Towards Teen Girls’ Self-Acceptance of Appearance

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Fri, Oct 09, 2015 @ 02:20 PM

The way teen girls feel about their appearance can change on a dime.  A kind word, a cruel one, even how many “likes” their latest selfie receives, can impact the way they feel in the moment.  At YouthBeat, we track the way youth are feeling about their looks every year. 

Over the past few years, teen girls’ feelings about their looks have fluctuated, and in the first half of 2015 they’re not feeling as great as they could. Top 2 box agreement that “I am happy with the way I look” is down from a high of 55% in 2013 to just 47% this year.  Compare that to 61% of teen boys who are currently happy with their appearance, and the percentage seems even starker. 

Plus-size models NYFashionWeekIn this climate of acceptance of others—even as last month’s New York Fashion Week was inclusive of various sizes, shapes, combinations of features, and gender identities—our teen girls aren’t feeling as good about their looks as the adults who love them might hope. 

One marketer, Dove, has launched a new “Change One Thing” campaign that aims to move teen girls’ self-esteem needle in the right direction.  The spot features a series of teen girls, each speaking a wish for a different physical feature, followed by another teen girl with that desired feature, speaking her own wish.  The point is that, well, the grass is always greener the other side…in the looks department (reminding teen viewers that someone desperately wishes they could look like YOU).  The campaign is part of Dove’s overarching Campaign for Real Beauty, and consistent with its spots targeting adults, features layperson consumers, rather than professional models.  The new campaign also coincides with a Dove + Pinterest partnership in which 80 self-esteem boosting pins are available for teens. 

BitmojiAnother approach is to take real-life images out of the mix altogether.  Bitstrips, the online comic creation tool, allows teens (and adults) to create virtual avatars, usually with enough identifying features to look roughly like the creator.  The projection into cartoon style makes features less detailed, glossing over the one little thing that one might nitpick, and focusing on all of the things the creator loves about himself or herself.  Here, the author’s Bitmoji (a similar cartoon avatar, suitable for using in messages) delivers a positive self-affirmation. 

How can your brand help?  Closely examine every facet of your messaging to teens, especially girls.  What kind of standards of beauty are you promoting?  What kind of self-talk are you encouraging?  The village needs to pay more attention to these teen girls, who are still children.  Be a positive voice for them.

Tags: girls, Appearance, kids tweens teens market research, Dove, Teens, fashion, gender

A Post-Millennial Pitcher and What She Says About Gender Right Now

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 @ 03:07 PM

As a Philly girl, a (long since retired) softball player, a lifelong baseball fan, and, of course, aSI Mo'neDavis professional observer of youth culture, I couldn’t help but tune into the Little League World Series match between the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia and a team of tween rivals from Nevada. While this event always piques my interest, this year’s pull was decidedly more powerful: the team’s pitcher, Mo’ne Davis.

At a time in the sports calendar when preseason football typically dominates, 13-year-old Davis claimed the cover of Sports Illustrated, making her the first Little Leaguer to do so while still in their formative years. Davis isn’t the first girl to take the field in the crown event of the Little League season, but she is the first to pitch for a win, and the first African-American girl to get in the game at this level.

While many girls have gotten attention for playing boys’ games, many have credited Davis with being the first product of Title IX and the right to a fair playing field it provides for female athletes. Davis is clearly not a publicity stunt, and she’s presented as more than a symbol – she’s someone that her coaches and teammates expect to deliver in the highest pressure athletic situation that many athletes her age will ever face.

Davis arrives on our radar at a time when we’re talking about gender norms, expectations, and realities more than ever before. The very definitions of masculinity and femininity may be in constant flux, but today’s post-Millennials often appear to be growing up at a time when gender is more fluid than ever. We think Mo’Ne Davis – the phenomenon as much as the girl herself – serves as a symbol of what we believe are the evolving ideas and ideals about gender for today’s youth.

  1. Post-Millennial doesn’t mean “post-gender.” With much talk about this being a post-gender cohort, we think it’s critical to acknowledge that Davis’ dramatic victory over a team from Texas, and her mere presence on the mound has garnered a lot of attention. Philly Magazine recently described her as a “reluctant cover girl” who would prefer to catch some of the other games at the South Williamsport, PA tournament in peace. Kids interviewed about the young star for various publications echo the same sentiment that many adults do: this is/she is a big deal. She is on the cover of SI at the end of August, afterall.
  2. To Post-Millennials, everyone who can play should play. Davis is different – it’s not debatable among youth or adults. At the same time, this bucking of sports norms feels very different than it has in previous times, and in some locales still, where we see girls attempting to play being met with accusations of spotlight-seeking. We’ve often heard cries of inequity from boys, not girls, forced to compete against a perceived softer, more fragile set of competitors. But the post-Millennial response to Mo’Ne seems in line with their overall perspective on gender: gender shouldn’t stop you from doing something you’re good at or love.
  3. Boys will be boys, but they’ll also be buddies. While Davis’ pitching is worth watching, I found myself more engrossed in the off-the-field interactions between Mo’Ne and her teammates. To be clear, Mo’Ne doesn’t seem to play the role of mother, cheerleader or even “cool chick” when she’s in the dugout. With serious eyes, she watches the game. Her teammates stand alongside her naturally, without awareness that she’s symbolic of something bigger than the next batter at the plate. When she was pulled from the game, the coach and her infielders seem to have a kind of conversation that felt anything but gendered. It’s possible that, knowing all eyes are on them, these boys are on their best behavior. But in the heat of a game like this one, it seems unlikely that they could fake the kind of friendship, built on mutual respect, which their gestures and body language convey.
  4. Who says girls don’t like baseball? Post-Millennials are more likely than earlier cohorts to have gone to school in co-ed settings from the time they were toddlers. They are more likely to invite boys and girls to their birthday parties. They are even okay watching Frozen (even if Olaf is sometimes the convenient snowy excuse for listening to 1.5 hours worth of show tunes in a princess flick). Boys are happy to don rainbow loom bracelets, and they’re more likely to have been raised by a dad who changed diapers. And guess what? They know that sometimes that stuff that they’re not supposed to like, or their supposed to see as strange for someone of their gender to do, is actually fun. Mo’Ne seems pretty determined to make her mark, but not because of gender politics or a pro-social mission. She seems to like to pitch. 

Tags: post-millennials, girls, boys, Sports, gender

Navigating Gender Right Now

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 @ 03:58 PM

In case you missed it, we ended our summer at YouthBeat with a look at boys, girls and “Navigating the Murky Waters of Gender Right Now.” Based on YouthBeat research, an academic and media audit and our “Boy-Girl Poll” (fielded in August of this year with our KidzEyes and TeensEyes panels), we identified four rules for re-thinking gender and its relationship to your brand or business right now…Gender Research

  1. Don’t blend; EXTEND! Much has been made of this cohort’s attitudes towards gender – they don’t see it, they don’t care…Well, we think that’s only half of the story. This generation of youth (like every generation before them!) certainly cares about and recognizes gender and gender differences. Instead of trying to show gender neutral or non-stereotypical depictions of girls and boys, or trying to create offerings that live “in the middle” of gender (what’s often been called “gender blending”), we advocate “extending” your offerings. Don’t try to make one size fit all…In your “girly” shows, make sure you reflect the wide range of being a girl that your audience would expect to see in their everyday lives. The same for boys – make sure masculinity isn’t defined one way. Instead, show them multiple ways to be comfortable in whatever skin they’re in.
  2. Don’t ignore; DECIDE! Many brands must make a call regarding gender – and if you don’t think you do, then you might be missing something…When it comes to gender, there’s no point in ignoring the girl-boy question in your creative briefs, in your research designs or in your products. Just as age matters to most youth propositions, so does gender. Seek to be deliberate about the decisions you’re making  egarding gender rather than assuming it simply doesn’t matter.
  3. Don’t battle; EMBRACE! This cohort might occasionally find themselves in a gender debate, but for the most part, today’s youth believe that gender shouldn’t be a limitation. It doesn’t mean that lines aren’t drawn in all kinds of complicated ways when it comes to gender roles and expectations. But it does mean that brands that pit one gender against another risk being deemed out of touch, and worse, insensitive. Feel free to celebrate girls or bolster boys, but don’t position gender empowerment as a zero-sum game. U.K. Toys R Us stores are taking a cue from this rule, refusing to label toy aisles by gender… We’ll see if they’re decision actually changes children’s preferences (we’re not so sure), but we think they’re making the right statement about making everyone feel welcome to tinker with the toys of their choosing.
  4. Don’t assume; UNDERSTAND! Does all of this sound slightly confusing? Sometimes it is! Gender norms are constantly being negotiated in society at large, and of course, in youth culture. Before setting your strategy, make sure you’re plugged into the conversation surrounding gender in your category. And that means researching your topic or your offering with both boys and girls so you know how your audience members or consumers differ from each other, and, importantly, where they find their common ground.

Tags: youth research, girls, boys, gender, culture

Skins: Are We Afraid of Authenticity?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 @ 03:21 PM

Last week, MTV’s teen soap, Skins, garnered attention from bloggers and media outlets based on rumors that its producers may have violated child pornography laws by shooting its underage actors in inappropriate scenes. As we, like most everyone who has opined on this topic, haven’t seen the footage and don’t have expertise on this issue, we’re going to leave this issue alone…

But not surprisingly, the collective conversation on Skins quickly turned away from this legal issue towards a theme we’ve heard before: teen TV has gone too far. As I read and watched commentary, I couldn’t help but develop a sneaking suspicion that most of those who claimed that Skins had crossed the line hadn’t actually seen the show. Many of the most passionate blog comments came after the caveat, “I haven’t seen the show, but…” Seemingly under-informed commentators professed that Skins was “smut” (as one morning hostess noted), and that its producers should be “rounded up” (as one TV editorialist professed). The narrative surrounding Skins seemed to trump any conversation about the story of the show itself.skins logo

All of these critiques made me wonder, “will teens even like this show?” Our data shows that most teens have taste when it comes to TV. They get blamed for Jersey Shore, but more of them tune in to House. They watch Lost, but pass on The Bachelorette. They give Gossip Girl a chance, but they really go for Glee.

But after watching Skins, we think teens might continue to tune in. Here are a few things we heard about the show, and here’s what we saw:

  1. All they do is have sex! Skins shows a lot of kissing, and a little provocative dancing, but we’ve seen that before. And there is a lot of talking about sex - and it’s crass, raw and not so eloquent. It’s an adolescent version of fart jokes and potty humor. But it sounds pretty true to how teens talk about sex – more testing their knowledge than putting words into action.
  2. They make it seem like everyone is having sex and doing drugs…Actually, in episode one, the show’s suave star, Tony tries to persuade Stanley to lose his virginity before he turns 18. And – SPOILER ALERT – by the end of the episode, Stanley takes a pass. Stanley does buy drugs for a party but he’s hardly a seasoned pro. Far from being confident and cool, he’s terrified by the bizarre and decidedly unglamorous drug dealer who he meets (in the suburbs, no less). He’s so frazzled that he buys way more than he intended and leaves more shaken than self-satisfied.
  3. They’re acting as though all teens act like this. Actually, in this first episode, the show’s central characters explicitly differentiate themselves from the “rich” kids who don’t do drugs, and seem to live in a whole different world. Within their group, each character has a very different relationship to sex and drugs. And their appeal might be, in part, that they seem to be outsiders. Tony does have the chameleon-like ability to gain entrée into the prep school world, but he finds he doesn’t quite fit in when he shows up to a prep school party with his rag-tag group of pals.  
  4. These characters have no redeeming value. Yes, Skins is more about socializing than the SATs. But the characters are far from shallow or one-dimensional. They’re rebellious and cool, but also vulnerable and confused. And mostly, they seem to be seeking the kind of love and stability that the adults in their lives aren’t providing (parents and teachers are frequently shown as “on the verge” – fueled by out of control rage or neediness),  

Maybe the most subversive thing about Skins is that it feels real. We see the angst that we know teens experience. We see the moral dilemmas they wrestle with, and we witness how teens make decisions – sometimes the right ones and often the wrong ones. We see a world that doesn’t exactly mirror that of Skins’  teen viewers, but one that contains the elements that they can recognize and relate to (likely because the writers tapped into a poised panel of teen experts in the development of the show to make sure they got the language and the nuances just right). Real authenticity is sometimes harder to accept than reality TV.

Whether teens feel that Skins gets it right or not, it seems to us that this is the kind of TV that’s worth considering before dismissing. Adults might prefer shows that show teens a more aspirational view of their lives (one in which a song cures all ills and risks are easily avoided). But we think teens deserve entertainment that makes them think, reflect and even laugh at an approximation of reality on their own terms.

Tags: parents, Teens, gender, TV, culture, school, MTV, Skins

Re-thinking Gender: What Do You Think?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 @ 01:49 PM

For the last century, and long before it, scholars, scientists, doctors and parenting experts have debated between focusing on gender differences, between the notion that boys were being “left behind” and that girls were, and between a belief in fixed and blurry gender identities.

athletic boy2

Consumer culture has been credited or accused with allowing youth to explore gender or proscribing narrow definitions of it. While some industries cater to boy and girl differences (think the toy manufacturing and toy retail industries), others have sought common ground between the sexes (think media entities like Nick and Disney). And the culture that youth consume has embodied a scope large enough to hold gender benders and gender stereotypes alike.

But regardless of our theories on gender that aim to describe what it is and what it ought (or ought not) to be, youth experience gender in a way that’s all their own.girl

In YouthBeat’s next round of qualitative research, conducted among a virtual panel of 18 families across the country, we hope to uncover what gender means on boys’ and girls’ own their terms. How do ideas around gender being a spectrum versus a binary translate into the lives of real youth? What role does gender identity play in their emerging understanding of their overall identity? And what role does gender play (or not play) in the choices that they make as consumers of products, services and media?

To do this, we need your help. What questions about gender keep you up at night? What hypotheses do you have about this generation and their relationship to gender? How does your brand negotiate gender and what challenges have you faced?

Tags: girls, boys, Youth, gender, culture