At a conference today there was a (wonderful) talk on Supporting Teenage Girls in a Media Saturated World. I left the talk flooded in emotion: enraged, disgusted, hopeful, sad, passionate.
We live a world where teenage girls and women are flooded with messages that tell them they aren’t okay. Their bodies aren’t good enough, they’re too emotional or crazy, they have to have a certain number of likes on their Instagram page to have good self-esteem…..its disgusting. It leads to unnecessary surgical procedures, suicidal tendencies, increased binge drinking, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
With the advent and popularization of the internet, teen’s first sexual experiences have moved from in person to from porn. This has a huge effect on their self-esteem and sexual practices. Everything gets shaved, breasts and butts are never big enough, waists are never small enough, and sexual preferences have turned from natural to prepubescent, which plays a huge part in the upswing of rape culture we have seen in recent years.
Plastic surgery is now marketed toward teens. Botox so you never get wrinkles in the first place. Butt implants so you look like that underwear model. Plastic surgery as a present from mom and dad when you graduate high school, cosmetic face changes so they don’t get made fun of.
Women also are constantly being told they are too emotional. Be more logical. You’re acting crazy. Why are you so sensitive? From the time we are teens we are told that it isn’t okay for us to connect with our emotions. I have seen this create so much shame, repression, outbursts, anxiety, and depression working with teens in practice, in my community, and even in myself.
We aren’t men. We wouldn’t want to be. The feminine plays an important role in our communities, bringing change, reducing stagnation, holding space and empathy, and caregiving. These are character traits of leaders, mothers, friends, strong women. We used to have an understanding of this. It’s time to bring it back.
It’s time we get together as a community and say no more. This isn’t okay. Enough of the plastic surgery ads targeting teens. Enough of porn as the first sexual encounter. Enough of us telling women they’re too emotional because they aren’t like men, enough of body shaming.
Here’s what we can do today.
· If you have a teenager, talk to them about body image. Be aware. Make sure that they have an adult they can trust (that you trust too) that they can talk to about these issues. Remind them not only that they are beautiful, but that they are intelligent, strong, hard-working, resourceful.
· Take a stand when you seen ads with plastic surgery targeting teens, lingerie for teens, teenage porn.
· If you’re a doctor or counselor, make it a part of your practice to talk to teens about image and bring them through visualization exercises, counseling, biofeedback, physical medicine, homeopathy, or any of the other tools you have in your toolbox to help.
· Watch yourself- none of us is perfect and in this world that is steeped in male culture, it’s the constant little comments and subtle images about women’s bodies, and women’s emotions that cause the most harm. Be respectful about women’s emotions and times when emotions are close to the surface, such as when a woman is on her moon or in pregnancy. This means you too, women! We need to be the example of how we want to be treated and perceived.
· Start a group for teens in your community that is a safe space to talk about these issues and heal. Shame only exists where there is a perception of being alone.
I believe that we are in the right time to make changes. I believe in the people that I am surrounded by in my physical and global communities. Belief isn’t enough though. Its for us to take action.