Are Young Girls’ Appearances A Public Health Issue?

by Solange Castellar

That is the big question that New York City is raising through a new campaign called the NYC Girls Project, which aims to help promote self-esteem in tweens. In the newest “public education campaign geared towards girls ages 7-12,” new ads will appear on buses, subways, and phone kiosks. While the ads include phrases like, “I’m adventurous,” “I’m a leader,” “I’m creative,” and “I’m smart,” these traits are featured in a smaller font, while the main tagline that’s generously displayed is “I’m beautiful the way I am.”

The campaign was started to tell girls at very young ages that their image should never be an issue. As it says on the NYC Girls Project site, “over 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat,” and “by middle school, 40-70% of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body.” They also note that 60% of girls compare themselves to fashion models, and that is terrifyingly scary. 

As part of the campaign, a slew of self-esteem curriculums will educate girls on body image. This past summer, two Summer Quest school programs initiated the curriculum called, “Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power.” This fall, the program will expand to 200 after school programs.

One of the ads that will be featured for the NYC Girls Project

While partnering with the city and the SPARK Movement, the Paley Center for Media has also developed two class offerings for students in grades K-12. The classes will be offered at the Paley Center for NYC school groups. The class “Girls, Body Image, and the Media,” will help students look at media messages for girls with a critical lens. “A Brief History of Girls on Television” analyses the representation of girls from the beginnings of television in 1950 to the present. 

The New York Times notes that the $330,000 campaign will include a Twitter campaign where ladies can contribute with the hashtag, #IAmAGirl.

What I find somewhat contradictory is the way that project goes about using the term “beautiful.” As it says on the site, the aim is “to help girls believe their value comes from their character, skills, and attribute – not appearance.” But in some ways, they do redefine the word: “we are trying to help girls believe that their appearance doesn’t define them – and to expand the definition of beauty.” 

I understand that girls should stop “comparing themselves to a manufactured idea of beauty,” as the campaign suggests. The question I have to pose is, when you’re pushing for self-esteem, does the word “beautiful” need to be so hugely apparent? This is one of the concerns that BUST’s managing editor, Emily Rems, explained this morning on The Takeaway

While joining the creator of the project, Samantha Levine, Rems gave her perspective on the wording of the campaign, saying, “I think bringing it into the public conversation is valuable. If the emphasis of the campaign is that value comes from character, then the use of that very loaded term ‘beautiful,’ which is so often used as the baseline of worth for girls in a way that it’s not at all used for boys, it gives a mixed message. It reinforces the idea that girls’ worth comes from beauty as opposed to the other elements of their character.”   

After listening to the talk on The Takeaway, I know where Levine is coming from. I believe that girls should see images of real young ladies and should know that they’re beautiful as everyone else. I, like Rems, personally don’t like the concept of relying on the term “beautiful” to help girls realize their self worth and to justify why they’re great. If the project chose a difference word like “awesome,” “amazing,” or even “perfect,” then I would feel more at ease. But for right now, I’m just gonna take the MTA and keep my eye out for those ads.

Check out The Takeaway’s discussion, as well as a few ads from the campaign below, and let us know what you think!

Thanks to NYC Girls Project, The Takeaway, and The New York Times

Images via NYC Girls Project

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