Sexism and Little Girls

My 8 year old daughter and I sat at a stop light as the digital billboard cycled through its ads.  A plastic surgery ad popped up of a woman pinching her belly skin. It caught my child’s eye.

“What is that ad for?”, she asked.

I began to explain to her that advertisers and some businesses want you to believe that you are not perfect as you are, that they promote a fear of fat, and that by promoting a standard, they can convince women to have surgery to meet that standard.

A horrified look went across her face. “But I love your belly!  You wouldn’t do that, would you? You won’t get rid of your belly ever! Promise me!”

I laughed and promised that I know I am perfect exactly as I am, and that I am beautiful.  Then she blurted out “Why do they do that? Don’t they know what that could do to little girls?”

I wanted to cry over the total wisdom of this child. It isn’t just her.  Children in general show us how what we believe about our bodies, and ourselves, is socially taught. That means it is not truth – just a belief.

It is a cunning system, this subtle sexism.  What better way to control women (or men) than to put a belief in their head that will keep them trapped on a treadmill of impossible pursuit? And then make it into an industry that will perpetuate the control mechanism with very little effort, all in support of sexism. Plant a social norm that says women (or men) must be sexually appealing to all men (no matter what age) any time and in a way that is defined completely by the patriarchal system.

Let me tell you what happens when you finally get skinny: You still can’t eat cake.

You still can’t eat cake. You still can’t wear crop tops. You still can’t skip yoga without feeling guilty. You still can’t order the cheesy pasta. You still can’t enjoy pizza. You still can’t fuck the love of your life without self-judgment. And — did I mention this? — you still can’t eat cake.

You spend all this time and energy being hypervigilant so that one day, you can cross the “UGW” finish line into ease, into relaxation, into normalcy. But that day never comes because no matter how far you run, the course ahead of you grows longer or, at least, the obstacles along the way change.

Because the fear of food that you’ve worked so hard to cultivate as a means of motivation never really leaves you.” Let Them Eat Cake

Thankfully, for those little girls, things are beginning to change.  And maybe it is because we love those little girls that we are learning to love ourselves and say NO to control.

“For so many years, the diet industry has played on women’s — and men’s — vulnerabilities. But now that women are becoming comfortable as they are and beckoning to retailers to represent them accurately, they no longer feel the need to starve themselves. They simply wish to take care of themselves and feed their bodies good, natural foods.

A recent NPR piece highlighted these trends, which are worrisome for the diet business. First, the story pointed out, people are more into health than dieting. This is one of the reasons Weight Watchers could continue to struggle, amid bringing Oprah on board. NPR pointed out that Lean Cuisine sales dipped 15% between summer 2014 and 2015, too.

Dieting is taboo; loving yourself is in.”Killing the Diet Business

Ashley graham plus size model

The medical profession is partly to blame too.  The term “modifiable risk factor” with respect to weight is loaded with blame, judgement and reinforces the sexism under the auspices of “health consciousness”.  The BMI, a primary indicator for physicians, is flawed. Considerable research supports this.

“(A) study, led by A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), analyzed the link between BMI and cardiometabolic health using data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The cardiometabolic health data available in the NHANES gives measures of blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose, insulin resistance and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation).

The analysis shows nearly half of Americans whose BMI puts them in the overweight category (34.4 million people) are actually healthy according to cardiometabolic measures, as are 19.8 million whose BMI classes them as obese.

The researchers also found that 15% of Americans (2 million people) whose BMI is 35 or higher – thus classing them as very obese – are also healthy…

…Co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a doctoral candidate at the University of California-Santa Barbara, urges people to obsess less about their weight and focus on following a healthy diet and taking regular exercise.

He says their study confirms how flawed BMI is as an indicator of health and concludes that “this should be the final nail in the coffin for BMI.”” Stop Using BMI

The medical field is not flawless.  I suggest that there may be a causal relation between why BMI is used as a health indicator, societal sexist beliefs, and how patriarchy has influenced both.

But more than any of this, I know what all of this can do to little girls.

Barbie Ferreira/Aerie




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