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Beauty at Any Cost – Helping Young Women Avoid This Dangerous Trap
It’s no secret that our society and the media have established and continue to promote an idyllic, nearly impossible standard of beauty that women constantly judge themselves against and still aspire to achieve.
With the advent of cosmetic surgery and easily accessible treatments, this quest has reached a new climax. According to one estimate, American women spend nearly $7 billion a year on products used in the pursuit of beauty.
And we’ve all seen or heard stories of women addicted to Botox or plastic surgery – some have had so many pinches and creases their faces look like cartoon characters and yet they want more! These extreme cases are the victims of a popular culture saturated with images of celebrities and airbrushed, hypersexualized, perfectly haired models that can sometimes make even the most confident among us feel a little insecure or inadequate.
The extent of this problem was documented in a 2008 report published by the YWCA titled “Beauty At Any Cost”. The report highlights the substantial implications for women’s health on the endless treadmill of “achieving unrealistic beauty”. Through chronic and unhealthy diets, the use of smoking as a weight loss aid, the taking of unnecessary risks during cosmetic surgeries, and the absorption of dangerous chemicals through cosmetics, Women place themselves in precarious health situations to retain some semblance of their idealized physical selves. Women and girls are exposed to health problems throughout their lives – and the problems start at an early age.
Add to that an unregulated $50 billion a year cosmetics industry that puts unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products without testing or monitoring for health effects, ready to take advantage of these narrow beauty standards to convert women and girls as customers for life. Many of these companies go to great lengths to market their products to teens and “tweens” (8-12 years old) for this purpose. Their focus is on creating inexpensive products that appeal to this demographic with little or no consideration for the potential health or environmental impact of the chemicals used to produce them.
Clearly, young and adolescent girls are more vulnerable and susceptible to injury than ever. However, with a little guidance, they can learn to make safer, healthier choices for themselves and set an example for their peers.
What can you do to help young girls and teenagers you know not fall into this trap? Here are some guidelines you can use:
1. Responsibility starts and ends with you
Most children are influenced by the behaviors and attitudes of their parents and guardians. It is therefore up to you to set the bar of what is acceptable. If you want your daughters, nieces or younger sisters to adopt healthy habits, be sure to do the same. Take a look at your inventory of cosmetics and personal care products and eliminate any that contain ingredients known to be harmful. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database available online.
Their comprehensive database has over 25,000 cosmetics and skincare products from big companies and smaller ones you might not even know about. The products have all been researched, cataloged and ranked for safety concerns based on currently available data on the toxicity of their ingredients. The database also provides lists of the top 10 and worst products and companies based on their ratings.
Show them how to use the database and make it clear that you will not fund the purchase of products that have been rated as having high security issues.
2. Turn them into smart buyers
Share your concerns with them about the safety of many beauty products on the market and how even small amounts of repeated exposure to certain ingredients can cause harm. Teach them to read product labels and look for problematic ingredients to avoid.
The United States Food and Drug Administration requires that ingredients be listed in descending order of concentration. The ingredients listed at the top are therefore the most common and those to which more attention should be paid.
Teens Turning Green (formerly Teens for Safe Cosmetics) has compiled a list of chemicals in personal care products to avoid called Dirty Thirty. You can download it from their site. Review the list together, then use it as a guide for reading labels and excluding products that contain them.
3. Encourage them to take action
There’s nothing more powerful than children and teens united and engaged in action for a good cause, and what could be a more worthy cause than their health and safety? Encourage them to learn more about this issue and how they can get involved to make a difference.
Whether it’s taking action to pressure the government to regulate cosmetics, or participating in consumer boycotts that force companies to change in response to market trends, or joining groups that teach and promote self-esteem and healthy body image, all of these activities serve to enlighten them and reinforce the positive messages that will ultimately lead them to make better choices and influence their friends to do the same.
4. Switch them to greener alternatives and make them fun
Host a spa party at your home for your girls and their friends and introduce them to the ever-growing variety of safe and healthy skin care products, natural fragrances and cosmetics available, and make them “cool” so that they explore and indulge their senses. Make it a recurring event so they have the chance to be constantly exposed to lots of new and different products.
Or take them to the local health food store for a shopping spree where you can review and compare products together and have it a contest to see who picks the best ones first. Remember that just because a product is sold in a health food or natural product store does not mean that it is safe or natural. This can be a great teaching moment to help them (and you) become a truly savvy shopper.
5. Reward them for making good choices
Focus your efforts on helping them make the best choices possible, then reward them for it. Make sure the rewards you give them match what you are trying to teach them. In other words, don’t reward good choices in one area with bad choices in another (i.e. take them out for junk food or offer them candy).
If you can convince them that personal care products made with organic ingredients are better, chances are you can convince them that organic foods and foods made without chemicals or additives are also better for them. !
Copyright 2009 Dropwise Essentials
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