“87% of girls aged 11-21 think women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability” And What We Can Do to change that

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I came across this stat in a study conducted by Girl Guiding, a charity for girls and young women in the U.K.  Though the study is a few years old, it was recently quoted in a Guardian article, “From Social Media to the Catwalk: Is Fantasy Beauty Failing Young Women?”

As you can imagine from the article’s title, the Guardian story reflects on the preponderance of images of models and idealized portraits of women in social media, and how this imagery gives false and harmful notions to our girls about their own bodies.  The statistic is indeed alarming, and unfortunately a belief that will be hard to break.  Why?  Not so much because of the actual imagery put out there.  Frankly, I think we, as a society, have begun to show a greater range of what’s considered beautiful.  After all, Kim Kardashian in by no means a size 0.  And digital’s ability to cross borders means we get to see images of people from all different ethnicities and backgrounds that we never have before.  Check out the posts I wrote: Beauty From Around the World and Why It’s Contagious  or What’s the Definition of Beauty Anyway?  (a story celebrating people with “abnormalities”) both of which tap into digital’s revealing of new ways to think about beauty.  Do I think we can go even farther in presenting more realistic images of girls and women?  Sure!  But that’s not going to change our being judged by our looks.

The reason this will be a hard habit to break is that we are a visual species.  Our ability to analyze information is far more sophisticated and quicker via our eyes than via language.  That is why we’ve glommed on to all the photo taking, altering and sharing in the digital space.  And it’s not such a bad thing!  By taking, sharing, and appreciating images, we get to see a deeper story behind people’s lives.  Images give so much more texture than mere words.  Images offer nuance and emotional details that our texting would normally leave out.  Moreover, these images remind us of the tremendous beauty that’s around us or oceans away.  And that reminder elevates our daily lives — showing us how amazing our world truly is.

We make assumptions, draw conclusions and make judgments based on what we see, first.  Should we be content with the high percentage of girls who believe they are judged by what they look like alone?  Of course not.  We have to face the reality that our eyes will draw conclusions.  Let’s not ignore that.  What we can do is urge one another to not STOP at what we see, but rather dig into what’s behind the exterior.  And we must start with ourselves.

I actually think there’s even another way to look at this issue. Let’s not devalue the exterior beauty of what and who is around us. Let’s certainly NOT pretend it doesn’t exist. We SHOULD recognize it. In fact, let’s appreciate all people’s beauty, and recognize that how people uniquely appear is part of the story to be sussed out and listened to. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. We should value all the amazing characteristics of things and people — their unique beauty along with their origins, their stories, their talents and generosity. If we see — and remind our children and friends to see — that all people are a collection of traits, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual and some intellectual, we will value people as a whole that much more.

We have the amazing power to look AT and look INTO our world. Let’s do both and maybe that statistic will be a thing of the past.

 

Want to End Violence Against Women? Start by Wearing Orange

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I had the privilege of attending an intimate lunch with an amazing group of accomplished and giving people at the U.N. the day before Thanksgiving.  The purpose of this luncheon was to commemorate the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women.  The gathering was hosted by the United Nations Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women and was kicked off by an event which included speeches, poetry readings and a panel.

This group’s mission is to “support(s) effective initiatives that demonstrate that violence against women and girls can be systematically addressed, reduced and, with persistence, eliminated….(It) has awarded USD 103 million to 393 initiatives in 136 countries and territories. The UN Trust Fund currently supports 95 programmes in 75 countries and territories with a value of USD 56 million.”

Of course I’m going to support this initiative!  I am fortunate enough to have been brought up in a loving environment and continue to live and work in safety.  But I also realize that there are many, many women — abroad and in our very own country — who live in harm’s way.  Imagine being under constant fear of sexual exploitation or being at high risk for HIV contraction because you live on the street in Eastern Europe?  Imagine living in Campbodia where a common form of punishment is acid being poured on your face, or if you were denied access to services after being sexually abused in South Sudan?  And the list of violent acts towards girls and women around the world goes on.

“What does this have to do with beauty?” you may be asking.  Certainly the subject seems so trivial in comparison to these UN’s initiatives.  Ah, but there is a connection.

The symbol of the commemoration was the color orange.  More than that, the event’s attendees were asked to wear something in the color.  Some people wore orange dresses or other pieces of clothing, like ties.  And if you didn’t have an orange garment, everyone was given a gift of a lovely orange scarf to wear.  I, too, received and wore one.  I’m sure most people didn’t think twice about donning it or why the very act of WEARING orange — not just having orange decorations and merchandise — is significant.  But it is.

What we choose to put on our bodies is important.  We don’t just wear clothing to shield our ourselves from the elements or to comply with social norms.  We wear what we do to tell a story — a story about ourselves, about our beliefs and about our hopes.  In fact, what we wear is often our first form of communication.  We are visual people.  Seeing is one of our first senses and certainly one of our most complex.  We compute information when we see it far faster than when we decode it via language. By my wearing the orange scarf and then posting the image to my social media networks (vs just tweeting a few words of encouragement), I undoubtedly caught people’s attention.  And by doing so, I both showed support for the cause, and, hopefully, prompted others to learn about the UN’s amazing projects.

But clothing doesn’t JUST communicate to others.  It reminds us of who we are and what we stand for.  It forces us to pay attention to our bodies and our personalities. When we ask, “does it fit?” when we put something on, we are asking, “Does it fit our physical selves?”   That question may urge us to get in better shape or remind us that we are fine as we are.  Or we may be asking does it fit our inner selves, i.e., is it too corporate, too immodest, too casual…you get the point.  It may force even more profound questions upon ourselves, like, who are we?  What do I want to be known for?  And, for many of us privileged Americans, how privileged am I to wear what I want without fear of attack.

We can choose to view clothing as something frivolous.  Or we can see it as a way to reconnect with ourselves, with others and our united hope for a better future.

I will definitely hold on to that orange scarf and wear it with pride.   It is a reminder of what we have done to help women around the world and how much further we have to go. And, in this time of thanksgiving, it’s a reminder of how grateful I am to live as a woman in freedom and safety.