I AM THE UGLIEST GIRL I KNOW?
Pink accepted her MTV award the other day and used the opportunity to discuss a topic about body image and expectations that are placed on girls and women to look, be and behave a certain way. The speech (featured below) was triggered by her 6 year old daughter Willow, who on the way to school one day confided in her mother:
“Momma, I am the ugliest girl I know. I look like a boy with long hair”
Pink like any mother was horrified, that a six year old girl would say such a thing and wondered where it came from. It constantly surprises me how advanced in so many ways our lives have become and yet here we are in the 21st Century and girls still feel that they are defined by the way they look.
Is this a response to the unconscious program that people themselves are still running? Can it be traced back to the way we talk to our toddlers and children? If you think about it, when an adult talks to a little boy, they often comment on “what a fast runner he you are”, or ask about “what are you building with the lego”; but when we talk to little girls how often do you hear people saying “what a pretty dress you have on”, “aren’t you a nice little girl” and “don’t you look cute”. Is it any surprise that when these same children get to school, and are expected to talk to their peers, that the very same behaviour they model is from the adults they hear talking to them, or what they hear and see on TV and hear mum and dad comment about over coffee.
The problem with defining a girl by the way she looks, is that it sets her up for low self esteem if she doesn't fit the ideal look, or eating disorders and huge vulnerability. Girls have been subconsciously taught to think that how they look is directly related to their self worth, and it is one of the most important things about them. We have seen this carried into adult life just yesterday when a beautiful women who owned a successful beauty business, died after having a procedure to enhance the size of her breast. Because being successful was still not enough for her if she didn’t have bigger breast to fit the ideal body type.
This sets up completely unfair and inequitable situations, where a teenage boy is judged by his character, deeds and performance at home, school and sport, while a girl of the same age is judged by those same things, but also how good she looks in her clothes, her fashion sense, her makeup ability and how nice her hair is. As a past teacher of high school, I can tell you of boys who are so unaffected by the idea that how they look is tied to their self worth, that they turn up to school looking like they have got out of bed and not even brushed their hair!
Girls have had the message reinforced their entire lives, that her biggest currency is how she looks, rather than what she can do. The result is that boys are free to be who they want to be, and can focus on what they want to do. Shouldn’t our girls have the same opportunities to be who they want to be, look how they want to and to focus on their achievements and merits in life, rather than the genetic lottery that life has given them and how it has influenced their body type and looks.
Pink told her little girl, that people said she should change her hair, change her body, which they said was too masculine, or too strong, and change the way she presented herself to the world. To all of these things, Pink said NO, but then she asked Willow if she saw her Momma selling out concerts in huge stadiums all over the country; and we all know the answer to that question. Pink highlighted to Willow in a powerpoint, the large group of performers over the years who were androgynous looking, and yet who insisted on being themselves. People like Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Annie Lennox, Janis Joplin, all who embraced themselves by being who they are and delivering the best music they could, regardless of how they looked, or if it conformed with the accepted look of a star.
Pink summed it up beautifully at the end of her speech when she said:
“We take the gravel in the shell and make a pearl. We help other people to change, to see more kinds of beauty.”
That is exactly what we need to do. We need to recognise that beauty comes from within and in many different packages and body types.