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.