Our Speaker Brie Mathers
Since graduating from Montreal’s McGill University in Women’s Studies and Humanistic Studies with Distinction, Brie Mathers has spoken to 70,000 teen girls worldwide with her multi-media event Love the Skin You’re In. Inspiring young women to find compassion within themselves and for one another and to lead a new conversation about their bodies and beings. Brie was invited by Dr Karen L. Taylor, Ecolint’s Director of Education, to speak to parents at La Chât, during her visit.
Brie’s presentation wowed us with multi-media images, invited us to practice mindfulness, share some love with our 5 year-old selves and make sexy monkey poses! At the same time she opened our eyes with some daunting statistics on mental health.
I cannot hope to recapture all of her wonderfully interactive, insightful and inspirational presentation here … but simply give you a taste of some of the facts and figures, a few of the memorable quotes and share some of the practical measures you can take. We hope to see Brie back in Switzerland and talking with our children next time.
A Decline in Mental Health
Generally mental health issues are increasing as young adults spend more time online – typically 9 hours digitized per day! Brie started her talks about body image, now they have developed into talks about resiliency as the impact of the web has increased. Girls tend to have more problems than boys with body image because they use social media more.
- From 2007 to 2015, suicide rates doubled among teen girls and by more than 30 percent among teen boys.
- Suicide rates for teens rose between 2010 and 2015 after they had declined for nearly two decades. The study suggests that one factor could be rising social media use. Recent teen suicides have been blamed on cyberbullying, and social media posts depicting “perfect” lives may be taking a toll on teens’ mental health.
- In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode. Experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening, since many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. (USA Federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention)
- 23% of Grade 9 girls seriously consider suicide (Girl Scouts State of Girls 2017)
The Beauty Myth
Brie shared some videos and images of famous women who have had ‘their humanity airbrushed out of them”. She shocked us by telling us that if you Google “the most beautiful woman in the world” – you get pictures of 9 and 10 year old models – dressed provocatively as women.
She asked us to think about the impact the advertising, TV, film, music and beauty industry on our children’s perception of body image. Young people are linking lovability to sexuality.
Brie talks to teenage girls and boys about the beauty myth – how images in the media are what girls think are healthy, sexy and the universal standard, while boys are taught that this is what they should be attracted to.
Tina Fey American actress, comedian, writer, and producer
Making a Change
There are some examples of social media being used positively to send a message or incite a change.
“Sit still and smile in a beauty campaign “championing diversity”. But don’t actually speak about the fact that the lack of diversity is due to racism. Or speak about the origins of racism. It’ll cost you your job.”
Munroe Bergdorf – first transgender model.
Dior had a 14 year-old girl in an advert for anti-cellulite body cream aimed at women aged 50+. Dior pulled the advert after complaints.
# Not Buying It was set up in 2016 by people concerned by the objectification of women, by the porn and sex trade and by their normalising by the mass media. (Mainstream porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined each month.) Now their campaigns inspire people to join together in celebrating good representations and calling out the bad, everywhere from advertising to merchandising.
We all know that seeing thousands of “perfect” body types in the mass media is having negative affects on young girls and more. Airbrushing as a practice should be discouraged when it transforms otherwise permanent features on models. Globaldemocracy.com has campaigned for a “mandatory disclaimer” to state that a model has had her physical body manipulated on a computer. This is a very simple step in the right direction to addressing the harm that we’re causing.
There are also some positive role models in films. So girls can start to “be what they see”.
Princess Tiana – first African American Disney princess
Frozen – focus on the love between sisters
Moana – an adventurous teenager discovers her own identity
Wonder Woman – also has a female director
Brie inspires the girls and boys she talks with to create examples of positive outcomes, using social media in a good way, to spread the message – no matter what, I matter. The good news is that young people are the inventors and creators of our future culture. They can make a difference!
Moving Young People Towards Self Acceptance
If you ask your daughter to name 5 things she values about herself – she will always include a physical attribute. If you then ask her to name 5 things she loves /value about her friends or family – those closest to her – she does not include the physical.
What we tend to do is look at something on our body that we do not like and then take that negative thought with us. We need to change this inner dialogue.
Brie encourages young girls to move away from the incessant comparisons and move to self-acceptance. If your little sister said that negative thought about herself to you – what would you do? Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you love. Reprogramme your brain with positive affirmations.
As well as self-support, build a sisterhood of support. Flip the script. No more body shaming. Choose kindness. Say something uplifting. Everyone has the capacity for empathy. We also thrive when we make connections – serotonin levels increase more if you spend 30 minutes with your best friend rather than take a run for the same time!
So What Can You Do?
A dad’s role with his daughters is vital – the natural protective factor but also to dismiss the media. Young women need to hear that they are so much more than their body image.
All of us should use positive messages – do not make comments on the physical about yourself or your children. Instead say, “you look healthy” or “you are glowing”.
- Talk about the real stuff e.g. sexting
- Give your children space but pay attention
- Resist getting angry
- Do not put off getting help
- Treat the whole family
- Model healthy body esteem – physical activity and healthy food
- Keep your sense of humour!
- The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf – for Dad’s to read with their daughters
- Girls and Sex – Navigating the Complicated New Landscape – Peggy Orenstein
- The Body Image Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help Girls Develop a Healthy Body Image in an Image-Obsessed World
Please go to Brie’s website for a full list of recommended books.
 It is thought that serotonin can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function. Serotonin deficiency can be a cause of depression, anxiety and more.