When I start to tell her she is pretty, I will tell her she is strong

If you haven’t seen the documentary Miss Representation yet, I highly suggest you find some time and settle in with your Netflix account. The woman who created the film introduces it by saying that she, an actress, began thinking about the way women are portrayed in the media and the power those images have to shape women’s real lives when she found out she was pregnant with a daughter. Not having any kids myself, my mind went to my niece as I watched. What messages will she grow up with about who women are? Who women can be? Should be?

What will she learn from the media about who she is and can be and should be? What will she learn from me?

I thought about the way I talk to her and about her.

She’s the cutest little one-year-old in the world.

The most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen.

Pretty girl.

All of these things are true, but are they the most important thing? She is also smart. She knows what all the animals say, my sister taught her to count to three in one evening, and she recognizes our family members by name from pictures, even those of us she only sees every few months because we live so far away. She is kind. When her Grandad (aka, “Woof Woof,” because he is the one who first taught her what the dog says) holds her and pats her soothingly on the back, she mimics his show of love, tapping her soft little hand rhythmically on his shoulder. She is funny, laughing at peek-a-boo until she can hardly breathe and repeating anything that gets a laugh from her faithful cheering section until all of us are in tears. We tell her these things too, of course, but sometimes I have to remember to say them out loud, to her and to other little girls.

I have to make a conscious effort with them in a way that I don’t with little boys. When I find myself blurting out how cute they are, I have to catch myself and make sure I tell them they are smart. When I automatically tell them they’re pretty, I have to remember to tell them they are strong. I have to actively and intentionally choose to remind little girls that they are powerful in their princess dresses in a way that just comes out naturally to little boys in their superhero costumes.

Screw beautiful compliment my brain

What’s that about? Miss Representation walks us through the countless, constant ways we are bombarded with images and stories of women who are weak or domineering, ditzy or manipulative, sexy or frumpy… No matter how you spin it, we’re not measuring up. We’re too much or not enough; sometimes both. It’s a logical fallacy. It makes no sense. Allison from the Breakfast Club had it right: it’s a trap. Women don’t win at this game. So let’s stop playing.

Can't win

Recognizing the lie of the either/or is the first step to disarming it. Why do we have to be one thing, one extreme, caricatured version of a person? The fact is, we’re not. Not a single one of us is simple enough to be reduced to one word, one identity. We’re a mess of experiences and thoughts and feelings and talents, and there’s no sense in trying to hide it. Trying to flatten ourselves into a one-dimensional character like so many of those we see in popular media has created an epidemic among women of depression, body image and eating disorders, and a host of other problems summarized in the documentary and fleshed out in years of research. It keeps us from venturing into uncharted territory to be the first female whatever-your-dream-is. It teaches the next generation that there’s no such thing as a female whatever-they-want-to-be-when-they-grow-up. And that is just not a legacy we want to pass on. Instead, let’s pass on power. Let’s pass on truth.

We are women. Women are people. People are complex, glorious, unquenchable images of the God who created us.

Therefore, we are complex, glorious, unquenchable images of the God who created us.

Simple logic. Embrace it. Share it. Remember it. Remember it for you; remember it for your peers; remember it for my niece, please.

[Updated 2/13/14]
P.S. Buzzfeed just ran a great article on Getty Images “Lean In” collection of stock photos seeking to improve the way women and girls are depicted in media. Check it out and be encouraged here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleyperez/stock-photos-that-hope-to-change-the-way-we-look-at-women?utm_term=P3Q9MW1haHFpZ2dhZi9vPTc3dzQya3Rrejc%3D&s=mobile


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