Can you imagine what a world would be like if young girls and women were healthy, happy, confident, and found themselves beautiful and worthy of love and respect all the time? Think of how much that could change our society. Eating disorders and other forms of self harm would diminish. Cosmetic surgery would reduce. The diet industry would falter. Girls and women could better reach their full potential and engage with their community in support of one another. That is what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to achieve. It’s a campaign called NYC Girls Project and it’s the first major city funded effort in support of influencing a healthy body image and self-esteem targeting young girls age 7-12. The project runs ads on buses and subways containing messages for building positive self-esteem. It’s also calling for physical fitness classes and after school programs looking for concrete ways to combat the beauty ideal that consumes American culture and the pressure to maintain a perfect appearance. The endeavor has created a buzz, with a mixture of positive affirmation as well as criticism on the effectiveness of the project. “Will it work?”
By now, most people know about the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty that was launched by Unilever in 2004. Similar to the NYC Girls Project, Dove created a team to help spread a wide variety of media coverage criticizing narrow beauty ideals while promoting healthy body and self-image in girls and women. This effort garnered attention from both supporters and naysayers. Regardless, studies have shown the project has been successful in helping build confidence and self-esteem in girls.
At this point, we are wise to think critically of campaigns that attempt to tackle this large issue, and we also need to remember that it won’t work magic overnight. It will take time and effort to make a change. The more communities, teams, schools and every day people that come together for this cause, the better we can find effective solutions to fight against poor self-esteem in girls. We need to not only understand when in a girl’s life they start to struggle from poor self-esteem, but we also need to realize specifically how it comes to be and then determine what can be done about it before the damage is done. Hopefully over time, actions taken in support of this movement can start a cultural shift and help change the way society views women and physical appearance, which in turn will start to shift the way girls and women feel about themselves and see themselves. I applaud the mayor for this effort, but time will tell if the support is there to have a truly lasting effect. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.