I am passionate about bringing the body image crisis in our girls to public attention, so I’m happy to say it’s been a busy couple of weeks for me, media-wise. I was on Channel 7’s The Morning Show, along with the CEO of the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery, to talk about the effect that reality TV shows are having on body image and whether they’re encouraging more people to have cosmetic surgery. Some really important points were raised about girls’ body image, so it’s worth taking a look and forwarding on to others, to spread the word about why we need to empower girls. (Click on the image below to view. The interview starts after a short advertisement.)
The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover, Australia’s Next Top Model, Australian Idol, Big Brother—the list goes on and on of reality TV shows that all offer the promise of turning ordinary people into gorgeous celebrities. A big part of the story they tell is that appearance is more important than just about anything else, and that if we do something extreme to change the way we look so we fit into a narrow ideal of beauty, we will be happy and loved, and we will be famous. In the reality TV generation, instant fame has become the ultimate sign of success. What a limiting message for girls. What a dangerous message for girls.
As I said on The Morning Show:
While we might not be seeing an actual increase in cosmetic procedures, we’re certainly seeing an increase in angst over body. And lots of young girls believe the hype that if they have that new body or that new smile or those new breasts, life will be a lot better—and of course things aren’t that simple.
I thought it was really interesting that the head of the College of Cosmetic Surgery made a distinction between cosmetic procedures and reconstructive plastic surgery after accidents and burns. I think that procedures for purely cosmetic reasons are simply a no-go zone for girls, but I would also caution parents about rushing to get reconstructive surgery for their daughters. When I was two years old, I was badly burnt. I received third-degree burns all down my right arm and neck. As a teen, I hid my scars. I wore skivvies underneath my summer uniform, wore jumpers all year round. I avoided pools and beaches. My arm no longer seemed small; it seemed enormous. A huge, horrible, disfigured limb I would be forced to drag through what had been my oh-so-promising life. (Yes, teenage girls are good at drama.)
It was only in my adult years, as a teacher, that I finally explored ways in which I might come to terms with my burns. If I could not accept myself, how could I possibly ask my students to accept themselves?
I searched for soothing words, and found them in the writing of women such as Naomi Wolf, who wrote in The Beauty Myth:
We don’t need to change our bodies, we need to change the rules.
In women such as Sofia Loren:
Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful.
And in the words of the young women I now taught:
I love how you wear your scars, Miss, you don’t let them wear you.
Words healed me. I did not have plastic surgery, and now as an adult I am not concerned about my scars at all. They make me feel strong and unique; they show the world I am a woman with a history of bravery. The power of words to heal is something we should all take to heart and remember in our relationships with the girls in our lives. Cosmetic and plastic surgery may appear to promise happiness and success, like we see on reality TV, but it can really only alter our bodies. It’s the words we use to talk about ourselves and one another that have the power to truly heal our souls, and to change lives.
This post is partly based on “The Battle Within”, in my book The Butterfly Effect (Random House Australia).