Why I’ve stopped blaming the media for airbrushed pictures
Having a daughter is a beautiful thing. It’s also a frightening thing.
Or so I’m told…
I’m told that she will grow up in a world that tells her she isn’t skinny enough, in a society that screams she isn’t pretty enough.
I’m told that celebrities create an unnatainable standard of beauty that my daughter won’t be able to live up to.
Magazine’s will photoshop images and imprint an idea of perfection on my young daughter’s mind.
Songs and music videos will bombard her with ideals of womanhood and beauty that just isn’t attainable.
I am told that society will fail her.
Maybe that’s true. But what if it didn’t matter as much as I thought it did?
As much as I would love to jump on the bandwagon and share “inspiring” videos of how photos are airbrushed, bash network executives, and share interviews of celebrities talking about how “they are imperfect like the rest of us,” I just can’t.
When we blame “society,” there are three underlying assumptions that I’m not comfortable with.
1.) “Society” is an entity. An entity outside of ourselves. An entity that we have no ability to change, so instead we just criticize.
2.) I don’t like the assumption that my daughter’s self identity formation primarily comes from media.
3.) It also assumes that she (along with everyone else) are all unintelligent and passive creatures that take in an accept everything that society and media tells them.
(I know you haven’t met my daughter, but let me assure you she is spunky, fabulous, and has a mind of her own.)
The problem with us simply blaming the media is that, quite frankly, it’s not even a current acceptable perspective in social science.
The Magic Bullet Theory
In the 1920’s there was a theory called, “The Magic Bullet Theory” that was used to explain how consumers of media were directly directly, immediately, and powerfully affected by media. The theory claims that media is like a bullet that is shot directly into the audience and directly influenced their thoughts and actions. The audience as a result, has no control.
You might be thinking, “Of course that’s not true! I know better than that.”
You’re right. It is rather absurd and as a result, The Magic Bullet Theory is no longer accepted and instead more nuanced approaches to understanding media effects are used. These approaches include looking at other factors that influence how a child is affected my media including the role of their parents.
However, if the social sciences and their understanding of the media’s effects have evolved, why hasn’t our conversation surrounding the topic evolved? We are still pointing the finger at conglomerates, cursing fashion publications, and shaking our heads at celebrities.
We need to stop giving media more power than it truly has.
We need to start taking responsibility for shaping our little one’s minds.
We need to engage in a more productive conversation.
Instead of, “look what they are doing to our children,” the conversation can become, “This is what I’m teaching my child.”
Here are some ways for you to help your child become a smart consumer of media:
1.) Teach your child media literacy so that they can become an educated viewer.
Help them understand that:
– A team of people help create and construct every media message. They decide what to put in and what to leave out.
– Deconstruct the process that media creators go through to help create the finished product. (This includes the way that they use bold headlines in newspaper or the way they use music to make the user feel a certain emotion.)
– Every piece of media has a message, value, and point of view. It’s important to help children understand that they have a choice in whether they want to accept the given values or messages.
– Talk about real world ramifications of actions they see in the media. If your child is playing a violent video game, talk to them about what would happen if someone really drove their car wildly through the streets. This will help them understand that the video game is simply a video game. Not a reflection of real life.
2.) Make your voice the primary voice of influence, not the media.
– Be engaged in your children’s lives. They will understand their value when you want to spend time with them and value their thoughts.
– Don’t let magazine’s or songs paint a picture of what beauty looks like. Help them understand that they are beauty. Remind them of this as much as possible.
– Lead by example. Your children watch TV shows and movies. But they also watch you. Every day. What do you hope they will learn by watching you?
Lets be parents that stop pointing the finger at how media is to fault for injecting values into our children’s heads. Instead, lets spend that valuable time helping to shape our children’s minds so that they are able to intelligently absorb the media.
The other day my daughter asked me what I did. (After digging deeper I figured out thatthe kids at school were talking about the professions that their parents had.)
I informed her of my full time, low paying, but highly rewarding job. Taking care of her and her brothers…and her dad.
I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I just want to be fabulous.”
(I have to admit that perhaps I have a few too many Marilyn Monroe quotes around the house.)
But in that moment, I couldn’t have been prouder. (I also couldn’t have laughed harder.)
The surprising response made me think. A lot. Why was it so surprising? Because of my expectation. My expectation (along with everyone else’s) that she should have responded with a career choice. Perhaps she was onto something far more brilliant.
Why is it that we continuously ask kids what they want to be, but never who they want to be? What if instead of having them pick out careers as kindergarteners, we had them pick out qualities that would embody the person they want to become. What if when they drew a picture of what they wanted to be when they got older it was a picture of someone with a big heart? Big ears? A large brain? Bendable arms to hug with? And when they described who they wanted to be when they grew up their description didn’t include a profession. But instead included adjectives like, “fabulous,” “honest,””inventive,””kind.”
The career decisions will come. And don’t get me wrong, of course they are important. But careers come and go and are ever changing. What remains constant is our character and the constructs of what makes us who we are. When that is in tact, we can be content human beings no matter where we find ourselves in our career and what we end up doing. So perhaps our focus should be on asking kids who they want to be so they understand that who they are is far more important than what they do. And that who they are influences the level of happiness that they have in whatever they choose to do.
This has prompted an experiment in my household. Over the next year I am going to ask my kids who they want to be once a month.
I will keep you posted on this experiment, and I invite you to join me. Let me know how your kids respond on Twitter! Tag me @margene_salzano using the hash tag, #whodoyouwant2b
Perhaps society won’t change overnight, but perhaps my home can.
In the meantime? You can find me being fabulous with my 5 year old.