Throughout the course of the Girlstories seminar, we have discussed many narratives that center around the environments that women develop in. These environments shape their beliefs, their thoughts, and their characterization. The films, Killing Us Softly and Thirteen, apply this idea to a realistic setting that many young girls experience. Around the time of puberty, many young girls find themselves in a vulnerable state as their bodies and their minds develop and mature. These films highlight the enormous pressure and dangers that adolescent girls face due to the environment that society provides.
In Killing Us Softly, Jean Kilbourne delivers a powerful lecture on the insane pressure that the advertising industry puts on women. In her lecture, she addresses the fact that the severely photo-shopped images found in magazines lowers women’s self-esteem. These advertisements that she talks about have a very negative effect on young girls who are going through puberty. These girls are very susceptible to these unrealistic images; they begin to form ideas about what their bodies should look like based on these pictures where the model doesn’t even look like the girl in the photo.
They begin to feel self-conscious because their bodies are not developing the way they think their bodies should. Because of these images, girls learn to feel insecure at a very young age and start to subconsciously hate their bodies. This idea of insecurity and self-hatred also appears in the film, Thirteen. The narrative revolves around Tracy Freeland and her experience with the pressures of being a girl going through puberty. Even before Tracy truly begins to deal with these pressures, it is apparent that she is experiencing some form of epression; in one of the beginning scenes, she recites a solemn poem for her mother that she wrote. Unfortunately, her mom does not know how to properly respond to her depressive state, which causes Tracy to feel out of place and insecure in her family life. On top of that, she feels this new pressure to “fit in” with the popular group of girls and befriends Evie, who becomes a negative influence in her life. The people that Tracy surround herself with, her terrible home life, and her depression causes her to find comfort in self-destructive habits such as self-harm and drugs.
This environment of insecurity and self-hatred that both Killing Us Softly and Thirteen illustrate is something that I am all too familiar with. During middle school, my friends were obsessed with magazines, specifically Seventeen and Teen Vogue. I remember always seeing models in those magazines that were skinny and that wore really tight clothing that accentuated their figure. At the time, I didn’t really understand photoshop, so | was ashamed in myself for not looking like the girls in magazines. On top of that, all my girl friends were skinnier than | was and they would always nitpick traits about their own bodies that they didn’t like.
The fact that my friends whom I envied for their slim appearance didn’t like certain things about their bodies made me even more self-conscious about how I looked in comparison to them. Around the same time that I began to feel insecure about my body shape, I was also experiencing depression. My parents have always put a lot of pressure on me to do well in school since my older siblings had really terrible grades; this stress intensified as I transitioned to high school. During this transition, I put a lot of pressure on myself to “fit in. This burden included getting really good grades, losing a lot of weight, and being someone who I considered to be one of the “popular” girls. My freshman year ended with straight A’s, my goal body weight of one hundred and ten pounds, a huge group of friends that | didn’t even really like, and a plan for suicide. I hated who I was and I hated that I was constantly stuck with myself. Like Tracy, I was delving into self-destructive habits to try to feel better about myself. Fortunately, a lot has changed since my first year of high school and now.
It didn’t get better immediately after my family found out; the “friends” that I had left me because they didn’t understand what I was going through and I was alone for most of my sophomore year. However, by the end of my senior year, I had a core group of amazing friends, a more positive outlook on my body image, and a better control of my depression. Coming to college, I was nervous that my depression would get the best of me because I was on my own for the first time. My first few weeks were a rough adjustment; I was left without a constant support system and had to learn how to support myself.
The friends that I made the first few weeks resembled the friends that I had my freshman year of high school. They made me feel terrible about myself and I dreaded hanging out with them. It came to a point where I decided that I’d rather be alone than be with people who made me not like who I was. It was like being teleported back to my sophomore year; however, I was determined to not let my depression get the best of me. Now that my first semester in college is coming to a close, I can proudly say that I’ve had a really fulfilling and rewarding experience.
I’ve learned so much about myself while being on my own; I’m willing to work really hard for my dreams, I can overcome almost anything if I put my mind to it, and I can consume a large amount of pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love the independence that comes with college life and I love the atmosphere in Ithaca. There are still days when I’d rather stay in bed or I’d rather not face the world, but those days are few and far in between. I have plenty of amazing moments that outweigh all my awful moments; it makes me proud that I can say this and know that it’s genuine.