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The Girls' Guide to Life
Excerpted from The Girls' Guide to Life: How to Take Charge of the Issues That Affect YOU (Little, Brown, 1997), by Catherine Dee.
Copyright © 1997 Catherine Dee.

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Beauty News

If beauty is not defined by what you see in ads, what is it defined by? The truth is that beauty is subjective -- people in different parts of the world have different opinions on what is attractive.

According to Elaine Hatfield and Susan Sprecher, authors of Mirror, Mirror...The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life, "People in different cultures do not even agree on which features are important, much less what is good-looking and what is not." In Africa, for instance, large lips are considered attractive, so the girls in a certain tribe insert wooden disks in their lips to accentuate the shape. Among the Padaung women of Burma, long necks are considered beautiful, so girls wear stacks of heavy brass or iron rings as necklaces to stretch the skin and vertebrae.

In addition, beauty ideals have fluctuated over time. For example, in some parts of the world centuries ago, heavy people were considered most attractive. Why? Food was scarce, and overweight people were obviously well off, while thin people were seen as malnourished and poor.

The ancient Chinese believed that small female feet were superior to large feet and a sign of high class. This led to a custom (albeit cruel and painful) of binding the feet of infant girls to prevent them from growing.

In the United States during the 1920s, it was fashionable to have small hips, but in the 1950s, a more voluptuous look was in style.

As you can see, attractiveness is not easily or even consistently definable.

OK, you're probably thinking, so beauty is subjective. But right now, how do I change the way I feel about my face, hair, or body? You may not love everything about your appearance, and that's fine -- neither do most people. There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward each day through such tactics as wearing flattering clothes or putting on makeup. Just remember that your true attractiveness does not stem from the sum of your measurements.

Focus on expressing the wonderful person you are, undertaking the exciting activities you want to pursue, and experiencing what brings you joy. Ironically, once you are engaged in your life and no longer worried about how you rate according to superficial beauty standards, people will notice your inner radiance and think of you as beautiful.

Girls Go After the Ads

A group of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade girls participating in a Girl Scouts-Illinois Crossroads program called Making Choices protested companies' sexist or degrading ads. The girls looked at magazines and pulled out ads they found offensive, then formed groups and wrote letters telling the companies why. They won an award from the Media Action Alliance for their efforts. Here are a some of the ads they chose and what they wrote:

Company: Lipton
Product: Tea
Ad image: Woman getting a massage
Girls' response: A woman's naked body should not be used to sell your product. What does this have to do with tea? Men also drink tea--why don't you show a naked man? We would like to see a clothed, professional woman in a powerful role promoting the product. We choose not to buy Lipton tea, and we are surprised that you would stoop to this level.

Company: Buffalo
Product: Shoes
Ad images: Young, scantily clad woman sitting on old man's lap in little-girl pose Girls' response: We object to your ads showing women in sexual poses, especially the one of the young woman sitting on the old man's lap. We want to see women shown in a positive manner, standing up and projecting strong self-esteem. We want you to change your ads or we will tell our families and friends to not buy your products.

Company: Boucheron
Product: Perfume
Ad images: Nude woman from the back with her hands bound at the wrists
Girls' response: We object to your showing a naked woman with her hands tied behind her back. We want to see a complete woman, including her face. How about showing the product you are selling? We choose not to buy your product until you change your ads. We look forward to hearing from you.

Company: Pepe Jeans
Product: Jeans
Images: Couple lying on couch; woman who looks like a mannequin
Girls' response: We don't like the way you show women in your ads in a disrespectful way. You show a man controlling a woman and a woman who doesn't seem to care what happens to her. We want to see the jeans! We also want to see all varieties of women...all shapes and sizes. Better role models are very important. If you don't change your ads, we won't buy your product. We also plan on telling our friends and families.

Excerpted from The Girls' Guide to Life: How to Take Charge of the Issues That Affect YOU (Little, Brown, 1997), by Catherine Dee. Copyright © 1997 Catherine Dee.

Check out Catherine Dee's website at www.empowergirls.com


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