Today's Illusionary Icons

My generation grew up watching Mary Tyler Moore proudly hold her own in the boorish business world, Edith innocently defy Archie’s intolerance, and Maude argue for social reform. We read about the “women’s movement” in Cosmopolitan magazine, while Cher broke new ground with her unabashed sexuality. Over the years, the struggles of our older sisters made it possible for us to open doors, to attain more than they had, to soar. As we grew up, we dreamed of meeting our Prince Charming, but we also envisioned working in the city or becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Indeed, over the years we made important strides in our quest for equality with men in business and in society, but what about in relationships?

Science tells us that women’s domesticity and nurturing qualities are instinctive, however, we also learned ways of thinking and interacting with others from our mothers, who had, of course, learned from their mothers. But what had we learned? Thirty years ago, most of us saw our mothers cater to our fathers, while dismissing their own ideas, and neglecting themselves. They did what was expected of them, but were they happy? As one woman said, “I’ll never forget that look on my mother’s face… she couldn’t have been happy.” We told ourselves that things would be different in our relationships, and they are, to some extent. But had the freedom and independence that had finally bubbled to the surface made us wiser and more connected to our inner selves, or did it just give us more outside choices? Had those achievements influenced our roles as loving and lovable companions?

In discussing this subject with women as young as thirteen and as old as never mind, I could see that the older women who had been influenced by our pioneer sisters, knew how important individuality and respect were to women. The younger ones, however, seemed to demonstrate the same self-effacing behavior as in years past, putting the needs and desires of men ahead of their own. This new breed of female seemed unprepared, naïve, and oblivious to what women before us had accomplished. Accordingly, if how we think and behave is a result of what we were taught and exposed to as children, what does that tell us about girls growing up today?

Have you noticed how obsessed most young women appear to be with having the best body, face, and hairstyle? Why is physical “perfection” such a priority today? Could it be the dozens of makeover and plastic surgery shows on television or the constant marketing of products consuming the airwaves and billboards, luring our young women with false promises of happiness and everlasting love, and almost hypnotizing them into buying their magical potions and gadgets -- look like your favorite movie star, and have a wonderful life! Those kinds of deceitful messages are shameful and potentially harmful to women who try futilely to reach the media’s ideal archetype. Our young women need to believe that they don’t have to look, think, or behave like the rich and famous, or do what the so-called “trendsetters” dictate just so advertisers and retailers can make a buck.

I am also concerned that a lot of girls feel they need to have a man (actually, a boy) in their lives in order to feel complete. Part of the reason is age -- the dawn of hormones -- but could it also be a result of reality shows where a dozen women compete for one man by using any means necessary? These shows have turned meeting and winning the heart of a man (a/k/a “falling in love”) into a spectator-driven, cut-throat event featuring ruthless women who act as if men were almost extinct!

Now, I admit that as young girls we wanted to have boyfriends and we wore makeup (remember that black eyeliner and blue eye shadow?), but I also remember that all of that was just a part of our lives as budding young women. We were also curious about the world, about finding out who we were, and what we would become.

One reason for the somewhat distorted thinking of young women today could be that the world around them is not teaching them about integrity, confidence, or self-esteem. Parents today work really hard and can only hope that their children will listen to their words of wisdom and experience. It’s a losing battle when young women are then bombarded by self-serving, deceptive messages emanating from the media around them.

Please know that when I state my case I am not advocating censorship here. Nor am I in favor of producing a class of male-hating women -- far from it. I am talking about taking responsibility for teaching our young people the difference between what is true and appropriate for them in real life, and what is put out there for “shock value” and entertainment purposes. We need to spread the word to our young women that they have a choice not to be that woman in the video dancing half naked and that they will still get a boyfriend (and one of better quality). We have to tell them that it’s okay to refrain from using (and listening to) offensive and disgusting language, and that Britney and Christina are dressed like that because they are on stage (not in a classroom), and that yes, blow jobs are sex!

We have to teach our little sisters how to be comfortable in their own skin by shouting Be kind to yourself! Don’t obsess about your looks or berate yourself because you’re not model-thin. As women, we are our harshest critics and hold ourselves to ridiculous standards. Be independent! Don’t just say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to…” Do it! Set limits! Don’t let anyone mistreat you -- stand up for yourself and keep your word. Express your appreciation! When we embrace gratitude and humility, even more goodness and love comes to us. Listen to your inner voice! Don’t be someone who jumps to conclusions, but if you have that “feeling” deep down, don’t ignore it -- trust your instincts. Believe in yourself! Decide what you want, go after it whole-heartedly, and stay committed. Let ‘em see your joy! Joy comes through in our smiles and our eyes, and enables us to attract even more love into our lives. Remember, what you give out, you get back.

Author's Bio: 

Audrey Valeriani is an author, freelance writer, relationship coach, columnist for the Malden Observer, and Board Chair for Self Esteem Boston Educational Institute, Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts. Her book "Boot Camp for the Broken-Hearted: How to Survive (and Be Happy) in the Jungle of Love" is designed to help readers improve self-esteem and relationships, and is on sale now.