Body image seems like an appropriate topic to me, while I'm writing about Helen, the most beautiful of all women in mythology. Apparently a new study shows that an alarming number of girls between the ages of 3 and 6 are worried about being fat-- 49% seem to worry either sometimes, or almost always.
Forty-nine percent seems like kind of an alarming statistic to me. But there's a silver lining, I guess. Those feelings of concern about being fat, and body image, AREN'T influenced by animated movies like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, with the idealized princess beauty and the tiny waists.
So what does all this mean? I think it tells us something we are already well aware of--children are more than capable of differentiating between real and imaginary. They can look at animated drawings and renderings and say "that isn't what people look like." This brings us right back to the old argument over Barbie dolls, too. Barbie has unrealistic proportions. If Barbie were a real person, she wouldn't be able to walk. But what if that very unrealistic image is the reason that children have no trouble playing with those dolls? The proportions are so obviously wrong that it divorces the doll from reality altogether-- just like Belle's overly large eyes, tiny waist, and animation (to say nothing of the monstrous beast she's held prisoner by) keep her from becoming an example of what a girl should look like.
Media representation of the ideal is of course still an issue. Women who are as thin as models make up an extraordinarily low percentage of people on the earth-- but because we see them everywhere on television and in magazines, we're tricked into believing that it's more "normal." The problem with models, is that they're people. Real live, breathing people, not imaginary princesses or obscenely busty dolls. But it isn't just the media that's perpetuating this myth of idealized beauty and the compulsion to change to fit it. All you have to do is walk into any woman's bathroom at home to see the cosmetics lining the shelves, or take a walk through your favorite drug store to see all the many products that women bring home. Adult women. Mothers of impressionable children. And don't get me started on tanning...
We buy pounds and pounds of makeup and gallons of hair dye to make ourselves "pretty enough." To feel better about our body image. And if you think that kids aren't watching that, aren't witnessing that, aren't paying attention to every comment their mother, sister, cousin, aunt, or grandmother is making about how they don't like the way they look, or how they wish they were skinnier, then we're deluding ourselves.
So what do I think about this body image study? And the results? I think it's less about the cartoons and more about real life. And good body image for children starts with Mom, and Big Sis, not with the imaginary characters in animated cartoons, or the totally fake-looking Barbie dolls.
As for Helen, I suspect that after Leda's rape by Zeus, she heard all about the burden of being beautiful from her mother--and how she needed to be careful not to attract the notice of men. Helen probably wished she could do away with her beauty altogether, to avoid the troubles that would come with it. So that perhaps just one man would look at her as more than just a pretty face. I expect that men wouldn't be held responsible for what her beauty drove them to.
And on that note-- a new pair of letters between Meneleus and Helen are up on GeekaChicas for your reading pleasure!