What Every Woman and Girl Needs to Know About Models

Kara Powell | Aug 19, 2014

I have yet to meet a female over about age 13 (and often it’s more like about age 10) who hasn’t looked at pictures of women in advertisements or other media and thought, “I wish I looked like that.”

But there is a secret behind those images. One that all females need to know. It’s a freeing message that we need to share with the women and girls we care about.

In real life, those female models don’t even look like their pictures.

Want proof? Check out these “before” and “after” shots of some celebrity women who have been photoshopped, including Madonna, Tyra Banks, and Heidi Klum. (Warning: A few pictures feature scantily clad women.)

The contrast is stunning.

Faith Hill’s arms instantly become thinner. Cameron Diaz magically gains a perfectly flat belly. Every single woman’s skin is more golden and less blotchy. Wrinkles and laugh lines disappear.

When I see these types of pictures, I feel two emotions: anger and determination. Anger that females are held captive to unrealistic images of the female body. Determination to share the message that the models and actresses who can make us feel insecure don’t even look like their pictures.

These most recent pictures are just one stream in a river of online resources that shed light on the problem of unrealistic images, as well as how we can respond. This 3 minute Dove video about selfies raises some great insights about the real meaning of beauty. And here’s insight into Seventeen’s Body Peace Treaty, in which the magazine has pledged not to change girls’ bodies or face shapes.

So will you join us at the Fuller Youth Institute in our determination to share the message that the media’s portrayal of “beauty” is often unrealistic? If your answer is yes, here’s what you can do:

  1. Show these pictures to young people you know – especially females. Ask them to identify the differences in the “before Photoshop” and “after Photoshop” images. When I did this last night with my 11 year-old daughter, she noticed more discrepancies than I did.
  2. Talk with young people about how they feel when they see these pictures. What about these pictures makes them sad? Angry? Glad?
  3. Decide the messages you collectively want to remember when you see ads that make you feel inferior. When I was a high school student, I remember my youth pastor, Mike DeVito, saying that “God doesn’t make anything less than a perfect ten.” I probably told myself that mantra over 100 times when I would feel insecure and it filled me with confidence and courage.
  4. Beware of the messages you are (unknowingly) sending about physical beauty. Parents, do you only compliment your children’s appearance when they are well-scrubbed and well-dressed? How do you talk about your own body’s curves and “flaws”? Leaders, do you tend to shower kids who promote their appearance with more attention and positive affirmation?

What else do you do to help females recognize the unrealistic images of beauty in media, and embrace their own inner beauty?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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