A few weeks ago, at Thanksgiving dinner, my 10 year old cousin reached for a mini carrot cake cupcake (completed with a luscious cream cheese frosting). But the status of her trajectory remained incomplete, as her hand hoovered over the plate of treats, my sweet, quiet, and shy cousin uttered her longest string of words of the night, “I can’t eat this, I am getting fat.”
My cousin is 10. She is taller than average for her age, her body weight and composition is at a healthy level, and she looks great in black pants covered in printed rainbow hearts. But despite this, at her young age, she is already worried about her weight and her physical image.
And then over dinner with a few girlfriends, the topic of body image surfaced. I brought up my cousin’s reaction to the cupcakes and how alarming it is that girls are pressured to look a certain way from a young age. In conjunction, we approached how the industry recently applauded a food manufacturing brand for launching an advertising campaign to rebrand with a message of self-empowerment. With the last bites of our burgers and rice bowls lingering on the table, the conversation took a turn, why is it that society and media is so focused on the physical image of a girl and not what a girl has done or is capable of doing.
My friend Sarah is in law school, she can run a 800 much faster than I will ever attempt, and she has the ability to make me laugh till my sides ache even if I’m feeling down. Despite the fact Sarah can do all this I’ve introduced her to friends with the following: Sarah is beautiful, and she’s smart. Somehow, despite all that Sarah can do, the way she looks has been prioritized ahead of what she can do. What kind of message have I been sending with such an introduction?
Last month Mattel launched a new piece of creative showcasing how Barbie “encourage[s] girls on their journey to self-discovery”. The commercial, titled Imagine the Possibilities, is powerful. This creative captures young girls dreaming big and making an impact. This contrasts with the commercials of my youth where Barbie and friends merely spent the days shopping and driving around in pink convertibles with the sole goal of looking glamourous. When you play with the little Lego men you imagine them as building forts, strategizing battle plans, and developing new innovations for the village (my little Lego men never wished for hair transplants)- the imagination behind this toy set is captured in propelling actions. And this new Barbie campaign encourages girls to do the same – to imagine the possibilities of the future.
Because you know what, Sarah is smart and beautiful.