Dear Special K,
When I was growing up my Mum loved you. She was the kind of woman who fancied herself in a red swimsuit. One piece of course. But sadly she battled her body most of her life and she never got that swimsuit body.
You knew for years that it’s not sex that sells cereal, but insecurities.
Given your past it’s a gutsy move to change tact with your new #OwnIt campaign. I challenged your intentions, however I do think your new ad is terrific. We need to see real images in the images projected at us. Encouraging women to ditch the doubt and be their best selves is so important.
To buy into your campaign I need to believe you no longer want women to change their bodies by controlling their food. That’s the root of the body image issue we’re facing right now. We all want one kind of body type yet we have hundreds of different body types. It’s why that little statistic you discovered rings true: seven out of ten New Zealand women are unhappy with their bodies.
And they won’t find happiness in a sugar-free, gluten-free diet. As we all know, diets don’t work otherwise we’d only have to do them once.
Nor will they find happiness by comparing themselves to Kim Kardashian or Gwenyth Paltrow’s butts. Media, as you also know, plays a weighty role in body dissatisfaction. After the introduction of television in Fiji, young girls didn’t want to look like their mothers but Brenda from 90210 and it didn’t take long for a significant number to be bent over the toilet bowl.
I’ve always been worried that I might pass on some screwed up eating habits to my daughter because, as the founder of Fucking Awesome Bulimics I Know, you might have figured out I haven’t always been as sound as I am trying to sound right now.
The other night my son was refusing to eat his dinner. He’s nine and he knows it really annoys us if he says dinner is disgusting (and sometimes it is when I’m cooking). Then he stroked his stomach and said, “I’m working on my six pack”.
It hit me in my non-existent six pack.
It’s not just our daughters we have to worry about. After the film 300 came out, a desirable ‘300 workout’ swept through gyms. Young men were exercising and starving themselves mad to try and get the gladiator-like bodies. This boy, C J Senter is a Youtube fitness guru with killer abs. He started at five.
Imagining my son, or any son or daughter, doing what I used to do fills me with horror. Saying awful things to themselves, hating their bodies, hating themselves for what they do to their bodies. But it’s coming at us.
Unless something changes.
A while ago I gave a talk at Carmel High School about the messages we see in the media and how they affect our self-esteem and body image through Women’s Health Org. Afterwards, a 17-year-old girl said to me, “My mum’s got an eating disorder, my sister’s bulimic and half the girls in my class have ‘Mia or Ana. What’s happening to stop this?”
I wanted to tell her something was happening but I couldn’t.
You gave us diets (change your body) and now you’re giving us the opposite: embrace your body as it is. Give us five years and we’ll look back on your old ads and laugh – the tape measure! the red togs! – like we do now with those Coca Cola ads from the 50’s recommending ‘one can a day for babies’.
We’re all evolving and it’s a bold move you’ve taken.
If you’re serious about stepping into this space then there’s a lot more work to do.
We need to think about the next generation as Victoria Secret is raising our children and she’s not filling them with confidence.
We need a program to teach girls and boys about positive body image. A program that teaches them how to be OK as they are. And how to be pretty smart about images they see in advertising. * A program that explains beauty is a feeling, not an adjective. And explains the dangers of restricting food, and how important it is be kind to our bodies because we only get one.
And we need to help parents, as they are more scared to have the ‘Body Image’ chat than the sex one for fear of saying the wrong thing.
You’ve started something good Special K: encouraging women to celebrate their bodies rather than criticise them. But how do we help the next generation not even begin to criticise what they’ve been born with?
How do we help them NOT focus on special food and restricting to change their bodies but be OK with what they’ve got?
How do we help them #OwnIt from the beginning?
PS. Friends, I’ve started a Facebook page called PrettySmartPrettyStrong: a collection of stories about the positive body image movement. So far it only has one like – mine. I would be ever so grateful if you could like it too and I’ll keep you up to date with this conversation.
(* A study by Thompson and Stice showed that if children are taught to more discerning of images in the media then they are less likely to be affected by them.)
Powerful piece, Angela. Well done. Very convincing and true………..
Thank you Mike. As the father of an amazing daughter (who doesn’t seem screwed up at all!) I love hearing your opinion.
“Victoria’s Secret raising our children” is provocative and true. I enjoyed your sharing of this here Angela, and the interplay between the family vignettes of your kids and the research, the references. It’s a continued world of the physical, it really takes a lot of time and insight to undo that; the conditioning is really, really strong as well you know. Thanks for doing what you are to combat it. Belt it from the balconies. Bill
As a post-script, I was thinking about the movie 300 yesterday coincidentally and its sequel, how strange it is for me how much I enjoyed it, because I don’t like to think of myself identifying with that kind of film. There’s something there about our love of violence too, it’s fitting that it’s about gladiators — how little we really change over time. And how the sequel ends with the song War Pigs by Black Sabbath, and how perfect that is.
Thank you Bill. I can feel myself climbing on a soap box – I never wanted to be on a soap box, or any box, but I can’t stop thinking and writing about this subject. And I loved the 300 movie too (and the War Pigs song!). That’s what’s tricky about this topic – I love the film but I don’t love it that boys get obsessed about looking like gladiators. However, I would never want film makers to not make a film fantastic or not make the people beautiful to look at, for fear of body image repercussions. If films were full of real people from Walmart we might not actually go and see them. We love to lose ourselves in other worlds and fantasy (to cope with this world). Glamour and fantasy are not bad, we need them. So then, the only thing I can think of is to equip boys and girls with critical thinking about what they’re looking at. So that when they look at movies and ads and porn they get how it’s made and why it’s made and understand that’s fantasy and they are real. I’ll keep on belting, quietly from my corner of the world. Thanks for stopping by. Angela
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Great comments Angela, thanks for your response. Bill