lifestyle

MIA: I am trying to protect my daughter from this message.

Girls are making YouTube clips asking the world if they're pretty or ugly.
Girls are making YouTube clips asking the world if they’re pretty or ugly.

 

By MIA FREEDMAN

Have you heard? Little girls are making YouTube videos pleading with strangers to pass judgement on their looks.

“Am I ugly or pretty, be honest,” they ask timidly. “People tell me I’m ugly. So tell me – am I?” whispers one girl. “All my friends say ‘you’re so pretty’, but I kinda think I’m ugly, so I wanna know what you guys think,” explains another.

It’s heart-breaking and yet I’m not remotely shocked or surprised.

Because we did this.

We’ve created a generation of girls who believe firmly that their value as a person is indexed directly to their appearance. That their hotness determines their worth. And they’re force-fed this message from such an early age that it drowns out everything else we try to do as parents.

Sometimes I feel like I am human shield, standing in front of my 7-year-old daughter, trying to protect her from the tsunami of images and ideas coming at her about what it means to be a girl and a woman.

This week was one of those times.

It started on Sunday morning when I accidentally flicked the channel past a music video show and saw this:

My daughter was not in the room but she could have been. Music videos are banned in my house but she is old enough to use the remote control and she could have easily stumbled upon it.

Watching for just 10 seconds, I almost laughed because it’s so outrageous as to be a parody of the most vile and sexist objectification imagineable. If you don’t have the stomach to press play, I’ll save you the trouble: it’s just pictures of women’s arses. Some of the women are chopped in half so their bodies end just above their arse. Arses on legs. No head required. Just genitals and flesh. Because that’s what women are reduced to in the vast majority of music videos, even when the singer is female.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rachel Finch post baby bellyMy daughter loves to sing and we love listening to pop music together when we’re driving. But what does the music industry teach her? That your voice doesn’t matter, your body. Looking hot is everything. Your success depends on it.

A couple of days later, I saw the shots of model Rachael Finch ‘revealing’ her post baby body in a bikini, 28 days after she gave birth to her daughter who is also in the shots, almost as an after-thought. What is this teaching us, what does this say? That the most important thing about becoming a mother, your absolute top priority is to look good in a bikini. As fast as possible, before you’ve even been back to your doctor for your six week post-natal check up. Looking hot is everything.

The same day I saw those pictures, respected international men’s magazine Esquire (think the calibre of Vanity Fair) named one of the naked models from Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video as their inaugural Woman Of The Year.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

This is who Esquire has declared 2013’s Woman Of The Year:

Em Rata
Em Rata
ADVERTISEMENT

I understand that Malala, Hilary Clinton and Angela Merkel might not have been appropriate given the demographic of Esquire’s readers – men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. But still. What about Sheryl Sandberg? Marissa Mayer? Angelina Jolie? Jennifer Lawrence? Michelle Obama? Sandra Bullock? Tina Fey? Rebel Wilson? Amy Poehler?

All those incredible women have jobs and names and achievements. They have all had an incredible 2013. They are all famous for so much more than how they look. They all have more to offer than their tits. They’re not just “The Hot Topless Brunette Chick Who Holds The Lamb In the Blurred Lines vid”.

That's Em Rata. On the left.
That’s Em Rata. On the left.
ADVERTISEMENT

What is this teaching my daughter? What is this teaching all young women? That the highest accolade among women goes to the sexiest girl. The girl who doesn’t even need a name let alone a voice. The girl who pouts and poses in a tiny nude g-string saying nothing. It teaches young women that the most prestigious men’s magazine in the world values pert boobs and a willingness to strip above all else when it comes to a woman’s worth.

For a while now, I’ve noticed my daughter’s body becoming commodified by the world around her. Her weight is becoming currency. It’s heart-breaking and infuriating. It makes me feel sick and scared. And it feels like there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
Last year, when we went to buy school shoes, the nice woman who served us was making small-talk as she measured my daughter’s feet. “So, what’s your favourite thing to have for dinner?” she asked. “Um, chicken noodle soup,” my daughter replied shyly. “Soup!” exclaimed the saleswoman. “No wonder you’re so skinny!”

My heart sank as I watched the confusion flicker across my little girl’s face as she struggled to join the dots. Soup makes you skinny? I’m skinny? Is that good or bad?

And so it begins.

I don’t allow magazines in our house anymore. The glossy monthlies with their ridiculously air-brushed covers. And the gossipy weeklies with their shocking images of emaciated celebrities beside coverlines screeching faux concern “Half their size!” “Skinny fears for Nicole Ritchie!”. My daughter can read now. She can see the focus on bodies and the words like fat and skinny are so powerful and emotive.

Sometimes, she tries the words out to see what effect they have.

“My mozzie bites are making me look fat,” she complained to me once, the nonsensical nature of her words lost in the drumroll moment I felt in my gut as I struggled to keep my face blank.

It’s not the first time she’s mentioned her weight and as my mind whirrs with the correct response I can always see her watching me for a reaction when she says it. I know she’s testing me. Trying to learn what these powerful words really mean and how they relate to her.

A recent Miley Cyrus photoshoot
Miley Cyrus: “I feel that stripping off is a way of expressing purity of emotion.”
ADVERTISEMENT

My daughter is a deep thinker and like many girls, she’s prone to angst and drama. Also like most girls, she’s a sponge. Carefully, and with no small amount of fear in my heart, I’m watching her absorb and process all this confusing information about her body and the bodies around her and work out what it means.

And she’s listening. She’s listening to what everyone around her are saying about their own bodies. She’s noticing how many casual comments and descriptions of people include adjectives about appearance. She’s listening to what we all say about food and diets and weight and the size of our clothes.

So what can I do. I know I can’t shield her from the world and from body image issues. I know that I’m in a David vs Goliath battle against a media machine that makes money out of the insecurity of girls and women. But I want to try to immunise her against it as best I can by focussing on being healthy – not on fat or skinny. By emphasising what her body can DO, not just how it looks. By validating the kind of person she is.

It’s why I axed the Dolly model contest all those years ago. Because even back then I felt that there were enough messages telling young girls that being pretty was the ultimate goal. Not being smart or kind or funny or real.

And that was before youtube and social media and media saturation of popstars like Miley Cyrus insisting that “I feel that stripping off is a way of expressing purity of emotion.”

Before the term post-baby body even existed.

I will keep standing in front of my daughter to shield her and I will do my goddamn best to intercept all the toxic messages pop culture keeps hurling at her, at all of us. I will continue to tell her about amazing girls and women like Malala and Sheryl Sandberg. And I will encourage her to aspire to something far bigger, better, more substantial and more important than looking hot.

Do you agree with Mia? Is there anything in society you want to shield your kids from?

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???