all? Why is appearance so important?” Exactly. As we’ve seen all over this blog, appearance is highly praised and highly criticized.  It has to be just right.

The good thing is that Mattel states that Dora “will expand into the world of solving mysteries that have overt and relatable pro-social themes — like volunteerism, water conservation, or planting trees to help the environment.” Yeah, we like that. That’s what we stress for Powerful Words– and any role model doing that is helpful.

Well, what do you think? Sell out or upgrade? Sign of despair or sign of the times?

Let us have your opinion.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs