In last month’s Girlfriend Review, I outlined the disturbing findings of the magazine’s annual body image survey. Our young women still despise their bodies, despite GF’s own positive body image initiatives, which I’ve argued, never really went far enough.
So it was refreshing to see in May’s issue a strong case for exposing systems and structures which make girls feel bad about themselves – getting it off the individual girl and onto the zillion dollar global beautification industry which contributes to her feeling so damn awful.
In the piece titled ‘We’re all real women’ (‘Readers not models were used in this shoot’), journalist and blogger Rachel Hills writes:
“The real girl resurgency in recent years isn’t just a response to increasingly ‘un-real’ technologies used to create them…it’s about culture, politics and systems. And rather than taking that out on individual girls and women whose physical appearance might be more culturally celebrated than our own, we should direct our anger and activism at the systems that create those narrow images of beauty and privilege them over everything else.
“[the problem is] a culture that says girls who are all those things are cuter, cooler and more worthy of our attention than girls who aren’t – not to mention a culture that says even if you are all those things…you could still look ‘better’ if you had Photoshop to trim your waist, thicken your hair, enhance your breasts or straighten your nose…The point is, there is no ‘us’ verses ‘them’. Impossible beauty standards hurt us all, and the idea that the most important thing a girl can do is meet those standards hurts us even more.”
Of course, one article does not a revolution make, but it’s something. The cultural analysis approach is echoed in a separate piece examining ‘Sh*t girls say’ – looking at some of the negative things girls repeat, for example that they need bigger breasts. “Perhaps you should criticise the kinda society that says bigger busts is the key to happiness rather than actually supporting it”.
I would have liked to have seen this advice applied also to waxing of public hair in increasingly younger girls – in a section titled ‘Down low: The vagina’, removal of public hair is described merely as a “fashion choice” rather than something increasingly culturally mandated and part of the widespread shaming of women’s natural bodies.
And while we’re talking about ‘reality’, what’s with all the slang terms used to describe female body parts? With the trend toward genital surgery (thanks in good part to the influence of pornography) it’s good for girls to know “There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ vagina”. But can’t we avoid the porno terms (beaver, pussy, hole etc)? And the same for breasts. Tits, jubblies and tatas are the degrading terms used in lad’s mags – they don’t belong in mags aimed at building respect for girls and their bodies.
There’s a two page piece ‘Picture Perfect’ which explains photoshop and re-touching and where Girlfriend stands. “When we feature a retouched image, we’ll make you aware of it with a Self-Respect Reality Check”. Except you won’t see one of those on any ad, including the just-too-perfect faces for Rimmel, Maybelline and Veet, for example (don’t tell me that’s their natural skin). Girlfriend has talked tough against advertisers, but never really done anything to force them to change.
Despite evidence which just keeps growing on the harm of objectified and sexualized images on girls and women, the ‘Oh, Lola!’ Marc Jacobs perfume ad of a very young looking Dakota Fanning referencing Lolita in a girly soft pink spotted dress with the phallic perfume bottle between her legs appears here again.
We meet the finalists of Girlfriend of the Year. The photo shoot is somewhat one dimensional. Jamie Howell, 13, is profoundly deaf and wants to represent Australia as an Olympic track and field athlete. It would have been good to see an image of her training, especially given it’s what she seems to be doing almost 24 hours a day! Toni Daley, 17, is a horse lover and also wants to compete at international level. But there’s not a horse in sight. (She is wearing Sportsgirl shoes at $169.95 though). Sienna van Rossum,16, wants to help Aboriginal communities, (though it’s unlikely she will do so in the $149.95 dress she’s modelling). But these girls are doing great things and I hope that doesn’t get lost.
Important piece by Sarah Ayoub ‘I thought I was a fun party girl…But I had no sense of self-worth’ about how girls can self-sabotage through drink-driving, self-harming behaviours, violent relationships, unsafe sexual practices sex (chlamydia infection most prevalent in women 15-24) and drug abuse. “…risk-taking among teenage girls has hit an all-time high, prompting warnings from professionals who fear that girls just like you are damaging their health thanks to the reckless risks they’re taking”.
The article suggests other ways girls can experience the thrill of risk-taking, in less dangerous ways, e.g sport, rock climbing or taking on a socially risky cause which also takes bravery. “By chasing these highs, you’re learning new skills, developing talents, friendships and confidence, and preventing yourself from failing to a trap that you might eventually regret”. I’m hoping Ayoub will be given more space in Girlfriend’s pages in future.
I’m always pleased to see pieces by young non white/non Western women talking about surviving hardship most of us just cannot image. ‘Life with Kony’, tells the story of Grace Arach who at 12 was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. For the next six years she suffered every depravity and violation before escaping and finding protection with the World Vision Uganda Children of War Reception Centre. She is now involved with CAP Uganda (Children/Youth as Peacebuilders). “My dream is to help my friends who’ve been traumatised by the war so that they can become productive and live meaningful lives…”
Next time put a woman like that on the cover.
As published on the Generation Next website.