The first is a letter written by Dr. Kelly Flanagan to his three daughters. Flanagan was in the cosmetics aisle of his local Big Box store and was depressed by the spectacle of rows upon rows of bottles and boxes and packages of products that are pitched to women who want to make themselves “beautiful”.
When you have a daughter, you start to realize she's just as strong as everyone else in the house -- a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won't see her that way. They'll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they'll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.(1) [emphasis mine]
The second is a story – controversy might be a better word – about a Duke University freshman who has become a porn star ostensibly to help pay her college tuition. This is bad enough, but there are people out there who think that what she’s doing is – somehow – liberating. She’s a feminist, you see. I’m not sure when sex for money stopped being “prostitution” (which I always thought was considered to be a Bad Thing) and became “empowering”, but such is our fascinating modern world.
So, here we have a couple of very different messages, archetypes of those that will constantly bombard my daughter:
1. You haven’t got to LOOK beautiful to BE beautiful. Don’t let people tell you that you’re somehow worthless because you don’t meet highly artificial standards of physical beauty
2. Use your body! SELL your body! Show your Power as a Woman(TM) by getting naked and getting freaky!
I think that you can guess which message I favor.
I don’t say that there’s anything wrong with a girl – a woman – trying to make herself look nice. The world is what it is, and there is a good bit of research to support the common sense observation that better-looking people tend, all other things being equal, to get ahead in life; their looks are a natural advantage. There’s certainly nothing to be gained by making oneself UNattractive, by deliberately dressing badly, not being decently groomed, etc. The problem arises when, as Flanagan warns his daughters, one allows appearance – body shape, hair style, clothes, shoes, etc. – to be the sole indicator of self-worth.
My daughter will see many, many images every day of what she “SHOULD” look like. She’ll be bombarded with advertisements for products and clothing and shoes and tanning salons, all promising to make her more “beautiful”. Worse, she'll be told, often explicitly, that she is nothing more than "pretty face and a body to enjoy". What will counteract these messages?