In the season finale of the VH1 show, The Price of Beauty, Jessica Simpson and her friends return to the United States to talk about beauty right here in our backyard.
In each of the seven countries, the trio discussed the pressure women experience to be beautiful and the lengths women will go too to obtain it--including plastic surgery, dangerous diets, skin treatments and altering their bodies.
The pressure couldn't have been more true or palpable at the L.A. high school Jessica visited. What did the high school girls reveal? It's no surprise that the main theme kept circling back to feeling "fat." The self esteem of these girls had been severely damaged by the desire and need to be thin. It reconfirmed how often we measure our self worth in pounds not deeds. We live in a world where:
• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
• 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).
Who wouldn't feel the pressure to be thin when the image of the body "ideal" they are growing up with is so skewed. See this ad by Dove called Onslaught. This video will make you think about how these images of beauty invade our consciousness and self-esteem.
We've seen a glimmer of hope that change might be on the horizon. Glamour and Elle Magazine both ran articles this month featuring "real" women. These two popular women's magazines are some of the first to take a step forward. The articles seem to reflect that media is finally catching on to what women may be wanting--to see more women with curves and diverse bodies shapes, not just the thin one. Could we see a change coming? Hopefully. Jessica has been a forerunner in this initiative. She recently received a lot of press for her cover on Marie Claire, which she did without makeup or photoshopping.
On the show, Ken (Jessica's friend and hairdresser) asked the high school girls to stand up and announce that they were beautiful. It was clearly uncomfortable and foreign to the girls to speak in such a positive and empowering way about themselves. What can you do if you know a high school girl who feels this way about herself? Take a peek at Operation Beautiful. It is a new initiative to help women turn around this self hate and teach them how to put an end to damaging "fat talk." In its place, Operation Beautiful hopes to see women tell themselves and others that they are beautiful.
The show ended on a positive and empowering note. Jessica announced the launch of "Beautiful Me." She describes her initiative as a way to "help youth believe in themselves and use their personal strength to change the world." It is a celebration of "individualism and positivity." She is planning self-esteem conferences that empower women to be confident about their appearance.
Helping women achieve this is going to be a challenge but is obviously well needed. There is so much in the world that tells girls (and boys) just the opposite about themselves.
So, what is beauty? After watching the eight episodes, it is clear that elements of beauty are unique to each culture. However, the overarching theme can be best be summed up like this. No matter where you live, beauty means being the best version of yourself--both inside and out.
Thank you to Jessica and the VH1 crew for helping us to see beauty from a new different perspective.
By Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Mindful Eating 101 and Eat, Drink & Be Mindful.