Finding true beauty

In 2004, the makers of Dove soap did women everywhere a big service by conducting an international study on beauty. They asked women around the world what they thought of themselves and how media impact their body image and self-esteem. The report noted, among other things, that only 2 percent of women around the world describes themselves as beautiful. 

Another stunning statistic from the same report showed that a majority of the American women questioned — an astonishing 81 percent — agreed that media, as in magazines, advertising, Hollywood, TV programs or all of the above, add to a woman’s insecurity by setting an impossibly high bar when it comes to the ideal or the accepted standard of beauty. 

They followed up the study with a media campaign about body image and beauty featuring real women of all shapes and sizes, not super-skinny runway models in dire need of a decent meal. The Campaign for Real Beauty was aimed at helping women achieve a healthy lifestyle and better self-esteem by taking good care of themselves and not getting stuck on being a size “0” when your body is a natural “10” or “12,” as is the case with most American women. Dove is still doing what it can to spread the word about real beauty coming from the inside out. 

While Dove’s campaign has made a positive impact, there is still so much work to be done, especially when it comes to younger women and girls in the very susceptible tween to teen years. 

Research shows that the average age for a young girl to start dieting is 8 years old. Other studies show that 81 percent of 10-year-old girls say they are afraid of being fat. An increasingly popular graduation gift for high school girls has been plastic surgery, including breast enhancements.  

“Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation”  (www.covergirlculture.com) is a documentary directed by a former Elite International Model, Nicole Clark. Clark’s documentary, which has the Parents Television Council Seal of Approval, reveals some of her own struggles in the competitive modeling industry and also hits on the important issues of eating disorders, self-esteem and the media’s sexualization of girls. 

Earlier this year, a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that young people now use media 53 hours a week. With one out every four TV commercials containing a message about appearance, this documentary can be a valuable resource for moms, dads and schools. There is even an educational version of the video that offers a free study guide for eighth- through 12th-graders. 

As the Parents Television Council explains, the documentary does not contain harmful content. There are images of models, and some of the photo layouts do show young girls in lingerie, but according to PTC, they are used to demonstrate how the media and advertising industries sell sex and distorted body images to children. In addition to exposing the media agenda, the documentary also encourages teens to reject these harmful messages. 

While the video is not produced from a faith perspective, it is filled with the timeless truths that will resonate with Catholics. We are blessed to have the teachings of Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI, Pope Benedict XVI and, most importantly, Our Lord himself to remind us that we are not objects, but rather precious individuals who are created in the image and likeness of God. These beautiful truths of human dignity can be expressed or revealed in many ways. “Cover Girl Culture” is one of them. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.