Here’s an article out of the UK about the challenges that parents face in trying to raise healthy daughters, and that young girls face in our culture generally.

Steve Biddulph, author of a new book entitled Raising Girls, argues that there has been a major increase in the number of young girls with serious self-esteem issues, leading to eating and other disorders. What’s the reason?  Our increasingly inescapable media-obsessed world, which targets young women with unhealthy messages. 

I find it a stretch to believe that this is really a new phenomenon.  Certainly girls have been subjected to unhealthy messages about sex and appearance for decades, though perhaps it does get worse each year.  The article also seems to want to blame the “profit-motive,” as if big business alone is to blame for our coarsened culture. 

That seems an upside down way to look at the problem. Certainly there are businesses—and that includes fashion designers, Hollywood producers, magazine editors, and other entertainment mavens—who are trying to make a buck from playing on young girls’ insecurities.  Yet the problem is far from just an unhappy side-effect of capitalism.  Indeed the only reason why the market rewards inappropriate messages is because people are buying products—television shows, magazines, and trendy clothing—that offer these negative messages.  That’s the real problem—that too much of our society exhibits a preference for these products and messages.

The article also notes that childhood has become compressed:  Today’s 10 year olds are facing issues and messages that used to first confront 14 year olds.  Yet it’s interesting that on the other end of the spectrum, we’ve extended the expectations for “youth” or adolescent behavior into late twenties or even early 30s (thus someone like Sandra Fluke can be cast as a “student activist” rather than a no-longer even very young woman). 

There’s a problem there too.  Fundamentally, it seems our culture has become fixated on a stage of life – adolescence – that is perhaps the least healthy in terms of priorities, when sex and vanity often take on a super-sized importance.

What can be done about this? 

Changing the culture is an uphill battle, but it’s one that each of us can fight.  We do that by paying attention to what we patronize in terms of fashion designers and entertainment, as well as our behavior as parents.  My oldest daughter (of three) is just 7 years old.  I know that the challenges lay in front of me and they aren’t far off.  But my husband and I are the best defense—really the only—defense that she’s got.  So paying strict attention to the information and entertainment she is exposed to has to be among my most important jobs.

Everyone should be working to help cultivate a healthier culture, but in the meantime, parents simply have to step up.