The Self Esteem Act: It's Time to Confront the Bully That Is Our Beauty Culture
My wife and I almost beat-up a six-year-old girl yesterday.
She was a playground bully; pushing, cutting, baiting, and hating all over our kids' happy. And we get all mama bear when our kids' happiness is at stake.
And it is. Not by a six year-old playground tyrant; we scared her off, but by our popular, media, and beauty cultures, who may be the biggest bullies of all. And these three are a lot bigger, tougher and more popular than that six-year-old girl. But just as surely, they're opening a can of whoop-ass all over our little kids and, in fact, women and girls of all ages.
Popular culture influences and shapes how we feel, what we think, talk and wonder about. It can wield this power for good and ill, passively or actively. Hollywood can raise and even change our consciousness -- or just mess with it. And these days, like a playground bully, it's messing with it.
See, there's an epidemic crisis of confidence affecting girls and women, and an inextricable link between the epidemic and our cultural products, norms and images. The numbers are horrifying:
Walk down a crowded middle/high school hallway and over 70% of the girls you'll see don't think they're "good enough" in some way.
Remember being 13? Well, 50% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. By the time they're 17, 800,000 out of 1 million of them will be unhappy.
80% of adult women feel insecure about their looks after seeing images of women as depicted in the media. 80% feel worse about themselves after being "entertained"!
I've spent a career at the intersection of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. This intersection paid for our house. Actually, it's paid for pretty much everything in our lives. Thus we're lovers not haters so to be clear we're talking about Hollywood broadly and metaphorically, and really mean the purveyors of the stuff that popular culture is made of from Madison Avenue, 6th Avenue, and Main Street too.
It's perverse that something that really just wants to make us feel good for at least a moment can make us feel bad for a lifetime. But it can, because intentionally or not, many of us internalize what's going up on billboards, online, and on screens big and small, making these images a part of our identity, aspirations, references, and expectations.
We wind up confusing the ideal and the real, and these days the so-called ideal is masquerading as the real, like one great big Bernie Madoff Ponzie Scheme. Like Bernie, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
So what do we do?
As parents and the founders of Off Our Chests, we think we all need to hold each other more accountable. Accountable to what's put out there, how literally we take it; and accountable for the mainstreaming of images and expectations; standards of perfection and norms that are too often inaccessible if not impossible -- because they're not real.
So today we are beginning our campaign to create The Self-Esteem Act, a bill requiring "truth in advertising" labels be attached to advertising and editorials with models photoshopped or airbrushed to a meaningful degree.
The Self-Esteem Act isn't about judging, it's about clarifying. If as marketers you choose to keep doing what you've done, that's between you, the talent in your ads, and your consumers. Now you just need be upfront about it and declare it. If you're not comfortable declaring it, don't do it. It's that simple.
Our point is that conscious and commerce can and should co-exist. We think that consumers will appreciate the truth over an unachievable ideal that the advertising, fashion and film industries sometimes set.
We know we're not the first to talk about this, but nothing's changed. It's been a conversation domestically, in Europe, and three weeks ago, a British MP pulled L'Oréal ads deeming the images of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington so overly photoshopped they created an "unrealistic" expectation of what women should look like, citing the campaign as an example of the "[media's] role in contributing to a negative body image."
So to all involved, we say, keep doing what you're doing if you must -- just tell us you've done it. Maybe then we will realize that the women in those ads and spreads are about as real as Avatar, and thus, we'll see it as escapism and not as realism to which we don't measure up.
Support the Self-Esteem Act. We'll all feel better, even if some of us look a little more real.
To support the Self-Esteem Act, or learn more about Off Our Chests, please visit OffOurChests.com.
There is a link to the right to the web site. I poked around. It's interesting.
If you are intuitive, and I like to think ALL my readers are above average, you may have picked up some vibes that I am not wholly sold on this idea. Look at this past weekend. Kim Kardashian got married. What is she famous for? Well, she's famous for branding herself to be famous. There's a video going around where she comes unglued because she lost an earring worth $75,000 in the surf at the ocean. I'll never ever see an income of $75,000 and she's lost an earring, a bauble, worth that much. Her wedding was held up as some monumental event that we must see! How does that make a girl walking down the street in downtown Waterloo, Iowa feel any better about herself?
I have an Internet friend, a brilliant, fantastically funny woman who is studying for her medical boards. She is cute as a bug's ear, to use a term we usually reserve for 3 year-olds, but she is cute. She's got long strawberry blonde hair and this skin color I would die for, to over use that metaphor. But you know what, she's a bit on the heavy side and that's what people see. They do not see this remarkable woman who has put herself through college, her masters and now is on the cusp of adding a "dr" to her name. They see she's a bit overweight. And you know what else? She knows that's what they see first and it batters her self-esteem as waves do to a shoreline. Her boyfriend and her friends can add compliment after compliment but when someone gives her the 'once over' and then dismisses her before she can open her mouth, you bet her self-esteem is eroded.
This has nothing to do with whether Julia Roberts is air-brushed. This has everything to do with something I learned long ago. Humans, for whatever reason, constantly seek some way of making someone worth less than them, in their eyes. Unfortunately, as a society, we have taken this across the board and deemed one group of people 'inferior'. In primary and secondary school, it's popularity. Then it gets to be looks. It could be skin color, likes or dislikes, drinking ability, you name it. We decide women with gray hair and blue eyes are not cool and we subtly make sure they know it. Yes, we have an obesity 'epidemic' in this country. I would posit it has less to do with the lack of exercise and more to do with the lack of positive reinforcement of who we are as people. Food doesn't care what we look like and it's always there to console us.
I am not dismissing this attempt at lauding people for being people. Helping women get and maintain a positive self-image is an exemplary cause. But I don't think making a cosmetics company slap a disclaimer on an ad saying Kate Hudson was air-brushed is going to change the fundamental problem. What we call beautiful is skewed. 20% or less of our population is telling the other 80% of us that we look terrible and we're buying it.
Beverage: English Breakfast tea