Be Fashion-Friendly but Body-Wise
Dr. Tara Cousineau is a clinical psychologist, mother, and Aunt. She is founder of BodiMojo.com for teenagers, a health engagement platform for teens leveraging web and mobile technologies to inspire healthy living. The use of BodiMojo.com by teen girls has shown to have a significant effect on improving girls’ attitudes about their own body image. Tara also blogs at BodiMojo.com/blog and TeensInBalance.com.
Help your nieces and nephews evaluate media messages about beauty.
As an aunt, it’s an unspoken privilege to indulge your nieces and nephews with stuff Mom or Dad might not like to do. It could be small things, like a candy bar, a pack of gum, or a magazine from the news stand—just a small pleasure that the kid didn’t have to ask for. It’s a nice feeling to give after all. And if there’s a bit of secrecy to it, all the more special. My daughters, who are 12 and 14, have four aunts in total. (I, on the other hand, have one niece and two nephews who live across the country making such niceties a rare event).
Living in an “auntified” household certainly has its perks for my girls except when they have to give up their beds during a visit. Recently, after a grocery run for a family affair, the June issue of Vogue magazine appeared (i.e., the Olympic issue). We don’t have fashion magazines in our house, so I noticed it immediately. As an advocate for the importance of a positive body image for girls, I have made a quiet commitment to no beauty magazine subscriptions. Clearly, the appearance of Vogue was an auntie indulgence. We’re a sports-oriented family, so I could see the allure for this particular issue.
I also know that June is the month that Vogue is making good on its commitment to address the health of its models, in part, by not hiring girls under age 16. In fact, 17 editors from Vogue International have signed on. Flipping through to page 46, I saw the letter from the Vogue editor, Anna Wintour (June 2012 issue):
“Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) with the support of Vogue announced its Health Initiative, which was created to encourage everyone in this country who works in fashion—editors, designers, photographers, and casting directors alike—to share the responsibility of fostering a climate where a vital and healthy physique is lauded and encouraged.”
Of course, this initiative is certainly laudable but may not affect what is really at issue: that such magazines can make some girls feel terrible about their bodies. There is plenty of science to back this up now. Feelings of dissatisfaction with physical appearance and low self-worth are a common and immediate result from viewing fashion magazines or ads; it may be more so for girls who are emotionally vulnerable or perfectionistic, rather than tween fashionistas carving out their identities. Looking to fashion media as a resource for style and tips on self-care is not a bad thing in and of itself.
Here’s the thing for aunties: you have a great opportunity to talk to your nieces (and nephews) about the images that appear on magazines whether it be fashion or sports or hobbies. At the same time, girls need to understand that their beauty (and boys on their looks or physical prowess) is about who they are and not what they look like.
So what to do? With some auntie coaching you can help your nieces and nephews to:
-Ask what they like or don’t like about the images;
-Critically evaluate media and dissuade from making self-comparisons;
-Highlight their personal talents, hobbies, and abilities as a human being;
-Acknowledge effort, not outcomes; and
-Foster acts of good deeds and compassion toward self and others.
Organizations worth noting on helping young people feel better about their bodies and their selves, include:
DOVE Self Esteem Fund
Photo: Courtesy of Vogue June 2012 issue
Published: June 26, 2012