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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Beautiful Lies

Girls repeatedly hear messages they must be thin and sexy

By John W. Kennedy
Feb. 23, 2014

Parents face an uphill battle in fighting the cultural onslaught of messages to youth and children about the importance of being sexually alluring. And it’s not about to get better.

“Children today have a lot more pressure than previous generations,” says Nicole Clark, a former international model who later directed the documentary Cover Girl Culture. “Now it’s not just be thin and pretty, but also sexy. There is a cruel reality that girls are considered sexual objects and devalued as human beings.”

The young women who gain the most media exposure seem to do so by exposing more and more of their flesh: Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and others. The more outlandish the outfit or behavior, the more attention the scantily clad celebrities receive in the cyber world.

Kelly Morris, representative for Assemblies of God National Girls Ministries, says even bad publicity — going into rehab, being arrested for drug possession — doesn’t result in negative consequences for young celebrities, as long as they keep appealing to the media and public.

Preteen girls sometimes imitate notorious conduct because they believe it’s an avenue to fame, Morris says. Such “hotness” might involve sexting inappropriate pictures of themselves to boys or wearing see-through clothing that reveals undergarments.

“When girls see the attention celebrities — or even other girls in school — get, it makes them want to dress in the same provocative way,” Morris says.

Clark says the plethora of reality shows in which females dress skimpily, curse, and belittle others can fuel bad behavior among those who watch.

Yet the overall relentless theme girls ingest from hundreds of daily media images is that they aren’t beautiful enough, according to Jennifer Strickland, author of Beautiful Lies.

“When girls see airbrushed, computer-altered images of women, they are not seeing images that match what they see when they look in the mirror,” Strickland says. “Everything in those images makes the average girl feel like she is less than average.”

Strickland experienced this firsthand as a teenage model who traveled the world. At first, magazines coveted Strickland and she didn’t have a body image problem. But gradually, as fashion editors and photographers analyzed her every blemish and pound, Strickland subconsciously began to do the same.

“For me, it was a constant struggle trying to measure up to the standards of having a flat stomach, tanned toned legs, and perfect skin,” recalls Strickland, 41. “The idea planted in my head was I was only as valuable as the man standing in front of me on the other side of the camera thought.”

After college, Strickland hit the fashion runway. The only way to stay there, she discovered, involved being thinner than she should have been. By nearly starving herself she became emaciated, pale, weak — and suicidal.

While some teens struggle with anorexia or bulimia because of pressure to be thin, others respond in the opposite extreme and become obese. Either way, girls figure there is no hope to ever be thin or beautiful enough.

Even elementary-aged girls who feel they aren’t sufficiently pretty are susceptible to depression and self-harm, Clark says.

The issue of instilling biblical values is core to the mission of AG Girls Ministries, according to Morris.

“Girls today are growing up in a society that is constantly telling them they are not pretty enough, skinny enough, tan enough, tall enough,” Morris says. “We are here to tell girls they are enough, to be louder than all of the other voices.”

Of course not all pressure to appear youthful and sensual comes from media. Some mothers who have plastic surgery and Botox injections impart the subtle notion that their created bodies aren’t sufficient.

“When mothers become so self-focused, they teach their daughters that beauty is how much you weigh, what you wear, what you look like,” Strickland says. She says today’s mothers have undergone more cosmetic enhancements, reductions, lifts, and injections to improve their outward appearance than any generation before.

Rather than focusing on outward looks, Strickland urges parents to encourage their daughters’ talents. She also suggests fathers take their girls on dates to show how they should be treated respectfully: asking a daughter out in person, showing up on time, opening the car door for her, paying for the meal.

“When she has that example of being treated as a daughter of God, she will see the difference if she dates someone who doesn’t value her,” says Strickland, who carefully monitors the images her 12-year-old daughter posts on Instagram.

Morris, 32, says girls who want to be noticed and thus seek attention by wearing promiscuous attire may gain attention from guys, but not their respect. She says it boils down to having a strong sense of self-worth, which is usually conveyed by parents.

“If a girl is not secure in who she is in Christ, she will be searching for that approval from somewhere else,” Morris says. “A lot of times girls compare guys their age to their dad, and if Dad isn’t present, they go looking elsewhere.”

Clark, 41, the mother of a 3-month-old daughter, advises moms to project a strong self-esteem rather than vocalizing thoughts such as “I’m so fat” or “I wish I had her body.”

In addition, Clark recommends parents sincerely compliment their daughters as often as possible for who they are, not for how cute or gorgeous they are. Girls hear enough comments about their face or body from others, according to Clark, who conducts body-image and self-esteem workshops for girls at schools around the nation.

Morris urges mothers to help their daughters know how to dress modestly.

“There’s nothing wrong with being trendy or cute; girls don’t have to wear a tent,” Morris says. “But moms need to be an example themselves and not buy clothing that is too revealing.”

Mothers can best have the authority to speak into their daughters’ lives by having a solid relationship with them, not by lecturing them, Morris believes.

Strickland says mothers have a key role to play in teaching daughters that their beauty and purpose come from who they are in God’s eyes.

“It’s being a creation of God that gives them value, not their appearance, not their outfit, not other people,” Strickland says.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. He is concerned about the messages his three preschool-aged granddaughters already are receiving through the media.


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