In case you haven't been paying attention, the Girl Scouts of the USA
are about a lot more than sewing badges and campfires these days.
In fact, they've gotten ... political. And the main issue on their Public Policy and Advocacy Office's agenda is one near and dear to our hearts: how women and girls are portrayed in the media. (Shiseido
, W, OK and Self
, we're looking at you.)
We caught up with grown-up Girl Scout / policy associate Clare Bresnahan to get the scoop on their latest project: the Healthy Media for Youth Act, introduced last week in the Senate
by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and in the House
by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in March.
The gist: With 8-year-olds devouring US Weekly, the Scouts are aiming to complement their selling of Thin Mints with the molding of young minds. Here's what they hope the new legislation will accomplish.
Lemondrop: Hi, Clare. So, how did the Girl Scouts get involved in this issue?
The Girl Scouts have always been passionate about promoting social and emotional wellness for girls -- and that's all girls, not just girls who wear the sash! Our research shows that most 8-to-18-year-olds spend about 10 hours a day just using recreational media. And almost 90 percent of girls say they get a lot of pressure from the media and fashion industries to be thin. 65 percent say they compare their bodies to fashion models. 55 percent say they diet to lose weight and nearly one in three say they've starved themselves or refused to eat. We also know that three of the most common mental health issues for girls -- eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem -- are linked to the sexualization of girls and women in the media. We wanted to do something about this, so we came up with this bill.How would the Healthy Media for Youth Act work?
The bill has three parts. First, it would provide grants to non-profit youth empowerment groups so they can develop media literacy programs that teach kids how to think more critically about the media and ask, "What do I want to apply to my own life, and what do I want to keep on TV?"
Second, the bill will authorize the National Institutes of Health to review and conduct research on how depictions of girls and women in media impact kids. This is important because there are a lot of gaps in the current research -- we need better data on how media images link to eating disorders, early sexual behavior and so on.
Last, the bill will create a National Task Force on Women and Girls in the Media, which will develop voluntary standards and healthy and positive media images of women and girls.
Hmm, that last part sounds like it could lead to warnings or restrictions on the use of Photoshop?
Nope, that's not our approach. We want all of the stakeholders -- cable, broadcasting, publishing, and advocacy groups -- to come together and talk about what could work. I don't think these people are sitting around saying "How can we damage girls' self-esteem?" It's a question of raising awareness.
Our research shows that 81 percent of girls would rather see "real" or "natural" photos of women versus retouched, airbrushed versions, and 75 percent say they'd be more likely to buy clothes portrayed on "real-size models" rather than super-skinny ones. So we'd like to see more varied body types with natural physical imperfections and better representation of ethnicities in terms of the types of women portrayed. But we're also talking about story lines that show realistic and substantive courtship between characters rather than "love at first sight," so girls learn what healthy relationships look like, and put female characters in active, ambitious roles where they do more than just look pretty. This is about a lot more than Photoshopping.
So, what's next for the bill?
On Oct. 6 we partnered the National Broadcasters Association, the Creative Coalition, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association to hold a Healthy Media Images for Youth Summit, with keynote speaker Geena Davis where we'll start engaging with the industry directly about how we can promote more positive images of women and girls. Then this winter, we're launching It's Your Story, Tell It!, a program that will empower girls to use the media as an agent of change and vehicle for self-expression.
We're committed to doing whatever it takes to make healthy media images of girls and women the new normal.
To learn more about the Healthy Media for Youth Act and encourage your senator to support the bill, click here. If you're not politically inclined, read up on a taste of the newest Girl Scout Cookie. Then again, love a good Photoshop train wreck? Look no further.