When I first heard about Bloomberg’s latest public health campaign to help boost the self-esteem of girls bombarded with images of unfair beauty standards, I was both surprised and curious.
Despite Bloomberg’s polarizing stance on the soda ban and many other proposed plans to change the quality of life for New Yorkers, I am continually impressed with the diverse ways the mayor’s office is challenging many of the social norms that have repeatedly been harmful to both our emotional and physical well-being.
This makes my opinion pretty unpopular around the dinner table when politics comes up in discussions.
But I won’t apologize for being openly proud of the way our city government has made the attempt (albeit, not always successfully), to put messages out there that challenge the status quo.
In the “I’m a Girl; I’m Beautiful the Way I Am” campaign, various ads feature images of young girls from diverse backgrounds celebrating being exactly that; unique girls of different shapes and sizes who can be “creative, leaders, sporty, adventurous, smart and strong.”
In a recent NYTimes article analyzing the initiative, the goals of this campaign coupled with a program offering physical fitness classes to young girls are discussed;
Mainly through bus and subway ads, the campaign aims to reach girls from about 7 to 12 years old, who are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying. But unlike Mr. Bloomberg’s ads to combat teenage pregnancy, smoking and soda-drinking, which are often ugly, revolting or sad, these ads are uniformly upbeat and positive.
There have been similar programs initiated by various organizations over the years that work with young women to transform their ideas about beauty standards in our society, however, New York City officials claim that this is the first attempt made by a major city to have the conversation on such a large platform.
It’s early yet and it’s difficult to measure the success of these advertisements in changing often difficult opinions about body image and beauty that are often engrained early on through environmental cues. Early testing, however, shows the response to these ads has been positive.
In a recent interview with Lean In, “I’m a Girl” campaign creator, Samantha Levine shared some of the reactions from focus groups:
We did focus groups with two groups of seven to nine-year-olds and two groups of 10-12-year-olds to see what would resonate. They loved it. Some girls said, “Wow, that makes me think that it’s okay to be dirty, not dress up all of the time, not wear makeup and go have fun and still be considered beautiful and still be confident in who I am.” That was really rewarding to see that it was resonating the way we wanted it to.
Unlike obesity or diabetes, body image dysmorphia and eating disorders are often undiagnosed or remain unreported, making a large-scale plan to change the trend difficult to coordinate, let alone implement.
How many of you have made a disparaging remark about your body or about other women’s bodies? How often do you compare yourselves to images you see around you? How many times has this played a role in your diet and how you approach food?
Whether we realize it or not, we often make associations between our bodies and our self-worth which can lead us down a dangerous path. I’ve been down that road myself and it’s something I continue to struggle with as an adult.
Another campaign targeting Latina women also recently launched under the name Girl Body Pride, by Latina magazine columnist, Pauline Campos. Her website provides an open forum where women can share their stories about body image, eating disorders, mental illness, and raising daughters with a healthier outlook about their bodies and appearance.
The significance of these new initiatives will have the greatest impact on minority communities that often overlook eating disorders and body image issues as being a ‘white girl’ problem, a bias that I’ve experienced firsthand and left me feeling confused for a long time.
I can’t help but wonder what my adolescence would have been like if these programs were available. I was lucky to have resources in college to help guide me through some of my more difficult years while also giving me an outlet to share that with others. And I can’t give enough credit to this blog for providing me with a space to continue working on my relationship with food and self-image.
My stance has always been to emphasize the importance of dialogue and balance. The efforts made by NYC officials to encourage positive body image on a city-wide level sends out the message that this is an issue affecting everyone, not just certain parts of the population.
Regardless of how effective these ads are at curbing eating disorders or promoting physical activity amongst younger girls, I believe that it’s a powerful statement to those who see these images each day. At the very least, it’s an alternative to the overwhelming deluge of images on our phones, tablets, and magazines that continually perpetuate unattainable beauty ideals.
What are your thoughts about the “I’m a Girl” campaign? Would you want to see this in your city or country?
Do you think women continue to spend too much time thinking about their appearance?
What do you think is the best way to boost body image for younger girls?
Please share your comments and/or stories below. I’d love to hear what you have to say!