How to Help Girls See Through the Cover Girl Culture and Reclaim Their Self-Esteem
I grew up in rural Canada and, while at university with my sights set on becoming a veterinarian, I was swept up by Elite (model agency) and traveled the globe for 4 years.
My intention was to earn enough money modeling to complete university. Instead I became privy to a world few people had the chance to experience.
In high school, I remember lamenting the issue of brands being the dictator of someone’s status or girls believing they needed to be ‘thin enough’ to be accepted and ultimately loveable. I didn’t know how to help them break free of these false beliefs. Ironically, as a model, I became part of the problem and was paid handsomely to further enable these issues.
In my fourth year with Elite, I could no longer, in good conscience, be a part of its machinery. My exodus was prompted when I helped a fellow model reclaim her health and leave the industry for good. I never looked back, except to make my documentary Cover Girl Culture.
My film explores the impact media has on girls and women in our society but also addresses solutions. I invested several years of my life to research and produce Cover Girl Culture. I leveraged my background to secure interviews with editors of Teen Vogue and Elle magazine and created a film that reveals the pressure tweens and teens face from the fashion world and our celebrity-centered-culture.
The most disturbing problem I encountered was the sexualization of girls by the media. This was never an issue for my generation yet today it’s linked to low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression and risky sexual behaviors in girls at younger ages. Girls are losing sight of what is valuable in themselves and others. It is our duty to help them remember.
In 2011, the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles asked me to create workshops for girls. My original plan was to produce one documentary. Instead I’ve uncovered a life-path of empowering girls and parents. Instead of being embarrassed about my days as a model I now see why they occurred. My background as a model has been pivotal in earning credibility with teens and young girls who will listen to my story, insights and tools to free themselves of the media manipulation.
I feel incredible joy when girls in my workshop realize for the first time how advertisers operate; they become upset at advertisers and then wish to take positive action to spread the word. Girls are amazed at how much they'd taken for granted and believed to be true.
Here are three things that we as adults, educators, and shapers of young women's lives can do today:
- Help your daughter develop strong self-esteem by role-modeling healthy self-esteem. True self-esteem brings serenity, grace and joy that no wardrobe, bank account or facelift can ever deliver. One of the most important gifts my parents gave me, that saved me from the industry’s influence, was the knowledge of what is truly valuable in a person. They praised me for who I am - my accomplishments and intelligence, never my looks or wardrobe. In the modeling world I was only praised for my outer appearance; that same message is promoted to audiences relentlessly to the point of harm. I escaped unscathed because my parents instilled rock-solid self-esteem.
- Do a Media Detox! Encourage your children to unplug from the media: have them go outside, read a book, write a story of their own, create artwork, play with friends (away from media), get them involved in sports or activities that move their bodies and engage their minds. The other great lesson my parents gave us was that we were not allowed to watch much TV – for us it was outside to climb trees, play with friends or help with a project around the house. Back then we had a whopping 5 channels to chose from and there were few shows for children and teens. As it turns out it they had good reason to limit our exposure to media. Nature became a teacher and now I encourage girls to unplug from the media matrix and discover the wonders nature holds. Nature is a powerful healer and nurturer of the soul. I encounter far too many teens and young girls who are mesmerized by media and believe being thin, pretty, sexy, and buying things will bring them happiness. And why shouldn’t they...girls receive these messages hundreds of times a day. Teens spend an average of 75 hours per week consuming media and less than 40 hours in school. So, who is actually educating your child and what are they learning? Whose values are they adopting?
- It is vital we teach critical thinking skills to children because media is here to stay. Advertisers’ motto is “Get them while they’re young” so we as parents and educators need to “Prepare them while they’re young” with media literacy skills and tools like those offered in my workshops.
Parents hold the power to keep media’s influence to a minimum by teaching children how to see the media through a critical-eye. Immunize your daughter now so she’ll be prepared to defend her self-esteem and body-image from those who wish to destroy it to sell her products with empty promises.
My goal is to create a CLEVER GIRL CULTURE! I invite you to join me.
Nicole Clark is a documentary filmmaker, workshop presenter, and ‘Media Renegade’. She is a former Elite international model turned champion for girls’ self-esteem. Nicole is an advisory board member to the Parent’s Television Council and on-going partner of the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles. She is currently doing workshops for schools and organizations across North America.