Can we and should we protect our little girls’ self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.” ~ Unknown

I like this quote because it is both a humorous visual as well as a bit sobering. I think about self-esteem often as it relates to myself and my ability to notice even the slightest bit of girth as it sneaks onto my hips or the small lines that seem to be developing in my knees (cue the eeewwww knee wrinkles?!) and how much it bothers me. Silly, yes I know, but I too am influenced by society’s opinions of outward beauty. As a ripple effect, it affects what I might wear, or how I carry myself on a given day, thereby keeping my parking break on. When I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, it definitely makes it more difficult for me to put my best foot forward.

How society can define “beauty” for you was made abundantly clear to me when I was living in Japan, where I lived for 2 years after college. My my ex-husband and I lived there together, and by the middle of my second year there, I started to feel very down about my appearance which ultimately had little to do with him, and everything to do with me. It had nothing to do with my weight, or height, or fine lines, it all came down to the fact that I was not Japanese!

For 2 years I had seen images of beautiful Japanese girls with all the men around me talking about how pretty all the Japanese girls were. Billboard after billboard, soap stars, TV commercials, everywhere I looked pretty Japanese girls. I remember one night as JFS and I strolled the streets of Shibuya, I could tell he was also starting to find the Japanese women attractive, so after a couple of cocktails, I decided to ask him if he thought a particular Japanese celebrity on the billboard in front of us was attractive. There are so so so many reasons this was a bad idea all of which you can surmise, but the point is, I knew the answer and I had been deceived through my immersion into believing I was no longer attractive. It did not matter what was on the inside, at that point I cared about the outside.

After those 2 long years, I felt ugly.

When it comes to the concept in the context of my children, I am even more sensitive. While I think my babies are beautiful, it’s sort of a given since doesn’t every mother think their children are the cutest things ever? With Q I am not as worried, he seems to already have quite a good sense of himself as does E in her own way, but it is more her future that I worry about. I look at E and in my mind her outer package is beautiful and I am not afraid to tell her that. I also tell her she is so smart, and funny and strong, and pretty much every other compliment you can give a baby girl.

As the current debate swirls around the ever shrinking size of the models that grace the pages of our magazines or our television screens in commercials, I do worry about instilling in E that she is beautiful at any size, shape or color. That no matter what happens in her journey, her strength, smiles, and joyful heart make her lovely in eyes that go beyond mine. I want her to understand being healthy vs. skinny to be pretty and that you can be pretty even if you aren’t 5′ 10 and a 106 lbs.

In this concern, as a mother and a parent, I know I am not alone. Just last week I had a conversation with one of my best friends who was talking about body image. I have known her forever and like me she has struggled with her self-image and weight. In my time, I have had quite a few friends with eating disorders and once these thoughts plague you, they are very hard to get rid of. Yet, as she so poignantly said in our conversation, she now has to set an example for her 7 year old daughter. No matter what thoughts creep up in her head, she cannot let them get the better of her as she is now an example for her most precious gift.

In light of this state of affairs in our own society, I want to introduce you to Seth Matlins, from He and his wife Eva, are putting forth a unique Federal Legislation proposal,l which was first published in Huffington Post ( and again written about on (, to provide a disclaimer on US Advertisements, labeling if the photo has been photoshopped. I will let him tell you in his words, what inspired he and Eva, what their goal is, and if you are interested, what you can do to help. No matter where you net out in the argument, it’s inspiring to know that there are folks out there trying to ensure the next generation of girls will be able to hopefully love themselves for who they are and not how we are told we should look.

Shannon: How do you describe to those that aren’t aware of it?

Seth: is an online magazine for women, on a mission to make the world a happier place for women (and girls).
Among the first words on were these from Naomi Wolf, “the only thing harder than speaking your truth is not speaking it.” So we wanted to create a place where it was less hard to do that…and where you can comfortably (and anonymously if you want) share and get off your chest the feelings, stories, worries, whatever…that are keeping you from being happier and feeling better. We also hope it’s a place where you can be inspired, connect, and learn from other women’s stories. Our hope is that if you share your story, you’ll feel better and maybe also help change “her” story for the better.
There’s so much that can get in the way of any woman’s being truly, madly, deeply happy that we wanted to create a place where you could comfortably get off your chest whatever’s hating on your happy,where you can be comforted and inspired by other women’s stories, and where you could be your truest self, without having to worry about whether anyone else would know.
Shannon: What is the self-esteem act?
Seth: The Self-Esteem Act will be federal legislation that helps address the epidemic crisis of self-confidence and self-esteem among girls and women in the U.S. The numbers are horrifying…and no one’s really talking about them in the mainstream:
– 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner

– 51% of 9-10 year old girls feel better about themselves when they’re dieting

– 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies; by the time they’re 17, 78% of them will be

– By the time they’re 17, these girls have seen 250,000 TV commercials telling them they should be a decorative object, sex object or a body size they can never achieve (actually, Donna gave me this statistic, so no doubt you;re quite familiar.)

– 7 million girls and women under 25 suffer from eating disorders

– 80% of women feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty ad. $20B is spent on beauty marketing in the US annually. That’s a lot of money being spent making women feel worse about themselves.

The Self_esteem Act proposes that “Truth in Advertising” labels be put on any ad or editorial that’s meaningfully changed the human form through photoshopping or airbrushing. It’s not about judging those who photoshopped or who are photoshopped, it’s about clarity and truth and transparency. I’ll photoshop images of myself if given a chance. I’ll just say we did it!
If an ad or editorial takes off pounds, inches, years, or changes shapes, sizes and colors, you should be transparent about it and say as much. And if you don’t want to be transparent about it – maybe you shouldn’t do it to begin with.

Shannon: What inspired the self-esteem act?
Seth: The Self-Esteem Act was inspired by 3 things.
1. Our kids, and making sure they get to a grow up with the best chance of being the happiest versions of themselves they can be
2. The absence of mainstream conversation about the epidemic crisis of self-esteem we described above, and the numbers attached to them.
3. About 6 weeks ago in the U.K. a Member of Parliament took down a L’oreal campaign featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington, that in her opinions was so photoshopped it “provided an unrealistic expectation of what women should look like.” As we were writing that piece up as a news story for, it struck us that MP had a pretty good idea and for sure a great intention – protecting girls and women from misperception and misleading ads. So we wondered why nothing was being done here in the US, and decided we’d try to do it.

Shannon: What do you hope the effect will be?
Seth: We’re hoping 3 things come:
1. That we start to mainstream the conversation about what’s happening to our girls and women, and how they’re feeling about themselves
2. That the cause and effect relationship between popular culture and these feelings will become more apparent to the creators of popular culture (in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue), and that they’ll understand their responsibility and power – and then choose to be the heroes of this story. Because they can be.
3. That we pass federal legislation requiring “Truth in Advertising” labeling, so that when you look at a picture that bears little resemblance to its subject, you realize it’s a lot like watching Avatar…not real. As Cindy Crawford once said after seeing one of her own ads “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”
Shannon: How long do you think it will take to truly see a change in the way young girls feel about themselves?

Seth: It’s a great question, and the truth is, we’ve got no idea. What we do know is that the longer we wait the longer it will take, and the more girls that will be negatively affected.. And these girls grow up in to women and so many of them carry these stories and struggles throughout their lives. And too many of them pass these same struggles and stories on to their kids and it’s just such a vicious cycle.
Shannon: No change happens in isolation, what else do you think needs to happen to create the desired impact of the self-esteem act?
Seth: We all need to embrace our individual responsibility, and understand our collective responsibility. We have to understand, in our opinion, that we’re all in “this” together. These numbers rarely result from any one incident (though one thing said by the right per son in the wrong way can certainly have a lasting impact)…but from the cumulative effect of everything we see, hear, listen to, watch, read.
For Off Our Chests, we want Hollywood and Madison Avenue to realize their power to do amazing good, and use that power for same, and we want every woman and girl to realize her power to ignore what’s out there when it doesn’t feel right for her, and to always, always speak her truth.

Shannon: If you could wave a magic wand, what are 3 things you hope for your own daughter by the time decides to have her own children (if she does of course)?
Seth: That she understand, trust, and love herself enough to always speak her truth.
That she understand she is loved and valued wildly
That she be able to be the happiest version of herself – however she decides to define what that happiness is…whether or not includes having kids.
Oh, and that she always be nice to her father.
Shannon: How can people support you in putting the self-esteem act into action?

They can begin using the power of their social networks (on-line and off) to talk about these numbers and encourage their friends and family to stand up for girls and The Self-Esteem Act.

They can tell us what they think we at can be doing better or differently or other than.

We’re all in this together, let’s all get our Gandhi on, and be the change(s) we want to see in the world.

A BIG thanks to you Seth for your time and education on this issue. My personal thoughts on the issue is that every little bit can help. While people probably do know that these images have been photoshopped, I don’t think it hurts to remind them.
So there it is. What do you think of The Self-Esteem Act? Can it make a difference or do you think it’s needed? Do you ever find yourself driving with the handbreak on?

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