Youth Culture Window

Image Maintenance

Dynamic ImageIt’s no secret that today’s girls are bombarded with images and messages about their physique and appearance. From TV and movie icons to magazine covers and popular music, our world has a lot to say to girls about how they look.

Without a doubt, our girls are paying close attention.

The Daily Grind
Showering. Hair and makeup. Fashion choices. The obligatory selfie for the Instagram account. We live in an era where females can take 1.5 hours every day to primp themselves. But why do girls place such an emphasis on their looks, and is it a good thing? An interesting new study performed by researchers at the University of Texascan help answer those questions.

In the study, girls between the ages of 10 and 15 were asked to film a fake newscast. Researchers noted that girls with a higher “internalized sexualization” – the belief that it’s crucial to be sexually attractive – spent much more time putting on makeup than studying the script for the actual recording. For these girls, image was everything.

I guess they weren’t as brave as Tracey Spicer.

Unfortunately for these girls, academic performance doesn’t rank very high; girls with higher levels of internalized sexualization scored lower on standardized tests and made lower grades in school than girls who don’t place such a high priority on their sexuality. Ironically, similar studies show that girls with higher levels of internalized sexualization also experienced body shame at rates higher than their peers.

It looks like the daily grind of image maintenance is grinding away at our young girls.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…
We can’t be surprised that so many girls place a huge priority on sexuality. They’re simply following what culture says is important for them. If you want proof, all you have to do is look at what Halloween has become: an annual invitation for girls to get slutty.

And some of today’s most popular music focuses on girls’ image and sexuality; I wrote about it just last month in an article entitled Bottoms at the Top. But the music industry is always churning out sexualized tunes, like Bang Bang, a song in this week’s Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj. It begins with the following lines:

She got a body like an hourglass, but I can give it to you all the time
She got a booty like a Cadillac, but I can send you into overdrive (oh)
(You’ve been waiting for that, stop, hold up, swing your bat)

Let’s keep going. Selfies, you know, those pictures we take of ourselves more than a million times every single day, also give us an indicator of just how body-minded our young girls can be. An interesting and insightful article by Amy Peterson of FamilyShare, speculates that some of the biggest reasons girls are so prone to post pics of themselves online is because they are (1) discovering their identity, (2) wanting attention, (3) seeking validation, and (4) taking risks. If she’s right – and I suspect she is – it’s an indictment on parents that so many girls are confused about their identity and need so much attention and validation.

Re-Imaging Young Girls
Culture probably won’t stop promoting a sexualized view of females, girls or women. In fact, it probably won’t even slow down. So, now’s not the time for parents to get desensitized and allow for greater damage to take place in the name of passivity. Here are a few simple strategies that will allow parents and youth workers to help girls balance their priorities about image, appearance, and sexuality.

  1. Teach about value that’s based on the whole person. As adults, we understand that a person’s value includes much more than just their appearance. But so many young girls are shown the exact opposite every day. Do all that you can to help them understand the importance of their mind, their character, their emotions, their actions, and their faith…not just their “looks.” One simple way to do that is to comment on an attitude (or action) as often as you do a skirt. Highlighting inner beauty is just as important as highlighting outer beauty. Here’s a YouTube video that might kick-start those discussions with your daughter (Warning: watch this video first, it’s a little edgy, but a great resource Mom’s and older daughters can watch together and discuss.)
  2. Show girls what God considers important about them. No, you don’t need to be a biblical scholar to share God’s ideals with young girls. The Bible has plenty to say about girls, their sexuality, their image, and their overall worth to Him. Here’s a brand new resource (Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass) from our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page you can access for free that will help you teach girls an important lesson about self-worth. Here’s anotherAnd another.
  3. Model healthy behaviors on sexuality and appearance. Your kids listen to the music you listen to. Is it healthy? Your kids pay attention to your attire. Is it modest? Your kids note the interaction you share with your spouse. Is it wholesome? Complementary? If you’re shallow, chances are good they will be, too. In everything you do, model healthy behaviors when it comes to image and self-value.

Re-imaging takes time. Lots of it! We probably can’t undo a lifetime’s worth of damage inflicted upon our kids in one afternoon. But the right strategies applied with consistency will influence kids positively. Be as purposeful as you are patient.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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