I love my daughter's nose as deeply as I love everything about her; I am her father, after all. And my love for her and her little brother is unconditional. If only theirs for themselves were equally. But it's not, which makes them like most of the rest of us. We love (and like) ourselves conditionally, and often comparatively, and this is rarely good.
Why? Because comparison is the "thief of joy," as Teddy Roosevelt said; which is pretty amazing when you think that Teddy didn't have Facebook and Instagram and 3,000 ads a day to deal with. But my kids — and all of our kids and each of us -— do.
And each day my daughter and son bear witness to images, standards and the expectations of other, telling them what they should and can look like. Yes, I'm talking about advertising that has photoshopped the faces and the bodies in them; creating wildly false and unrealistic expectations about what the human body is, thus affecting our minds.
Two weeks ago, as I was putting my daughter and her beautiful 8 year-old nose to bed, she looked up at me and apropos of nothing asked if I thought she was ugly. Again, she didn't ask me if I thought she was pretty; she asked if I thought she was ugly. And yes, my heart broke in that moment.
Where did she get that worry? Why is an 8-year-old worrying about that? To what and whom is she comparing herself? While I don't have answers to all those questions, I do know this much to be true:
- 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner
- 53% of 13 year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. 4 years later, 78% will be.
- Girls who were already dissatisfied with their bodies showed more dieting, anxiety, and bulimic symptoms after prolonged exposure to fashion and advertising images in a teen girl magazine.
Again, comparison is the thief of joy, even sometimes when the things we compare ourselves aren’t real. The thing is, we do not parent alone and neither can we totally insulate our children from what surrounds them, be it a billboard of Kim Kardashian photoshopped to look like she's wearing Miley Cyrus' body, their friends, their friends' parents, our politicians … trust me, I've tried. You can't put blindfolds and earmuffs over them and then get them to school on-time. And what would they learn if you could?
But if you've ever known anyone who has felt less than about themselves after seeing one of these ads, you know this hurt and harm aren't limited to children, or girls. About 80% of women feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty ad; and 50% of women 18 to 25 would rather be hit by a truck than be fat. As many as 16% of high school boys suffer from disordered eating.
All of which is why my wife and I first started pushing for some kind of federal, legislative action to protect our kids — and all of us — from the direct link between advertising that deceives and misrepresents by materially changing the people in them, and emotional, mental and physical health consequences; in particular among children and girls.
When I talk about "materially changing," what do I mean? I mean changes to shape, size, proportion, color, the removal and/or enhancement of individual features. These are the things that create expectations and side effects. I am not talking about photoshopping a blue sky bluer, a grey car greyer, or cleaning up fly-away hair.
And almost three years later, this conversation has, with bi-partisan Congressional support, become the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (H.R. 4341). The Act asks the the nation's consumer protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to develop a legislative framework for how to protect our children from this type of deceptive and manipulative advertising.
We’re asking the FTC to step in — because despite the abundance of data about the cause and effect relationship here — the ad-industry has done nothing to self-regulate or change practices, and their status-quo is hurting too many of us, my children included, and I was tired of doing nothing.
To be clear, this is not a first amendment issue; it's a consumer protection and health issue. To be equally clear, this is not a silver bullet nor will it cure all that makes us feel badly about ourselves. But it is a start, and it is a moment so many have been working toward for so long. And it is time we hold advertising as accountable for how they sell as what they sell. Because if these pictures told the same boldfaced lies in words that they do in images, regulatory or legal action would have been taken long ago. I’m not often fan of the regulatory or litigious, but I don’t know what choice the ad-industry has left us.
With all of this, it's also why my wife and I started a petition in support of the Truth in Advertising Act. It's a way for those who care and agree and know things have to change, to support policy with their voices and stories.
I hope you'll consider signing and supporting, because the unfettered right of advertisers to swing their false-expectations-holding-fists must end at my daughter's nose.
You can sign here: Change.org/TruthInAds.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com