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Terry O'Neill

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Do You Love What You See When You Look in the Mirror?

Posted: 10/20/10 01:25 PM ET

Today, October 20, is NOW's Love Your Body Day.

Since 1998, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the NOW Foundation and NOW chapters around the country have organized events in local communities, on college campuses and in schools to demand change. To the fashion, beauty, diet and advertising industries, we say: No more fake images. Show us real women -- whole human beings who are as beautiful as they are diverse and as strong as they are beautiful.

We're facing nothing less than a public health crisis over body image. Consider the facts:

  • 50% of 3 to 6 year old girls worry about being fat.
  • 80% of girls have tried a fad diet by the time they're in the fourth grade.
  • 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

Hollywood and the fashion, cosmetics and diet industries work hard to make each of us believe that our bodies are unacceptable and need constant improvement. Print ads and television commercials reduce us to body parts -- lips, legs, breasts -- airbrushed and touched up to meet impossible standards. TV shows tell women and teenage girls that cosmetic surgery is good for self-esteem. Is it any wonder that 80% of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance?

Women and girls spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetics, fashion, magazines and diet aids. But these industries can't use negative images to sell their products without our assistance.

Together, we can fight back.

Jean Kilbourne, whose pioneering work on the image of women in advertising has been the subject of several best-selling and award-winning books and documentaries, says in her film Killing Us Softly:

The first thing advertisers do is surround us with images of ideal female beauty. Women learn from a very early age that we must spend enormous amounts of time, energy and above all, money striving to achieve this look, and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable, because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness.

Women and girls are constantly bombarded with these artificial images -- fantasies they can't possibly live up to in real life.

This Photoshopping of models and celebrities has really gotten out of hand. Self magazine felt the need to digitally slenderize singer Kelly Clarkson before putting her on the cover of its "total body confidence" issue, even though Clarkson has said that she is comfortable with herself just the way she is. Model Filippa Hamilton revealed that she was fired by Ralph Lauren for being too big, despite being a size four. Hamilton is the same model who appeared in a Ralph Lauren ad that was so aggressively retouched that she appeared emaciated and completely out of proportion.

If models can't catch a break, how can the rest of us hope to have a healthy self-image? Starting at younger and younger ages, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and a preoccupation with appearance plague women and girls, sometimes with disastrous results.

"In my teenage years, I was hospitalized for anorexia," says eating disorder survivor and NOW Action Vice President Erin Matson. "I remember a fellow patient winning a modeling contest while she was on a pass from the hospital. The only way to end the glorification of unhealthy beauty stereotypes is to stand up proudly for real women's bodies."

This is a message that resonates among girls and women of all ages and backgrounds. It can be shocking to see a girl whose self-image and feeling of self-worth were strong at age 8 or 9 become victimized by advertising's and the media's negative message at 11 or 12. That's one of the reasons that the NOW Foundation hosts an annual poster contest to celebrate our Love Your Body Campaign. Prize categories include elementary and middle school entries, high school, college/graduate school and non-student submissions.

Here's a link to winning designs from this year and past years, and how to enter the 2011 competition.

You can support Love Your Body Day by sharing the Love Your Body campaign's Facebook cause, telling a friend or sending an e-card or by making a contribution.

And here's a list of other things you can do for Love Your Body Day.

Do you have some ideas of your own? Please put them in a comment on this post--I'd love to hear them. And to the women and girls who are targeted by messages telling them that the key to success and happiness is manufactured beauty, join me in saying: It's okay to "Be You" -- the true you is beautiful.


 

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