Updated: Sep 14, 2020
While volunteering with some young girls recently, we were given an exercise to create a vision board. Materials provided were colored construction paper for our “board”, scissors, glue sticks and magazines, all standard vision board stuff, except that the only magazines we were given were teen fashion and style-type magazines. Here was glossy page after page featuring the latest clothes, makeup, hair products, perfumes, purses and shoes in full color. A little narrow in focus for a vision board maybe, but otherwise harmless, no? Problem was, the girls we were working with were eight and ten years old, highly impressionable ages, living in low income conditions.
What went through my mind the instant I saw these magazines, was how this choice would affect the girls. Of course, they eagerly flipped through the perfumed pages, taking in all the images, colors and designs, blissfully unaware of the marketing messages targeted at them, each photo having the potential to influence their self-image as they looked at models through the eyes of stylists and photographers. But what was missing were photos of girls creating, building, caring, or just choosing activities on the basis of how it made them feel rather than how it made them look. I felt they were getting skewed “visions” for their boards.
I’m not maligning fashion magazines, they’re not necessarily good or bad. Their worth is relevant only in context. If you are interested in creative design, marketing or artwork, for example, they have tons of images to critique. However, if you are looking for examples of strong, smart, independent women who are focused on what they can do rather than how they are viewed, they’ll disappoint. It all depends on what you’re after. In this case, I would hope we were after a range of healthy images beyond consumer goods and glitz. Subtly compounding the issue was the fact that an adult chose these magazines, essentially putting her stamp of approval on their messages; a nuance below the conscious radar of the girls, but still having its effect. Subconscious impressions are all the more powerful because they’re unexamined.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of our everyday choices to kids. Not all adults have the ability to see the world from someone else’s view, especially a child’s. Our experiences have altered our perceptions making it hard to peel those experiences back, to remember what it felt like to be a child, seeing the world for the first time. As a home-educating mom, I was constantly aware of how the world looked through my kids’ eyes in order to know when or how to introduce new concepts and ideas. I believe they needed an appropriate perspective in order to maintain a balanced view of life. Introducing concepts without proper perspective could rock things enough to put their self-esteem at risk. Ideally, I aimed for a progressive rate of exposure to new ideas that kept them engaged, but not burdened with concepts that they were not yet ready to handle.
For example, I felt that showing my kids a violent movie before they were ready could cause them to see the world as more violent or dangerous than it actually is. It’s a matter of percentages. If you watch the news every day you’re likely to have a very different opinion of human nature than someone who never watches it, since newsworthy events are often fear-based sensationalism. Similarly, kids exposed to repeated negative messages without the perspective of positive experiences to balance those can become unnecessarily jaded about life, or even about themselves.
These girls weren’t aware that the person who picked the magazines for their vision board is young herself, has no children of her own, or is a product of the same media programming; all factors that would point to her nonchalance about choosing magazines for a simple activity. She certainly had no intention of harming them, nevertheless her choices added to the load of limiting messages about women in our culture rather than countering them with some richer, broader female images. Now there is just slightly more negative programming to overcome than there was before.
But it’s all good. Next time we meet with the girls it might be the perfect time to talk about media messages.
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