As a mother to a daughter – albeit a three year old daughter – I am already worried about what her future holds. Girls everywhere are suffering from crippling self-esteem issues – they are haunted by negativity surrounding body, sex and relationships brought upon them by media and peer pressure. It’s clear that we need to empower girls to love themselves again. But how?
Cue the inspiring Beautiful Project – and the book from which it is born, Beautiful – to burst into our lives with the sole mission of transforming the lives of young women across the globe by empowering them to love themselves and speak their truths. Today I am honoured to interview Naomi Katz, Director and Founder of Beautiful Project and author of Beautiful: Being an Empowered Young Woman to get to the bottom of exactly that.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing girls and young women today?
We are living in a time where women’s beauty is a treated as a commodity. Women are being objectified and sexualized in ways that have a very significant impact on self-esteem and the ability of each of us to value her own voice.
Furthermore, today women enjoy opportunities that my grandmothers probably never dreamed would be possible for women. However with that, we have lost the value in the difference that defines men and women. We have forgotten to celebrate that which makes us unique as women; we have learned, at least for the past two generations, that being equal means being the same.
As a result, we have fallen short in the way that we educate girls, particularly about beauty and sexuality. We need to focus on giving girls specific tools and skills to support them as they define themselves as adults.
And what, in their hearts, are they really and truly worried about?
Too often, young women are deeply concerned with fitting in, being accepted by their peers. I think this is true for all of us, but in my experience, these feelings are especially strong in adolescence, and are intensified by the culture of objectification and sexualization.
One of my greatest fears for girls and young women is the impact of social media – how serious is this?
The impact of social media on girls cannot be overstated.
It is really hard to live in a world that is so heavily based on images, ones that often do not reflect who we truly are. And then we judge these images – and measure our popularity by how many likes we have. The culture of sexualization and judgement is cruel and teaches girls to behave in ways that often make them uncomfortable. How can we expect girls to feel good about themselves when they feel like they have to be something they are not, to be sexual even if they aren’t ready? And this only adds to an already existing energy of competition that is naturally present among adolescent girls.
When I was young, I, like many girls, dealt with difficult social dynamics among my circle of friends. This is simply a part of adolescence, and because of girls’ innate social intelligence, these difficult dynamics often include painful manipulations and exclusion. It’s important to rest from these kinds of tensions. When I was in middle school and high school, I would come home at the end of the day and I would have a break from social stress. This break simply does not exist anymore. The invention of smartphones has led to constant engagement with social media, which, for adolescents means constant coping with social stresses and the pressure to fit in.
Additionally, it is so difficult for all of us – especially youth – to remember that what we see on another person’s profile isn’t the whole picture of their lives. The contribution social media has made to girls’ self-objectification and their confusion about this – thinking that it empowers them – is shocking. Again, the impact of social media on self confidence cannot be overestimated.
In terms of girls and body image, what can parents do to help?
Consider – how do we talk about our bodies? How do we talk about ourselves? The language we use has great power. It is really useful to be honest and clear with our youth about how the media impacts the way all of us see ourselves, and to remind them that we decide for ourselves how to define beauty – and that it is something we each carry inside ourselves. It is equally important for us to find a place of peace – each of us within ourselves – and accept our bodies. This will have a direct impact on our youth.
The way we feel at home has a huge impact on the way we feel about ourselves. When we feel safe, we feel comfortable and can express ourselves. When we feel loved, we learn to love ourselves.
On the flip side, when we feel judged, we learn to judge ourselves. Our children need encouragement and support to help them cultivate their self-confidence. At the same time, boundaries help them understand their own limits – an awareness they need in order to navigate complicated adolescent relationships and develop meaningful friendships that will nourish them.
What is absolutely vital in raising girls and young women with strong self esteem? And what changes does society need to make to ensure this happens?
We are all together in this mission of raising the next generation. We are all responsible for the health and well-being of all the children growing up today. When we model self esteem, we have a huge impact on anyone who sees us, especially kids. When we express love and compassion, we impact all those around us. When we all take on the responsibility of collectively educating our children, we create a society where all children feel empowered, because they understand that they are important.
In terms of peer pressure, it seems worse than ever – what can we do to help girls caught up in this?
As is true for all of us, when we feel good about ourselves, we are less concerned with how others see us. For young people, this means that they are also able to maintain clarity when they make decisions and are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure.
It is really important to talk to our girls about decision-making, and particularly with regard to honoring themselves in sexual situations. When girls feel strong in themselves, they remember to honor their bodies, to expect respect from sexual partners, to speak their own needs. Maintaining an environment of openness and trust will allow girls to speak with elders about their own decisions.
In that vein, it is extremely important to help our girls connect with elders who are not simply their parents, especially women elders.
If there was only one thing you could say to a girl growing up in today’s world it would be….
Love yourself. This is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
And finally, all girls are beautiful because……
Beauty is a feeling that we carry inside ourselves. It’s up to us to cultivate this beauty and draw it out.
***Beautiful – Being An Empowered Young Woman is available on Amazon here.***
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