American Girl magazine, aimed at nine year old, discusses the benefits of loving your body and how misguided it is to try to look like Britney Spears in order to be happy. Junior high schools bring in eating disorder lecturers and post collages of destructive beauty ideals in their hallways. I would say that when what started as an outsider’s argument becomes the conventional wisdom of a Girl Scout troop, it is a sign of an evolution in consciousness.
In spite of this newly developed media literacy, however, I’ve also noticed that it is now an increasingly sexualized ideal that younger and younger girls are beginning to feel they must live up to. The notorious Calvin Klein ad campaigns eroticized sixteen year old when I was a teenager, then eroticized fourteen year old models in the early nineties, then twelve-year old in the late nineties. GUESS Jeans ads now pose what look like nine-year old in provocative settings.
Is this progress? I doubt it. Any number of high school and college projects I have seen ranging from a CD about “looking perfect” to a senior thesis about the African American beauty myth as it relates to hair have analyzed media images of women and have taken apart ideals.