Courier Press

"Girls need to know real love isn't cosmetic," Kate Braser
- October 1, 2006

Ladies, it's time to own up to our insecurities. I'm as guilty as anyone of the female cultural issues represented in a new exhibit at the Evansville Museum.

Looking at Lauren Greenfield's "Girl Culture" is like standing in front of the mirror, naked.

The exhibit is the culmination of five years Greenfield spent traveling the country and capturing images of women and girls.

If, like me, you've ever worn Lee Press-On nails to a softball game, poked a hole in the ozone layer with hair spray, wished you looked more like Jennifer Aniston, could lose that last 10 pounds, wear 6-inch heels without flinching and fill out that bikini top, then prepare to see that you're in good company in the United States.

Greenfield's pictures show little girls at softball games wearing nail polish, strippers preparing for a night of work, teenagers getting ready for prom, toddlers playing dress-up and a woman doing a blind weigh-in at an eating disorder clinic.

That last image is one that hit me in a place that hurt most. It reminded me of words I wrote in a college essay on anorexia:

"She looks like a corpse. Her skin is peeling off, cheeks sunken in, face ghostly white, once-golden hair falling out, formerly brilliant blue eyes glazed over and dull gray. Her bones look ready to rip through her skin at any moment."

The woman they described is no stranger.

In fact, it's the same person I shared a room with for 18 years, proudly ran beside in cross-country during high school and played Barbies with hundreds of times.

She's my sister, Jen.

A girl who - in so many ways - is and always has been "perfect." Prom queen, blond-haired, blue-eyed, thin, athletic, smartest in her class, nice to everyone.

She paid a price for it.

She's better now, but I think that, like many women, she'll never be convinced that even when she isn't perfect people love her like crazy.

I guess in some ways, she is now a survivor of girl culture.

And so am I. And so are you.

The community leaders who brought Greenfield's exhibit here hope it will spark discussion.

They hope that before you encourage a 10-year-old's diet, send a healthy teenager to fat camp or buy a junior high student makeup, you'll tell her how smart or kind she is, that her strong body, wild hair and gap-toothed smile are what make her a stand-out beauty.

Greenfield said that in the 1800s, women judged themselves by their good works. Today, she said our measure of worth is good looks.

I'm as realistic as the next person that these things can improve but will probably never go away.

But we can start small, by acknowledging what is true.

Lipstick smears off in minutes, hair dye fades in a few weeks, Botox in about a year.

The truth is, think about someone you love and ask yourself this: Why do you love them?

I bet it has nothing to do with their hair, the way mascara brings out their eyes or the size of their jeans.

I love Jen because she ran beside me when she could have easily left me in the dust, because she makes everyone she knows feel important and because she is strong enough to beat a disease that eats you to the bones.

She is living proof the issues Greenfield exposes aren't insurmountable.

I love her because she was a victim of girl culture, but now she's kicking its butt.