“Jessica, don’t crack your knuckles. do want to have man hands when your fiancé gives you your ring”.
This is a direct quote that my mother told me for years when I was growing up. For my mom being feminine was the only way for a female to present themselves. I can remember with perfect clarity how my mom wore Ralph Lauren polo shirts, Elizabeth Arden Red Door perfume, and gold jewelry studded with precious jewels. Her signature will always be for me the sound of the bracelets on her wrist hitting up against each other. When I would comment that this look was not my style, if I had one, my mother would always retort with, “Stay in a child place.”
Almost all little girls grow up with the same example of what “being a girl” is from female family members to celebrities we see in media. If you were lucky you were given the safe space to explore that express for yourself but others, that, unfortunately, was never the case. Studies have shown that girls as young as 11 have developed low self-esteem after watching and comparing themselves to other girls that they see. The Wall Street Journal has published a report showing that Social Media giant, Facebook is well aware of the harm its’ site and Instagram causes due to a leaked report stating, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse”(Wells et al., 2021). Media is shaping the way children view themselves and the world around them daily, and that includes their self-worth. This begs to question what is a child’s place? and is it even safe?
Teen TV shows infamously have had mix messaging when it comes to what is appropriate for a girl to see and do. I remember watching a VH1 tv show, I love the 70’s when I was young because I love learning the history of pop culture. In one of the segments, a clip of the infamous The Gong Show showed had two young girls sitting and suggestively licking popsicles. The grown men in the audience behave just as crude and inappropriately as you can imagine. In the 80’s we can see the exploitation of underage Brooke Shields with films such as Pretty Baby, Blue Lagoon, and her famous Clavin Jeans ad. The tv commercial featured a 15-year-old Brooke suggestively telling the viewer, ” You want to know what comes in-between me and my Clavin’s? Nothing.”
For girls grown up today, there are far more channels for harmful imagery to reach day-in and day-out. One image that has been glorified is the story of the barely legal girl falling in love with the unattainable adult man, not a boy. An example of this is the TV show, Pretty Little Lies, which depicts a star-crossed love affair between book smart high school student Aria Montgomery, 16 years old, and her English teacher Ezra Fitz, 22 years old.
While this may seen innocent to some studies show young girls who engage with older men romantically has an increased risk of developing depression than girls who do not. Teen girls are in an increasingly difficult position to please society and family before they can ever begin to think about what would please them personally. As Dr. Rebecca Ann Lind wrote in her book Race/Gender/Class/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers, “Somehow girls are supposed to be both innocent and seductive, virginal and experienced, all at the same time” (Lind, 133). These impossible expectations that are on young girls harmful and almost inhuman. When we as a society begin to let young girls stay in a child’s place without the pressure to develop before their time then we will truly be better off for it.
Lind, R. A. (2019). Race/gender/class/media 4.0: Considering diversity across audiences (4th ed.). ROUTLEDGE.
Meier, A., Erickson, G. A., & McLaughlin, H. (2016, March). Older sexual partners and adolescent females’ mental health. Perspectives on sexual and reproductive health. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6076385/.
Wells, G., Horwitz, J., & Seetharaman, D. (2021, September 14). Facebook knows Instagram is toxic for teen girls, company documents show. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-knows-instagram-is-toxic-for-teen-girls-company-documents-show-11631620739?mod=hp_lead_pos7.