What is Self-Esteem?

Another program that I think is awesome for fostering girls' self-esteem is the Girl Scouts' uniquely ME! program. Girl Scouts is partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Fund that I mentioned in my last post. Anyways, they created their program in 2002 to help girls face life's challenges while building self-esteem. The program addresses topics such as handling peer pressure, healthy eating, the power of positive thinking, and relationships. I especially love their tagline:
"you can change the way you look or you can change the way the world looks at girls." 
 You can check out their website here for more information.

Today, I'm going to talk a little bit about what self-esteem is, and I mentioned uniquely ME! because that's where I'm pulling my information from. A lot of it is word for word. They have one of the best definitions of self-esteem that I've found and I love the way they discuss it. (Plus, you know I'm not just making this up!)

So what IS self-esteem?
According to the National Association for Self-Esteem ,someone who possesses self-esteem feels capable of meeting life’s challenges and also feels worthy of experiencing happiness. Individuals with high self-esteem can be characterized by the following traits: 
• Tolerance and respect for others
• Ability to accept responsibility for their actions
• Having integrity
• Taking pride in their accomplishments
• Being self-motivated
• Willingness to take risks
• Being capable of handling criticism
• Being loving and lovable
• Seeking the challenge and stimulation of worthwhile goals
• Wanting to take control of their lives

Self-esteem means having confidence in oneself, in addition to being capable of feeling self-satisfaction. It is important to note that a strong sense of self esteem is based on values and self awareness; it is not a sense of "false bravado", which often contributes to bullying behaviors.

What causes low self-esteem? (List taken from "Empowering Teens To Build Self-Esteem,” Suzanne E. Harrill, M.Ed. 1993.)
• Believing the negative and hurtful words and
actions of others
• Living with people who did not or do not love
and respect themselves
• Having negative thoughts about performance,
looks, family income level and I.Q.
• Being under or over-protected as a child
• Not being taught “I am good and of value and
loved no matter what”
• Doubting the love of one or both parents (the
absence of parents also hurts)
• Being punished without ever being taught to
separate self from bad behaviors
• Being compared to others or to perfect standards
that cannot be met
• Thinking that “you” are your possessions,
clothes, car, grades, job, looks, or I.Q.

Why is low self-esteem so dangerous?
Low self-esteem is becoming more and more prevalent among pre-adolescent and adolescent girls in our country. Research conducted by organizations including the Dove Self-Esteem Fund demonstrates that risky behaviors (smoking, drinking, cutting) and eating disorders are often associated with low self-esteem.
Do you remember some of the statistics I reported in my initial post? Well, here's a re-cap...

Low self-esteem significantly impacts girls' feelings about their own beauty:
• 71% of girls with low self-esteem feel their appearance does not measure up – they report not
feeling pretty enough, thin enough or stylish/trendy enough (compared to 29% of girls with high selfesteem).
• 78% of girls with low self-esteem admit that it is hard to feel good in school when you do not feel
good about how you look
• 92% of girls think they need to change something about themselves to be beautiful

Low self-esteem negatively affects girls' confidence in all areas of their life:
• 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including based on their looks, performance in school and in their relationships with friends and family members.
• 62% of all girls feel insecure or not sure of themselves.

Girls with low self-esteem are significantly more likely to engage in dangerous and/or negative behaviors:
• 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking, or drinking when feeling badly about themselves (compared to 25% of girls with high self-esteem).
• 25% of teen girls with low self-esteem practice disordered eating, such as starving themselves,
refusing to eat, or over-eating and throwing up when they are feeling badly about themselves (compared to 7% of girls with high self-esteem).
• 25% of teen girls with low self-esteem resort to injuring themselves on purpose or cutting when they are feeling badly about themselves (compared to 4% of girls with high self-esteem).
• 61% of teen girls with low self-esteem admit to talking badly about themselves (compared to 15%
of girls with high self-esteem).

“Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem” commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 2008.

I think that those statistics are scary, and unfortunately, low self-esteem is more pervasive than ever before. What do you think? Were these statistics surprising to you?
So I think it's pretty clear that we need to help girls build self-esteem. But how do we go about doing this? Well, that's going to be the focus of my next few posts! So, stay tuned!



Moms--Talk to Your Daughters!

When I was talking to the girls the other week, we discussed where we get our ideas about beauty. While most of them agreed that the media influenced how they thought about themselves, most of them also said that their family influenced their views of the world, particularly in regards to beauty. You have a greater influence on your daughters than you think!
How many times have you looked in the mirror while your children were around and said something along the lines of, "Wow, Mom sure needs to lose weight!" or "Yikes, I look so fat!" You are your daughter's role model, and the way you view yourself and your body will influence the way she views hers.
79% of all women agree that that there is a need to start talking to girls early in life about what real beauty is, and 72% hope that they have not passed on feelings of doubt or insecurity to their daughters.
Are you one of those women?

If so, have you started talking to your daughters about beauty? Like many girls, as I hit adolescence and puberty, I had a lot of questions and wasn't really sure what to think about beauty. Girls are influenced from numerous sources about how they should look and how they should treat their bodies, and it can be so confusing! All of a sudden, I felt like nothing about me looked right. I needed to pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs, color my hair, grow a few inches, start wearing makeup, buy new clothes, etc. And obviously, these aren't all bad things...but it can be hard. Even though my mom and I always had a good relationship, I felt kind of embarrassed to talk to her about those sorts of things.

Communicating with your daughter is one of the most important things you can do! Develop a relationship in which she knows she can come to you when she has questions or insecurities. Did you know that the top wish among girls is that their parents would communicate better with them – including more frequent and more open conversations about what is happening in their own lives?

A great way to do this is by using the True You! workbook, put out by Dove. I'm a big supporter of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty and of the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, and I love this guide that they've put together for moms and daughters who are just starting to hit adolescence. Check it out, and let me know what you think!
Guide for Moms
Workbook for Moms and Daughters



Check This Out!

Last week, I went to visit some elementary schools and got the chance to talk to some 4th and 5th grade girls. We talked a little bit about where we get our ideas about what beauty is and how to build self-acceptance in a world where we're told day in and day out about how we should look. Here's a little peek at part of the presentation I did...

 TV and magazines tell us we should look like these people:

So what happens if we don't?

The truth is, most of don't look like super models or movie stars...and that's OKAY!

The media presents an unrealistic standard of what beauty is. The often tell us how we should look because they are trying to sell us something; they want us to think that if we buy their clothes or makeup, we will look like the people in their ads.

A lot of the pictures in ads are NOT REAL! Even super models aren't always as gorgeous as they appear.

Check out this awesome video:

How does this video make you feel? I remember the first time I saw it, I was blown away! I knew that pictures in magazines were often touched up, but I had no idea just how much they could do to them! 
The girls were equally shocked. We all agreed that this picture wasn't really real, and we wondered if the woman in it would be able to recognize herself if she were the one walking by the billboard.

My blog's focus so far has been on the different tactics used by the media that often make us feel less than adequate. I'm now going to start focusing my posts on helping girls build self-esteem and self-acceptance. A lot of my posts are actually going to be directed towards parents. And, true to my promise, I'm going to be updating a lot more often.



Miss USA Controversy

First off...I have been a terrible blogger! I have not done a good job at updating with regular posts, and I apologize. I'm going to do a much better job about posting, I promise!

I just wanted to discuss the recent controversy surrounding the Miss USA pageant since I feel like it applies really strongly my platform.
I'm sure that many of you are aware of the recent scandal that ensued when photographs of Miss USA contestants in lingerie were revealed. This is hardly anything new; the Miss USA pageant has a history of contestants losing titles over racy photographs. However, the shock this time was that these photographs were sanctioned and endorsed by the Miss USA organization. Even though last year's Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean, received flak when racy photos of her were released, the organization decided that this year it would be appropriate to have each contestant participate in a "glamor shoot" wearing little more than lingerie, stilettos, and fishnets.

Unlike Miss America, Miss USA is strictly a beauty pageant. Contestants are expected to be physically attractive, and according to the Miss Universe Organization, "[C]ontestants who compete for the title of Miss USA [should not be] afraid to be sexy." Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA 2004, also defended the pictures by saying that they proved how "relevant" and "with the times" the Miss USA pageant is; according to her, a woman of today should be "fun, flirty, and sexy" because that's what you see when you open up a magazine.
Does anyone else see a problem here?
What message is the Miss USA organization sending to America? They claim to be an organization that empowers women, yet they have degraded their contestants into objects to be looked at and lusted after. They seem to be sending the message that a woman's value does not come from her accomplishments, intelligence, or contributions to society, but comes solely from her sex appeal. Is this the message that we want to be sending to the men, women, or children of our country? Do we want our girls to grow up striving to be sexy rather than successful? Finnessey seems to think so, as she expressed the belief that Miss USA is a good role model because she's "trained to live in 2010...she's sexy, she's confident, she's relevant."
What do you think? Will you promote Miss USA as a role model for your daughters? Will you show them the lingerie pictures and encourage them to grow up to be sexy?

The full interview with Shandi Finnessey about the provocative photos, from Fox News, can be found here. It's a very interesting video and I would suggest watching it. It also explains a few of the differences between the Miss America and Miss USA pageants, which I feel is a very important distinction to understand. I strongly believe in the Miss America Organization, which is a scholarship program for young women, and I find it unfortunate that so many people confuse the two pageants.

Really quickly:
Miss America is a non-profit organization where contestants compete to win scholarship money. Although sometimes referred to as a beauty pageant, only 35% of a contestant's score comes from evening gown and swimwear. The majority of their score depends on their talent performance and their interview. Each contestant has a service platform that she promotes during her year of reign. The contestant crowned as Miss America also promotes the Children's Miracle Network, which is a national partner of the Miss America Organization.

Miss USA is a part of the Miss Universe Organization and is a competition to select the USA's entrant into the Miss Universe pageant. It is strictly a beauty pageant, although contestants do compete in interview. There is no talent portion, and contestants do not have a service platform.


Sexualization Defined: Innapropriate Imposition

The fourth condition of sexualization, when it is inappropriately imposed upon a person, is especially relevant to children. Children do not usually choose to be exposed to sexually charged images, so that means it is imposed,or forced, upon them. Unfortunately, this is occurring more and more often.Take a look at these Bratz dolls:I love what the APA Task Force says about Bratz dolls:
Bratz dolls come dressed in sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas. Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality. The objectified sexuality presented by these dolls, as opposed to the healthy sexuality that develops as a normal part of adolescence, is limiting for adolescent girls, and even more so for the very young girls who represent the market for these dolls.

Some parents even force sexuality on their daughters. One prime example are toddler pageants, where young girls are paraded around a stage in revealing outfits and more makeup than many adults wear. Here's a picture from the TV show "Toddlers and Tiaras":
I don't know about you, but I think this is a little bit frightening.

So What's the Big Deal?
Like we talked about with the other components of sexualization, children (especially girls) get the wrong idea about what qualities are valued in people. The girls on Toddlers and Tiaras get so used to hearing how "cute" they are in their feathers and makeup that they're going to have mixed-up ideas about what beauty really is. And when girls' playthings are scantily-clad, how are they going to feel that they should dress?


Sexualization Defined: A Narrow Standard

Whether you're flipping channels, driving down the highway, or waiting in line at the grocery store, it's hard to escape the stunning faces of celebrities smiling back at you. And it's hard to ignore the fact that they are stunning...how many times has a less-than-perfect face smiled back at you from the cover of Glamour or Vogue or People? Sometimes it can feel like we're being bombarded by reminders of what we don't look like.
Because, after all, how many of us look like Kim Kardashian?Or Megan Fox?

Or Tom Cruise?

If, by chance, you do...well lucky you! For the rest of us mere mortals, however, it can be pretty disheartening to watch a commercial or TV show and realize that we're never going to look like the people parading across the screen. Unfortunately, the media conveys a very narrow standard of beauty; they can make it easy to believe that to be physically attractive, a person must be sexy. And it's not just adults who are taught this; even children, especially as they begin hitting pre-adolescent and teenage years, are made to believe this as well. I mean, just look at the stars they idolize:
Stars are glamorous and sexy, and that's not going to change. Sexiness sells. What can change, however, is the way we view these images. We can either look at them and think, "Wow, that must be how I'm supposed to look. What can I change about myself to look like them?" or we can view them and think, "Wow, they sure are beautiful, but that's why they're famous. Most people don't look like that, nor do they need to. It's unrealistic for me to think that if I lose weight or get plastic surgery I will look like them."

So What's the Big Deal?

Ever hear of anorexia or bulimia? If people buy into the beliefs that to be attractive or liked, they must be sexy, they begin to feel that they must change themselves so that they, too, are sexy. In fact, 92% of girls think they need to change something about themselves to be beautiful. And unfortunately, they begin to think that being beautiful means being sexy. Sexiness generally requires being thin, so many girls take drastic measures to achieve what the media says is the ideal body weight.
Even if someone doesn't become anorexia, they may seek other potentially dangerous methods of changing themselves, like plastic surgery. And why? Because they have developed a bad self-image thanks to our friends in the advertising business.