During my self-esteem and body image workshops, I’ve had girls tell me they want to look like the size zero models in the magazines.
They truly believed it was their ‘want’ and their desire, until I explained how media can manipulate their thoughts the same way the “Imperius Curse” can make a person believe and do certain things.
What is the “Imperius Curse” you ask? It’s one of the Unforgivable Curses from the Harry Potter books and movies, and I have found that it is one sure-fire way to get girls to understand the power media can have over them.
With one simple pop-culture reference, shock and horror flash across kids’ faces, as they suddenly understand how they’ve been manipulated by magazines and media.
Many media and advertising messages are sneaky and covert. They easily implant inside young girls’ minds undetected and can grow into a virus that can consume their thoughts and feelings. Just like the “Imperius Curse”.
It is my job to help girls wake-up and take back control of their thoughts and feelings about their bodies, and ultimately themselves.
Several girls who’d been in an eating disorder program have shared with me, after my workshop, that they finally GOT IT – they understood how they’ve been duped into not liking their bodies and it took my pop-culture references to help them understand. It’s a perfect example of how media can be used for good.
I have found through my workshops and interviews that girls respond if you speak their language; which means using references from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other popular fan-based fiction as tools to help illustrate messages and engage girls in topics they would normally tune-out.
Suddenly self-esteem is cool and seen as a superpower, and they understand the power media can have over an “un-shielded” mind.
I use pop-culture references girls adore, like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Batman, Star Wars, and even Superman, to help them understand how they can use the “powers” their heroes have to overcome what oppresses them.
Of course, they don’t all have to be superheroes. When I was a kid I adored Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. She was strong-headed, creative, smart, outspoken, a free-thinker, and total romantic.
She challenged the system, showed people new ways to see the world and stood-up to bullies. I used Anne as a role-model and adopted many of these qualities in my life: I stand-up to bullies in girl-related media and find creative way to handle obstacles.
Parents can connect with a daughter (or son) to discuss just about anything using pop-culture references. Books, films, TV shows, and even cartoons and comic books are filled with characters who face similar challenges to us.
If your teen is having a difficult time grasping a valuable lesson or concept, perhaps you can help them by involving a pop-culture reference in a creative way. Check out Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Star Wars, X-Men and The Hunger Games, just to name a few.
Harry Potter and Superman are my main pop-culture references that generally work with all ages. I often liken my workshops to the class at Hogwarts “Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
Girls love the concept and are immediately attentive. Some girls even raise imaginary wands to dispel the negative messages the media cast at them! Learning becomes fun and self-esteem ‘shields’ grow stronger.
Here are some suggestions on how to get started:
I have found that girls want something to rebel against and push-back against, so encourage them to target media that attempts to undermine their health and mental well-being, and then let them flex their superhero GRRRRRL power.
Encourage them to be like their media heroes and take actions that create positive change. They can write letters to the editors at magazines, producers of TV shows, or movies that sexualize young girls, use unrealistic beauty ideals, and promote size zero. They can sign this Change.org petition.
We need our girls’ hearts and voices ignited with passion, compassion and action! Pop-culture can inspire girls to find their voices.
If it works – do it. Find creative ways to turn on the lights and rouse girls from the spell they are under. Help them find their way out of the media matrix and become super-hero architects of positive change.
One of my mottos: Are you afraid of stepping on toes or ruffling feathers? If the guilty party is manipulating children and young girls don’t hold back.
Take names, wear boots, and dance on as many toes as possible. Get their attention and keep stepping until someone agrees to healthy change.
“After a unit taught to students about media, body image and self-esteem, students at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart decided to take action. These 12, 13 and 14 year old girls were exposed to a documentary titled, Cover Girl Culture by Nicole Clark that shines a different light on how they might be impacted by the media. Students then read through, processed and discussed current editions of Teen Vogue magazine for proof.
This film inspired all 119 students to write and send letters to the editor and chief of Teen Vogue, asking for her to not only take accountability of the impact of their ads, but to also make a change. Each student hand wrote their letter identifying how the ads, specifically in Teen Vogue, make her feel regarding her body, how it has impacted her friends, and what she thinks the editor could do in order to make the messages more empowering. The director of Cover Girl Culture, Nicole Clark, also displayed their work on her website:http://
Everyone wants to belong. Everyone wants to have friends. Everyone wants to fit in. For some, this comes naturally. For others, they struggle to the point it can affect their mental health. What is the difference? Well, there is no one answer to that, but positive protective factors such as a properly stocked “emotional tool box” can definitely play a big part. We also know that the world is changing faster than many of us can keep up. The image media sells us as the ‘ideal’ image has changed over the years. And so too has the number of times we see those images on a daily basis.
So what can be done? There are many different ‘tools” we can put in our toolbox and seeing a Nicole Clark “Cover Girl Culture” presentation is definitely a “multi-use” tool for sure!
We had the great pleasure of hosting a week-long series of cover Girl Culture presentations in our region this past April. Nicole travelled to our rural area on a veritable “road trip”, visiting 9 schools in 5 days. The audience varied from a small group of Grade 6 to 8 girls to over 400 male and female high school students. Each time, Nicole delivered the consistent message of how to be a media renegade and how to have ninja self-esteem.
We continue to receive positive feedback from these presentations as well as requests to have her return to the area to visit to make additional presentations. Although it wasn’t the intended message of the presentations, helpful discussions also took place about eating disorders before, during and following the presentations. This was an unexpected result but very much an appreciated one. Teachers and school guidance counselors continue to email us with reports of students who have approached them since to disclose about their body image struggles and as a result, in many of the cases, the students have been able to make that first step on the road to recovery. As an additional sign of how well the presentations were received, our local public school board ordered a set of the Cover Girl Culture workshop DVD’s for EVERY high school within the board, whether they hosted a presentation or not.
Personally, I appreciated the message Nicole brought to the girls in our area. As someone who visits schools daily, spreading the message of what is good mental health, how important it is to have it and how to achieve it, I was totally impressed with Nicole’s presentations. Her manner was completely professional. She was flexible with any situation she encountered. She fielded questions and responses from the audience with ease and poise. In fact, I was so impressed with Nicole’s presentations, after her visit, I forwarded her information to all my colleagues across Ontario who do similar work.
I truly hope you follow through with your interest in booking Nicole Clark to come to speak to your youth via her Cover Girl Culture presentations. The learning will be so valuable and have positive ramifications for a long time to come. Please feel free to contact me at the contact information listed above for a more detailed reference if required.
Jackie Ralph, Youth Mental Health Awareness Coordinator
Mar 2012 Tips for Transformation:
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. (for more of my story/work – click the link)
Jan 2012 Los Angeles.
I hosted a workshop for a few Girl Scout Troops in the Culver City area. After the workshop they watched Cover Girl Culture.
Body Image Issues & Victoria’s Secret Angels
Many girls dream to become a Victoria’s Secret Angel. These angels are known for their beauty and skinny figures that most women envy. They strut down the runway with confidence and ooze sex appeal, wearing only lingerie and wings.
Nicole Clark, a former Elite International fashion model and a filmmaker created a documentary called Cover Girl Culture that takes a look at the impact media has on girls and women in our society.
“I wanted to help girls learn to see through the media’s often negative influence and take back their power, said Clark. “I used to be part of the problem when I modeled with Elite and now I’m part of the solution.”
After watching shows like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, many girls feel they are not good enough and that they have to diet and start losing weight.
“They see that these are the ‘women’ men dream of dating or meeting and most girls dream of having a boy like them in the same way,” said Clark. “They hear their brothers, fathers or other boys making lusty comments about VS models. Girls are smart, they put together A + B = C.”
Facebook and Twitter blew up with girls commenting about how they wish they looked like the Angels and how they want to begin dieting and exercising.
@rachelbogle said, “Not even lying right now..going to watch the #VSFashion show while lifting weights and doing crunches…#motivation.”
One feature in Clark’s film focuses on solutions for parents and educators; to help young women love themselves.
“One of the solutions is to help teach media literacy or critical thinking to our girls when they are young,” said Clark. “Advertisers’ motto is “Get them While they’re Young” so we as educators and parents need to “Prepare Them When they’re Young” through positive self-esteem messages and teaching them how to decode the media’s messages.”
Many shocking problems are caused by the unhealthy sexualization of girls in the media. Problems like depression, low self-esteem and body image dissatisfaction.
“Girls, who have accepted the message from media that they are merely meant to be sexy for guys, become depressed and feel badly about themselves because who they are is not being valued.”
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion show is not the only culprit. Magazines, celebrities and advertising have such a powerful negative influence on girls and young women.
“Young people, in every culture, look to society to see who is upheld and admired or acknowledged and our society, sadly, upholds celebrities for shocking behaviours and qualities that have little value,” said Clark. “Girls want to be respected, admired and acknowledged and we’re giving them far too many examples of what not to emulate.”
Cover Girl Culture:
“A powerful and unrelenting critique of the marketing of sexiness to young women and even little girls.”
“Reminds others loudly that a true cover girl is one who is full of strength, power, confidence and compassion, not a vapid, thinned out display model used to sell self loathing to the masses.”
“A powerful teaching tool to deconstruct and uplift,…poignantly gives the girls’ eye view of the collateral damage in this fight for the hearts and minds of children’s perception of their own self-worth.”
“The documentary reveals the insidious reality of U.S. consumer culture and tells parents how to combat the beauty industry’s grasp on their daughters: Teach media literacy.”
“Cover Girl Culture introduce(s) many constructs and themes essential to discuss in gender and women’s studies courses… Showing [it] at the very beginning of such a course would provide an excellent introduction to material that will be discussed in more detail throughout the course, generate students’ excitement and anticipation for the material, spark discussion…”
“I have treated Eating Disorders for 20 years. In that time, I have never come across anything that has the impact of ‘Cover Girl Culture’. The filmmaker did a brilliant job of exposing the media’s soul-killing influence on our girls today. I believe that all parents of girls should see this film.”
“As a Girl Scout Troop Leader, I deal with the impact the media’s messages have on our girl. Cover Girl Culture is an eye-opening documentary I believe is important for girls in my troop to see. We watched CGC in three parts with a discussion session after each segment. I was amazed by the insights the 7th grade girls came away with regarding the mixed messages, hypocrisy and lack of responsibility the teen magazines and fashion industry churn out. They were so passionate about how important this message is that they chose this topic for their Journey Take Action Project.
These girls will never look at a fashion magazine or fashion ads the same way thanks to Cover Girl Culture. Because Girl Scouting is about building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place, our workshop built around Cover Girl Culture was the perfect place to set an example.
I feel this is a video not only for girls, teenagers, and young women, but one that every parent should watch. Parents and adult women need to understand and realize how their behaviors and habits impact their own self-esteem, their daughter’s and other young girls who are watching!” - ELISSA M. JACKSON, Girl Scout Troop Leader, Cadette Troop 2943