THE BLOG
09/18/2014 10:45 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

Why Magazines Are Failing My Daughter

Joanna Hyatt

The Time Warner customer service agent told me the store would open at 8:30 a.m. When I arrived at 8:40 a.m. with my toddler in hand, only to find the doors locked until 9 a.m., I panicked.

Toddlers do not wait patiently. Especially not for 20 minutes outside of closed strip malls. Normally I have enough toys and snacks in my purse to entertain a whole preschool, but today I had left in too much of a hurry. Thankfully, the CVS across the parking lot was open and guaranteed to have plenty of bright, shiny objects for her to pull down.

Thinking we would hit a double win for both of us, I headed towards the magazine aisle. She would be in awe of the glossy covers, which would buy me time to read an article or two. But rather than a relaxing meander, I had to fight the urge to grab my daughter and run out.

Never have I faced a wall of magazines while holding my wide-eyed 14-month-old. My 14-month-old who watches carefully what people do and say, and then does her best to mimic them. My daughter whose very perception of herself and others, whose identity and understanding of women is in the very beginning stages of being shaped.

This was not my first time seeing magazines. I was not raised in a mountain commune with only sheep and goats for friends. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of women who have flipped through magazines in the grocery store aisle for the latest celebrity gossip, or bought a copy to try and get some much-needed fashion insight.

I know how to read these magazines and glean out the half-truths, reminding myself that most women do not look like this, or that the way to gain respect and attention does not begin and end with my clothes on the bedroom floor.

But my daughter doesn't. Not yet, at least. As I watched her tiny hands reach out for the covers clad with barely dressed women, headlines screaming how to get men, give sex, and keep the attention, I felt my skin crawl.

Every few years you see a surge of anti-bullying campaigns, efforts to empower young girls by banning negative words like "bossy," and a renewed focus on more female-positive messages and policy in the public arena. But those efforts are going to constantly be undermined when the majority of mainstream media, from music to magazines, continues to promote a message to our girls that primarily focuses on body image and sex appeal. Messages that end up hurting rather than helping.

Author Jean Kilbourne points out that in studies by both Stanford and the University of Massachusetts, 70 percent of college women felt worse about themselves after looking at magazines. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 40-60 percent of elementary school girls (6-12 year olds) are concerned about their weight or becoming too fat. Of those who read magazines, 69 percent of these elementary girls say that pictures influence their understanding of the ideal body shape, while 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight.

Is it any surprise then that every time Dove does another campaign on embracing one's natural beauty, it goes viral in minutes, with women everywhere nodding in agreement and breathing a sigh of relief?

I want more for my daughter.

I want her to grow up being judged by her character, not the length of her skirt. To find her worth in being a woman of integrity, compassion and intellect, rather than find her value in how well she can please a man in bed.

To be driven to serve others, inspired by a cause bigger than herself and motivated to become the best version of herself, rather than merely aiming to catch another's eye or pouring herself into the pursuit of physical perfection.

I want my daughter to be confident in her sexuality, to understand that while it is an important aspect of her identity, sexuality is not the only, or even the most important, component of who she is as a woman. I want her to discern that the height of female empowerment is not near-naked dancing on public television, but in confidently embracing and living out what she uniquely brings to the world as a woman, in mind, body, and soul.

It is a sentiment I hear echoed time and again by other moms and dads, whether they be friends we meet on playdates or voices I read online. But while we would like to completely place the blame for failed messaging about women at the feet of the media, the reality is that we have to accept some of it as well.

If women are consistently portrayed as tiny photoshopped versions of their real selves, or if the focus is primarily on developing our appearance and sex appeal, with little regard for other aspects of what make up a woman, than the fault is partly with you and me. Our buying choices speak volumes about what actually matters to us. Ranting on blogs and to friends is never going to bring about change if we continue to purchase and consume content that is the very thing we decry. If I want to actually see a transformation in what is promoted to women, then I need to make that message clear in the way I spend my money and the organizations I support.

That is why on my coffee table right now, I have copies of magazines that proudly use female models of all sizes, dressed tastefully in fashion forward outfits that still emphasize them as women without reducing them to the sum of their sex appeal. Darling Magazine and Verily Magazine are just two of the handful of magazines currently working to promote a different, better, more holistic message, one that encourages a woman to be the best version of herself rather than a cheap one-dimensional imitation of a false reality. This fall, Darling Magazine launched a campaign encouraging women to proudly share with the world images of their real self, using the hashtag #realnotretouched.

My daughter's view of herself and her place in this world will first be shaped at home. But the world she encounters online, in television, print and music will also have an influence on her perception of self and others. What we choose to promote with our purchases today will shape the messages she and other daughters will hear years down the road.