How to protect our girls from our overly sexualised society
I honestly don’t know where to begin with this blog post. To say it’s a subject that’s been going through my mind for a while is an understatement – in my blog post drafts I have one entitled “My 5 year old does sexy dancing”… well my 5 year old is now 9 years old, and the over-sexualisation of girls seems to be getting worse.
Now anyone who knows me will tell you I’m no prude and I’m far from whiter than white, but when girls as young as 5 are doing sexy dancing, and when your 6 year old tells you that you have to be skinny to be pretty you know that there is something wrong with society.
I realised it wasn’t just me or a London thing (where we lived for 5 years until very recently) when I read Leonie Dawson’s illustrated notes from a Steve Bidulph lecture, and subsequently read Steve’s book, Raising Girls. Both of which I highly recommend to any parents of girls.
When you see that marketers are now actively targeting 8 year old girls, and spelling out to them that skinny and pretty = good and popular and successful and what they should be striving for, you begin to understand where L (our 9 year old) gets her information from.
As a family we don’t read / buy newspapers or magazines so those publications, with their often unsuitable photos, are not lying around for L to see. We don’t watch much “real” TV i.e. our girls mostly watch episodes or films of things they like rather than watching a channel with its adverts.
Despite all of the above L from 5 years old was coming home from school and doing sexy dancing that she’d copied from other girls in the playground, and at 6 year old telling me she needed to be skinnier, which quite frankly freaked the crap out of me!
I naively thought that by not being exposed to Photoshopped pictures of celebrities and negative reality TV messages, that our girls might be saved from over sexualisation and objectification in the media. Think I was wrong 🙁
Young girls are being taught that looks are everything, that your body is your most important bargaining chip and that sex is for trading in exchange for money or power. And it scares the crap out of me.
Add to that social media and I want to lock my girls up in a hermit cave until they’re 30!
Our local book club recently read Asking for it, which explores teen girls and social media, the pressure to be skinny and beautiful, the importance of only every looking perfect in social media photos and the pressures around sex. And quite frankly it’s terrifying.
Traditional media (including TV) drives home some horrific messages to our girls, and then social media takes it to a personal level.
So it’s up to us to make a change and to protect our girls.
Last year when we still lived in London and L was 8 she would come home from school and talk about the pressure to have a boyfriend, because everyone in her class had one. She would try on a new outfit and say things like “Ooh, I look skinny in this!” She was already very aware of her body as being something to cover up (very strange for me as we’re not bashful about our bodies at home). She would talk about comparing the girls at her school on how pretty or skinny they were. Nothing about how clever or sporty they might be.
It made me so sad.
Whilst wanting to protect our girls was not on our list of reasons to move to Mauritius at the end of last year, it has been a massive unexpected bonus.
The girl who a few months ago would cover up in front of us at home to get changed is now jumping into our swimming pool naked, in the same way her 3 year old sister does – because it’s quicker and easier and why wouldn’t you?!?
The girl who was afraid to talk about friends who were boys in case people thought they were her boyfriend now frequently has playdates with boys, in exactly the same way as she does with girls, and gender just doesn’t come into it anymore.
I was chatting to a mum about it here in Mauritius recently and I said I felt like we’d turned the clock back to when she was younger. But in fact it’s better than that, I feel like she’s gone back to the actual childhood I had in the 80s, where weight and looks weren’t even a subject of conversation in primary school, let alone an issue.
Now L only talks about her body to talk about the importance of being strong so she can get better at Voltige (vaulting AKA gymnastics on a horse).
I don’t want this to sound like Mauritius is great and London is evil. It’s not that at all. In fact we were able to live in a lovely area in London and L went to a great school, the kids there were just reflecting what they see and hear around them (which it’s pretty hard to escape from).
I think the difference here is that there is very little media, so L doesn’t see any dodgy photos on shelves of supermarkets when we go shopping. Kids watch far less TV because the weather is nicer so they’re out being active all the time, and the TV they do watch tends to be episodes or films with no adverts.
Also because the kids do a lot of sport here 1) it means weight is no longer an issue and 2) they’re more interested in getting better at their sport rather than being skinny.
I am so grateful we are able to live in an area where we can protect our girls from this society that wants to turn them into young women before they’ve even left primary school. But what do you do if that’s not an option?
When we were in London I consciously never mentioned weight or diets, even if I’d put on weight I would be careful not to talk about it in front of our girls.
I also made a conscious effort to talk to L about school, relationships, what was being said/done at school and puberty/changing bodies/sex. A lot of people tell me it’s too early to talk to a child about sex but the way I see it I want her to get her information from me and not the playground. I want her to know what is right and normal vs what she can and should stand up and say “no” to.
So what can we do to protect our girls?
- Surround them with positive female role models.
- Talk to them openly and honestly but listen too, they’ll need that channel of communication for when life gets harder for them, which it will before it gets easier.
- Be positive role models ourselves – eat well-balanced meals with them instead of letting them witness us dieting, do sport with them or show them what we do to stay fit.
- Try not to put other people down in front of them. How often do you say/hear people say things like “ooh did you see how much weight Clare’s put on? No wonder her husband had an affair!’ Or “How did Jane manage to get a gorgeous bloke like John? He could do so much better!” And so on and so forth. I’m no angel here as I’m sure I’ve said things like this before that I shouldn’t have done, but imagine hearing comments like these as a 9 year old. No wonder they think looks, weight and sex are everything.
- Build up their self-confidence so that they can stand up to bullying, whether it’s online or face-to-face. Let’s face it, girls are the biggest bitches – boys will fight it out, but girls can be really nasty. So we need to give them the tools and weapons to be strong.
- Congratulate them on sporting achievements but also intellectual ones too.
- Don’t talk to them about their weight. Some people would also say don’t talk to them about their looks but I really struggle with this one. So I say don’t just talk to them about their looks. For example say “Hello Beautiful, I’m so proud of how well you did in your spelling test” or “You look so pretty in that dress, my clever and pretty girl!” Whilst I love it when Hubs congratulates me on a ‘brain’ thing I don’t want him to stop telling me he thinks I’m beautiful too!
Whilst the current situation surrounding the over sexualisation and objectification of our girls still terrifies me I feel confident that if we all work together, as parents, to protect our girls that we can turn this thing around and give them the childhood they want and deserve.
I’m going to run a free webinar soon and it will be for you if any of the following applies to you:
- you struggle to make decisions
- you’re afraid of change
- you don’t know which risks to take and which to avoid
- you have fears around all of this (fear of making the wrong decision, fear of change, fear of other people’s opinions of the decisions you make, fear of failure etc).
A little bit of background for those who don’t know me…
10 years ago I had just moved into my forever home, which we’d seen go from architect’s plans to our family home, I was pregnant with my first child, and in a good, well-paid job. In the last decade we have sold the forever home, moved country twice (including to one where we know no one and have never visited, in Africa), I have given up two good, well-paid jobs to set up on my own and known failure and success.
I get emails from you, my lovely readers, every day asking me how I / we made those decisions, and asking for advice. So I thought I’d share how I’ve done it, the thought processes I go through and more. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in please drop me a line with your time zone and what time/day would suit you: FranglaiseMummy@gmail.com