Girl Scouts embrace strong self-esteem

It isn’t easy being a girl. Everywhere a girl looks—from the TV screen to the magazine rack—she encounters images of women who seem to have achieved unattainable levels of physical perfection.

Most are unaware of how many representations of female beauty are false. 

In ad after ad and spread after spread, models are altered and airbrushed until their eyes sparkle, their skin is clearer, their teeth whiter, their cheekbones are more defined and their bodies are thinner.

Speaking of a recent Dior campaign, in which her cheekbones were hollowed and her body chiseled, “Hunger Games” actress Jennifer Lawrence was blunt. “That doesn’t look like me at all! Of course, it’s Photoshop. People don’t look like that.”

Often the digital transformation is even more dramatic. In one infamous advertisement for Ralph Lauren jeans, a model was slimmed until her head appeared wider than her waist.

Think there’s nothing wrong with a little show business illusion? Think again.

Many girls are discouraged by picture-perfect media images or, worse, inspired to go to unhealthy lengths to achieve a similar look.

According to a recent study, 53 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies by age 13. That number increases to 78 percent by the time they reach 17.

Shrinking self-esteem is the polar opposite of the Girl Scouts’ aim of building “girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.”

 Focusing on the goal of fostering confidence, the local Girl Scout Troop 5364, whose members are 12 and 13, has undertaken a media literacy project. The purpose of their project, dubbed “Don’t Let the Media Mask Who You Are,” was to emphasize the fakeness of the depiction of women in media and acknowledge that it makes girls feel bad.

On Tuesday, the seven members of the troop—many of whom have scouted together for years—posed in front of a brick handball wall on the Sycamore school blacktop. The girls used pictures of flawlessly gorgeous women, ripped from the pages of magazines, to obscure their faces while a photographer snapped pictures. In other photographs, the magazine page was held lower to showcase the girls’ uncomfortable demeanor.

Seventh grader Emily Pocock admitted that altered photographs create expectations that make her feel self-conscious: “You have to have perfect hair, perfect eyes, a perfect nose, be thin.”

“But not too skinny, or they’ll call you anorexic,” added fellow troop member Bella Hubbard.

Emily posed with a retouched photograph of Ms. Lawrence obscuring her face, while Bella masked herself with an image of a brunette with chiseled cheeks, preternaturally shiny hair and large, pouting lips.

Along with Sumner teacher Tina Mann, Kimberly Jackson-Pocock serves as co-leader of the troop. It includes two of her daughters, Emily and her sixth grade sister Courtney.

Ms. Jackson-Pocock believes that the marketing of female “perfection” to an increasingly younger audience is psychologically motivated; as long as girls and women are dissatisfied with their appearance, they are likely to spring for a product to help “fix” their looks.

“I think it’s inevitable,” Ms. Jackson-Pocock said of the ill effects of the  media onslaught. “All we can do is try to counter it with these kinds of projects.”

Troop member Sarah Kuriyama has witnessed the kind of self-loathing that can result when a girl compares herself unfavorably to an impossible ideal.

“I have a friend that’s like that,” she said. “She struggles with her weight a little bit, but I think she’s fine the way she is.”

Sarah’s mom, Sharon Goto—who makes it a point to avoid bringing beauty and celebrity magazines into her house—said she is glad her daughter is participating in the media literacy project.

“You see the pressure on girls, even though you try to provide a safe home environment,” she said. “This is the perfect time to do this, because you really see it coming on in middle school.”

Sycamore photographer Lara Jenkins was on hand to snap shots of the girls “masked” by stunning models and actresses. As the mother of a 12-year-old stepdaughter and a one-year-old daughter, Ms. Jenkins feels girls need to be inoculated with education and confidence to hold on to their self-esteem.

“Everything is Photoshopped to ridiculous proportions,” she said.

Ms. Jenkins tries to be positive about her own self-image in order to model healthy behaviors for her daughters. She goes to Weight Watchers, but emphasizes that her desire to lose some weight “is not about being skinny. It’s about being healthy.”

After the initial lesson in media falseness, the girls headed over to Memorial Park for a photo shoot that reflected their authentic selves. They put on an outfit that made them feel great and grabbed an artifact that made them feel happy and proud. They then posed at the park’s most popular “climbing tree.”

Sarah has taken violin lessons since she was 4 and plays with both the El Roble Orchestra and the Intermezzo CYMO Orchestra. She proudly lifted her violin for her feel-good portrait.

Lily Wolf carried a book full of drawings, including an evocative portrait of a serene-looking woman. She is largely self-taught, Lily said, but she sometimes watches YouTube tutorials to help further her craft. Two girls held soccer balls and another hoisted a volleyball.  And as the photographer turned her lens on Bella, the girl held up a copy of her latest page-turner, The Book Thief.

“I really love to read,” she said. “Say your friends are all busy, and you can’t talk to people. You always have a book with you. It lets you go into a separate world and imagine all kinds of things.”

—Sarah Torribio



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