Challenging The Perception of Pretty

Challenging The Perception of Pretty

"What do you think pretty is?"  This was the question a teacher at my daughter's school asked during a PSHE lesson last week.  The responses from the group of 13 year olds were varied but the one that provoked the greatest reaction was  "Blonde hair, clear skin, a thigh gap and a flat stomach!"

The debate that ensued around this one girl's interpretation of "pretty" was lively according to my daughter who on hearing the description felt affronted.  Firstly she is a redhead not a blonde and secondly she has battled with bouts of acne so always feels self conscious of her not so "clear skin" so a small part of her took this definition of "pretty" to heart and felt personally offended.  On a more general level she found her fellow classmate's description shallow at best, which of course all led to a lively debate over dinner that night as she challenged the perception of Barbie doll beauty as she called it.

"Pretty" is not a word you hear used very often nowadays but according to the Oxford Dictionary means "attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful". What is truly beautiful anyway? For me I have always relied upon the old adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".  Every person is unique and beautiful in their own way and surely real beauty is more than skin deep.  I tell my daughter she is beautiful everyday because to me she is, but more so because she is inquisitive, clever, sensitive, thoughtful, hysterically funny and generous - I could go on....

The sad thing is that the pressure amongst teenage girls to pursue an idealised vision of pretty and to look and be a certain way is omnipresent.  My daughter is not overly hung up on her looks at the moment and would rather head off to browse the shelves in our local bookstore on a Saturday afternoon than the cosmetics counter at Superdrug.  But this is now, who knows what the future holds.

Apart from the peer pressure of being amidst girls that place such a value on the way they look there is also the indirect pressure exerted by the media to look a certain way, all of which combine to create a cauldron of issues surrounding body image for our young girls to navigate.

Last year there was a big media storm over the London Underground poster "Are you beach body ready?" as everyone castigated the advertiser's use of a genetically blessed young girl with the seemingly perfect bikini body.  

Originally a poster for Protein World, there was a huge public outcry as the poster promoting weight loss came under fire from some feminists and body image campaigners who branded it body-shaming.  Who were Protein World to decide what the perfect beach body was and why was a thin body a prerequisite for going to the beach anyway?  Amidst the general furore an internet prankster hit back with its own version of the poster featuring three curvaceous women and the caption "Yes.  We are beach body ready."

From a marketing perspective the campaign was heralded a huge success.  Not only had it captivated attention on an extensive scale, but it had also provoked a response and as such was described by Marketing magazine as "one of the most effective and innovative pieces of brand marketing in living memory".

It is exactly these kind of messages, however, that can be so easily misconstrued by our young girls at an age when they are just learning to be comfortable with themselves and their bodies.  Just as one person's perception of "pretty" is different from another's, so one person's understanding of these kind of messages can differ to another's too.  Take the image of the girl out of the Protein World poster and then the question becomes less offensive and thus less provocative.   Don't we all ask ourselves if we are ready for the beach every year whether we are a Size 0 or a Size 20?

Blonde, clear skin, a thigh gap and a flat stomach may be one person's ideal "pretty" body image but not another's, but sadly some will always strive for that idealised vision accentuated by clever marketing campaigns. We know of one family whose world has been turned upside down in the last few months as their 13 year old started dieting with a group of friends to get herself bikini ready for the summer holiday.  Devastatingly it all went too far and she returned to school after the summer transformed and battling anorexia.  After an extensive period in hospital she has returned to school, but not without consequences.  She cannot do any exercise and must eat frequently and at regular intervals under supervision.  She cannot concentrate for long periods and is easily tired.  The impact upon hers and her family's life is truly heartbreaking.

It is normal for teenagers to be conscious of their bodies and want to look great and lead a healthy lifestyle and I have written about this previously in relation to teenage boys, but there is a fine line between a positive and negative body image and the latter comes with anxiety and in some circumstances unfortunate consequences.  I am glad that schools encourage children to discuss these issues openly amongst themselves as it is only through conversation and debate that these unhealthy "pretty" perceptions can be challenged.

So what's a parent to do?  Well in a world where so much emphasis is placed upon the way we look, it is not surprising body image issues are rife among young adolescents and as parents I think we need to guide our young girls and boys through the madness and ensure they maintain a sensible and healthy perspective on their looks.


What do you think?  Let me know in the comments below.


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  1. March 14, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    Oh Hun I love that you write about these issues that teens face. Especially when you write about both boys and girls. Having an almost 13-year-old I know these issues are something I will have to face very soon. I have always thought that beauty is within, it doesn’t matter what you look like if your heart is pure. Caring about others and being kind are far more important.
    Thanks for linking to #pocolo
    (Sorry for the epically late comment!)

    • March 15, 2017 / 12:43 pm

      Thanks Morgan, that means a lot. Like you I agree that beauty is within and that is a key message for our young developing teens as they grow up. Thanks so much for your comment. #pocolo

  2. March 5, 2017 / 5:17 pm

    I worry about this subject already – and mine is only three. There seems to be so much pressure to look a certain way. I think the girl’s response to what pretty means is rather sad. I’m like you. I tell my daughter she is beautiful but alongside I list her many other qualities too. So hard to know what to do for the best.

    • March 6, 2017 / 10:01 am

      Beauty comes from within and is so much more than just appearance and we can only keep on banging that drum and making sure our daughters get that Thanks for commenting Tara. x

  3. February 19, 2017 / 2:24 pm

    Interesting post – and I think it’s great how your daughter challenged the Barbie doll beauty versions, it sounds as if she’s well grounded and feels loved. That’s what concerns me is those aiming for perfection, which we know to be unrealistic, are setting themselves up to fail, but they don’t know that and they don’t appear to have the support or grounding or deep-rooted love (or at least know they have it) from their families. It’s a real shame for girls (and boys) to go through life always trying to reach the unattainable. And the response to that marketing campaign about putting a bikini on making your body beach ready was brilliant, but agree we do all take steps to present our best selves, but those best selves are within reach. Thanks for sharing with #PoCoLo

    • February 21, 2017 / 3:29 pm

      Thanks Stephanie. Ironically I took my daughter shopping last week during half term and Protein World have followed last year’s campaign with another equally controversial one which reignited the whole debate between us again as she pointed it out. I am glad that we can talk about these issues but as you say there are many young people pursuing this vision of perfection unguided and unsupported. Thanks for commenting. #PoCoLo

  4. February 14, 2017 / 9:59 pm

    I hear you! It is such a hard situation, isn’t it? With social media and mass media bombarding our girls with what they think “pretty” or “attractive” is? I always try to tell mine not to believe everything she reads or sees, I also tell her that friends can be wrong (I know, *gasp*) but I know the reach and influence can be overwhelming. The best thing we can do is to be there and constantly remind them that beauty should be defined by themselves. I keep talking to her about peer role models like Malala. That’s all we can do – to just keep talking to our girls. Thanks for linking with #bigpinklink

    • February 15, 2017 / 2:01 pm

      El you are so right the impact of peer pressure is not to be underestimated – their friends are their world through their teen years and they are much more likely to listen to them than us sadly. But as long as they keep talking to us then we are in a strong position to challenge their perceptions and hopefully steer them in the right direction. Thanks for commenting. Jo #bigpinklink

    • February 14, 2017 / 2:15 pm

      It gets tougher every day and is not helped either by the constant media comment on celebrity weight gain and loss. Rachel at OurRachBlogs has written a great post on this very thing this week #bigpinklink

  5. February 13, 2017 / 9:28 pm

    Unfortunately it seems that the idea of “pretty” or beautiful hasn’t changed in the almost 20 years since I left school. It’s scary when you have daughters especially. When you’ve figured out how to handle situations like this, please share! 🙁#globalblogging

    • February 14, 2017 / 2:12 pm

      Yes these scenarios will be familiar for years to come no doubt. Talking, communicating and open discussion is a key component of life in our house in helping our teenagers grow up with a healthy and rounded perspective of the world…we hope! #globablblogging

  6. February 13, 2017 / 9:14 pm

    It sickens me when I hear what young people perceive as being pretty is. I think how you feel is what makes you pretty, but the media puts so much pressure on people to have that perfect flat stomach, clear skin etc! #bigpinklink
    Louise – Mummy Miller recently posted…My Baby Boy: Happy 1st BirthdayMy Profile

    • February 14, 2017 / 2:10 pm

      It is sad and unfortunately in an age when our children are being bombarded by so many media messages it is a challenge to steer them along a “real” path. Thanks for commenting. #bigpinklink

  7. February 12, 2017 / 2:31 am

    Firstly, I have NO idea what a “thigh gap” is ;)… Am I that old? I am so nervous for when my girls are older. ..I have nightmares about how to deal with this exact topic. To be honest I think I am clueless on this. I jut hope I handle it well. Great read! Thanks for sharing, I definitely gained some insight! #globalblogging
    One Messy Mama recently posted…Why Men Should Be from Pluto & Not Mars !!My Profile

    • February 12, 2017 / 7:47 pm

      I am glad I have managed to give you a small insight into what lies ahead. Thanks so much for commenting. #globalblogging

  8. February 10, 2017 / 2:43 pm

    By your daughter’s reaction to her classmates comments (which rocked by the way) I think it’s fair to say you’ve done a fantastic job of teaching her about body positivity.
    Thanks for linking up to #BloggerClubUK 🙂
    Random Musings recently posted…Blogger Spotlight Interview: TwinkinsMy Profile

    • February 11, 2017 / 6:21 pm

      Oh thank you Debbie for your lovely comment, you always say the right thing. \BloggerClubUK

  9. February 10, 2017 / 12:25 pm

    It worries me so much that young girls are still being sold this image of perfection. We need to ensure we see a better representation of ‘real’ people in our magazines and on TV. I don’t watch any of these celebrity programs or read celebrity magazines although I will admit I did in my teens. I worry particularly about the impact of IG and know teens who delete any picture under 100 likes. That is worrying. As is the lengths they go to filter their pics to make themselves look perfect.
    Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

    • February 11, 2017 / 6:20 pm

      Catie I so agree. Unfortunately with so much technology available it seems no-one is happy nowadays unless they are absolutely picture perfect. It has certainly become an unhealthy obsession and it is great that some companies are bucking the trend in their marketing campaigns to use real people rather than models to appeal to the normal person. It would be good if this could be extended to those campaigns targeting our young as well. ablogginggoodtime

  10. February 10, 2017 / 7:53 am

    This is a difficult one really isn’t it!? Times haven’t really changed because the media exists. It’s just down to us to make our little people girl or boy understand and accept themselves against all the social difficulties that are going to come their way over the coming years. Time will tell! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬
    Karen | TwoTinyHands recently posted…Let’s Get Flushing with #FamilyFunLinkyMy Profile

    • February 10, 2017 / 9:12 am

      Totally agree Karen, acceptance of themselves is a big part of it and we have an important role to play in that. Thanks for commenting.\familyfun

  11. February 9, 2017 / 8:24 pm

    It’s a worrying state of affairs how so many young girls aspire to be that girl in the poster. As a mother of two daughters we try to talk about healthy rather than fat or thin, and I can’t imagine anything sadder than watching them go through something like your friends.
    Thanks so much for sharing with #coolmumclub
    MMT recently posted…#coolmumclub Linky week 56My Profile

    • February 9, 2017 / 10:27 pm

      Yes and it is scary how young the whole body image obsession seems to start too, but that is probably a by-product of the world we live in. Thanks for commenting. #coolmumclub

  12. February 9, 2017 / 7:24 pm

    It’s sad to hear of people having all sorts of issues as they deem themselves to not be pretty. #GlobalBlogging
    Helena recently posted…How I Transformed a Top Into a BagMy Profile

    • February 9, 2017 / 10:29 pm

      I agree particularly when they are so young too. Thanks for stopping by. #globalblogging

  13. February 9, 2017 / 4:35 pm

    It’s amazing how little things have changed since I was at an all girls school as there were similar issues back then as well.
    Tubbs recently posted…Thin PlacesMy Profile

    • February 9, 2017 / 6:32 pm

      Some things just stand the test of time don’t they and being a teenager and handling all the issues that go with being one is one of them. Thanks for dropping by.

  14. February 9, 2017 / 3:19 pm

    Credit to your daughter. There is definitely an obsession with the thigh gap in this house – not so much the blonde hair – huge social media pressure. My girls are beautiful to me but still they don’t think they are ‘perfect’ or pretty but I think teens will criticise themselves whatever they look like. I will be really honest and say that I believe confidence comes with age sadly – it took me ’til my forties to feel an air of confidence (read don’t care!) – oh to have felt that as a teen but then that wouldn’t be normal! Arghhh the teen years are one emotionally hormonally charged age but with regard to the beach ready poster – I’m going to be judged here but I thought she looked amazing and genuinely felt pleased for her looking that amazing! Great thought-provoking post #BloggerClubUK
    justsayingmum recently posted…You Were Once a Baby in My ArmsMy Profile

    • February 9, 2017 / 6:31 pm

      By default my daughter has a thigh gap and a flat stomach but I think rather wishes she didn’t hilariously! What would we do without the daily turmoil that is the life of a teenager and as mine have a habit of saying right now “Don’t you remember what it was like?” Of course I do but sometimes I choose to forget not wanting to taint their experiences with my own if that makes sense. I don’t know how your girls were at 13 but I do think it is that awkward age when they are still growing into their bodies and everything just seems wrong. You are right about confidence and age, it does take a while doesn’t it. Thanks for commenting Helen. #BloggerClubUK

  15. February 9, 2017 / 10:02 am

    I went to an all girls school where there seemed to be two “clans”; those girls who were obsessed with how they looked and getting boyfriends, and then my clan, ha, and we were just more interested in what was for lunch and how to survive PE when it was Dance. You’re right that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I hope the trend for the Instafamous to release pictures that show off their completely natural stomach rolls and less flattering angles will persist. Perfection isn’t something we should be aiming for, frankly, because it doesn’t exist.

    Also, I would love naturally red hair – I’m gutted my Irish roots failed me there!!!

    • February 9, 2017 / 1:13 pm

      Becki I don’t think times have changed. Similarly my daughter is at an all girls school and she describes a similar scenario with the beauty clan aptly called the Queen Bees and you are quite right perfection doesn’t exist. Thanks for your comment. x

  16. February 8, 2017 / 4:21 pm

    I feel I have gone wrong somewhere. After a childhood of having a tom boy who liked nothing better than to be out on the farm building camps with her brothers, I now have a soon to be teenager obsessing over a spot,how blond her hair is and wearing her school uniform to be bang on fashion even if it means getting into trouble with the teachers. Sounds like your daughter is farm more sensible, I wish Clio would swap social media and fashion for browsing books for once. #bloggerclubuk
    Fiona Cambouropoulos recently posted…Revolting Rhymes from Roald Dahl is BackMy Profile

    • February 8, 2017 / 6:28 pm

      Oh Fiona that is funny. The thing is I think my daughter will emerge just like yours from her shell any time now and when she does she will be flying the flag for the alternative pretty! Good luck with the uniform battle that is always an interesting one. #bloggerclubuk

  17. February 8, 2017 / 1:46 pm

    All so true. A subject close to my heart. It’s impossible for girls not to be influenced by the media, so our job as parents is trying to offer sanity and highlight the truth about the images they see. That is so good that the school are talking about this concept of ‘pretty’, but clearly even other girls’ views are skewed. It’s heartbreaking when you hear how badly it can affect kids and parents are really up against it. Alison x #FamilyFun

    • February 8, 2017 / 3:53 pm

      Yes I think that is what shocked my daughter and others the most is that this girl actually believed it was the “only” way to be. As you say it is a constant battle as parents to ensure our kids maintain a sane perspective on it all. Thanks for commenting Alison. #FamilyFun

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