By Jess Radke
I don’t know about you, but when I flip past reality shows or skim a magazine, I often wonder how the orange-hued stars of Jersey Shore or wiry Cosmopolitan cover models represent reality. They look and act nothing like anyone I’ve met, yet they’re the beautiful people our society fixates over, parrots or parodies, and studies as popular culture phenomena.
Since March, Girl Scouts nationwide have been advocating behind the Healthy Media for Youth Act by working with U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin and other leaders from the entertainment, policy, business, and youth-serving communities to examine how beauty and fashion are presented via popular media. The Act will authorize grants to research the role and impact of depictions of females in the media, present diverse body images and positive female role models, promote media literacy and youth empowerment programs, and portray equal, healthy relationships between females and males.
The Girl Scout Research Institute found that 89 percent of teen girls say the fashion industry places a lot of pressure on them to be thin, and 60 percent compare their bodies to models. Thirty-one percent have starved themselves to lose weight, and 42 percent know someone that has forced themself to vomit after eating. These girls represent a coast-to-coast sample of real girls reacting to unrealistic media images that, between TV and the internet, is present for the average 8-18 year-old for 7½ hours every day.
Girls in our own communities are engaging in advocacy efforts and understanding the world of media portrayals and advertising techniques. Take Marguerite, high school senior and Girl Scout Ambassador who is working on her Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. In the spring, she will present to eighth grade girls about the pressures in high school surrounding body image, inner beauty and eating disorders. Marguerite explains her interest in the topic, “Before I entered high school, I was confident and secure. But my freshman year, everything changed- I had to be tiny. I’m doing this project because I wish someone was there to tell me, ‘You are better off if you realize you’re okay just being who you really are.’”
In a world full to the brim of contradictory, often unhealthy messages about beauty, the Healthy Media for Youth Act will strive to replace fashion models with role models and redefine beauty as we know it. Eleven year-old Girl Scout Junior Andrea said it best upon completing her ‘Are Ads Real?’ patch: “Inner beauty is more important than outer beauty because you can only do so much with your outer beauty. Inner beauty is all up to you.”