05/29/2014 12:21 pm ET Updated Jul 26, 2014

What's Wrong With Girls? Apparently Everything


Thoughtful parents everywhere are fighting to save their daughters from the cruelest of villainesses, Low Self-Esteem. And she's a formidable opponent no matter what protective parents do to disarm her. Why? Because from the time girls get their first Barbie dolls, the insidious message of what a sought-after woman looks like has infiltrated their sensibilities. And by the time Barbie drives her Glam Convertible up to her Dream House, the connection between having big boobs, an improbably small waist and kink-free blonde hair is intrinsically linked with achieving the "good life."

On a recent trip to Miami, I took conscious note of what young women are bombarded with regarding their physicality. One billboard hawked a special "feminine" soap for those with offensively smelly vaginas. Countless other ads touted quick weight loss products. Message? You're too fat. Other messages? You're too thin, too Black, too white, too hairy. Your underarms stink, your va-jay-jay is too dry and you need a tan. Your eyelashes aren't long enough and your teeth aren't white enough. Your breath stinks and your skin needs an unquantifiable amount of help and coverage. And let's not even get into the horror of menstruation.

Some young women in Miami were scantily dressed. And by scantily, I mean barely. And this wasn't on the beach. They were dressed for dinner. I understand that young people primp and preen to attract potential partners. And that by standing out in a crowd, an attractive, desirable partner will hopefully notice and choose to mate with you. That's just animal nature. But I had to wonder just who the desirable partners were these young women thought they would attract? I noticed a lot of 45-year-old men with their tired wives and gaggle of kids turn their heads. But is the goal to be validated by some already-taken old guy who wants a look up your micro mini? I have to hope not.

And, to make matters worse, ideal attractiveness is a moving target we can never hit. Small-busted or buxom? Big butt or tiny tush? Blonde or brunette? Brazilian or bush? Kate Moss or Kim Kardashian? And let's not forget that ubiquitous handful of supermodels -- paraded in a continuous loop in our psyches -- whose otherworldly physical attributes simply aren't attainable by mere mortal women.

For those in the aging crew, there's no end to the products designed to keep us looking younger. So, while we're encouraged to inject foreign inflatables into our faces, jam silicone into our bodies and endlessly attempt to diet and exercise ourselves back to our wedding day weight, we're simultaneously trying to convince our daughters to love themselves just the way they are.

I've heard smart, successful women talk about and to their daughters in ways more treacherous than they imagine. "You really shouldn't eat so much. Your thighs are getting fat," or "She's too short. I wish she'd gotten her height from her father's side." I've heard loving moms lament their daughters' hair color or texture, their skin tone, their baby fat. All the while berating themselves for crow's feet or no longer fitting into those Girbaud jeans from 1984. But moms aren't to blame. They grew up with the very same messages. And those messages never stop.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a pretty, blonde classmate when we were college seniors. Her post-graduation plan? "My father and I share the dream of me posing for Playboy one day." (Lord, please let me tell this story without angry rants about what an honor it is to be chosen by HH -- which may well be true for some but isn't germane here). The point is, this young woman's FATHER encouraged her to pose naked as a life's goal. Message? You tell me, but -- creepy factor aside -- I'm thinking something along the skewed lines of ultimate external validation.

It's tempting to remind parents of girls to watch their running commentary on women's clothes or hair or weight or beauty. But so many moms and dads are already out there fighting the good fight for their daughters' self-esteem. And so many young women already know the score. But, as far as we've come, there's so much further to go. An infinitesimal number of women will ever come close to the physical ideal du jour. So, isn't it best to put our efforts into what we do have to offer? For guidance, we should take a page from said supermodels' books. These women have figured out how to maximize their natural-born gifts, using them to create businesses and earn money. We need to help every girl we love do the same -- optimize her talents and shift her focus from the fruitless chase of someone else's unattainable dress size or pin-up fantasy. Whether her goal is professional sports, medical school, homemaking or posing for Playboy, let it come from one place only: within.