Have you seen them yet? The JC Penney ads? The Target ads? The K-Mart and Macy’s ads? If you’ve said, “No,” pat yourself on the back! Clearly you have been complying with the energy conservation requests and staying away from television viewing for the past week or so. If you are nodding your head in agreement, then you know what I am referring to. The infamous Back to School Clothing ads. I know, I know. While most of the country is still blistering from record heat waves and wild fires, the media is fanning our personal flames of discontent by inundating us with pictures of boys and girls swathed in woolens, corduroys, argyles, and tweeds. According to these ads, no child is too young to “Get Ready” to start the new school year and “Work It” with the most important back to school item of them all”¦
The SEXIEST, most flirtatious, stand-out-in-the-crowd back to school outfit EVER!
No doubt there is a collective sigh of relief from many as bikini season ends and is replaced, in most parts of the country, by layers of concealing sweaters. But underneath it all are usually the tummy control panty hose, a constant reminder that we are still trying to compress our bodies to fit into the model of academic babeness.
This year the ads seem more egregious than usual. One campaign in particular is using clothing as the ultimate weapon of lass destruction by pitting girls against each other based on what they are wearing. The ad assigns clothing the super power to transform a girl so completely that everyone thinks she is the “new kid” and hence gets all of the attention. This leaves toxic fallout comprised of anger and envy in the other girls and reinforces the message that girls are more focused on being the fairest one of all than fostering healthy peer relationships and setting academic goals. Another spot uses a favorite old Motown tune, “Get Ready,” as the soundtrack for 7- to 10-year-old girls as they shimmy their way into the front door of the school building. Is it a coincidence that as we get a close up of one sassy schoolgirl we hear the lyrics, “I wanna make love to you so get ready”?
Really??? Am I the only one who finds this offensive? Am I over analyzing? Is my feminist, size activist-self missing out on the simple joy of fashion and reminiscing about a great tune from my youth? Am I overreacting to the K-Mart ad that has 9-year-old kids strutting down the cat walk and advising kids to “Work It” (and trust me, they are NOT talking about history, science or math!)?
But if speaking my truth and helping girls and women resist the urge to conform to the backassward priorities of our society means I come off as a Debbie Downer, then I am willing to take the heat”¦ literally and figuratively. Because it is only going to get worse between now and Labor Day as newspapers, magazines, and Internet articles begin following suit and selling fantasies of life-changing clothing with Clark Kent to Superman capabilities. And even better if your new clothes happen to be showing off your new body that miraculously dropped two sizes over the eight weeks you were away from your classmates. What could be more amazing than showing up and hearing everyone exclaim how thin you are and enviously asking how you lost so much weight and murmuring words of congratulations followed by hisses of, “I hate you”?
You may be wondering why I care so much about this. After all, it’s a tradition, a ritual, something we have all had to weather in our lifetimes”¦ no harm, no foul. But the truth is these campaigns may spur impulsive, desperate and dangerous last minute attempts to drop as much weight as possible before school starts. And that is something that worries me. Additionally, as a Certified College Counselor, I am appalled at the message this sends to older students. Never mind the houses you built in Peru for Habitat for Humanity. Forget the Advanced Calculus classes you took at Stanford to buff up your college resume or the sacrifices you made by taking extra SAT tutoring classes. Getting your mind or your resume in shape doesn’t hold an energy saving candle to shaping up your body and wardrobe in time for the first day of school. THAT is the 4.0 that is most coveted!!!
So what can we do to prepare for this onslaught?
Step 1. Dig a hole
Step 2. Climb into the hole
Step 3. Stay in the hole until October.
OK. Not realistic, and I recognize that there is a fine line between denial, avoidance, and self-preservation. In a piece I wrote titled Cruel Days Cruel Days, I offered some suggestions about ways to manage this challenging time of the year. But I would also like to share some additional thoughts and strategies.
Allow me to present:
Plan B: This is a more realistic way to win the self-esteem battle and stave off the temptation to fall back into disordered eating patterns that the fall season may trigger.
Step 1. Get Active. No, I am not talking about going on a crash exercise regimen to lose weight before the bell rings. I am talking about becoming less passive. Know what is in store for you. Prepare yourself for what you will see in the stores, magazines, on television, on the Internet and decide in advance how you want to control your exposure to these messages. You have more control than you think. Take an active role in what you let into your life. These media messages are aimed at selling you the notion that you are not OK in the body you have now. Would you let a friend like that into your life?
Step 2. Find your own voice and use it. You will not be able to keep all of the media messages out of your life (See plan A) but you can neutralize the power the messages have over you. Define your own priorities for what makes a successful school year. Set your own standards for fashion, personal style, and comfort. Speak out against the media messages when possible and let people know there are more important things to focus on when the school bell rings on that first day.
Step 3. Remember you are not alone. Find support systems to help you maintain your resolve and reinforce your beliefs. You would be surprised how many resources are out there saying exactly the same things that I am saying. (Click here for resources). You are not the only person who is struggling to resist the urge to succumb to drastic crash dieting or relapsing into disordered eating behaviors because you are feeling vulnerable to comparisons. Be forgiving of yourself and if possible, try to find the humor in the situation. Because without a sense of humor, it just wouldn’t be funny.
What are your thoughts about this? What strategies have worked for you in the past? What words of wisdom do you have for others? Let’s have a diablogue about this complex and touchy subject.