Ensuring our girls know that beauty and strength come from within will help build a more equal and inclusive world is a message from children’s book author Margot L. Denomme that particularly resonates on today’s International Women’s Day March 8.
“By all of us working together to create confident and empowered girls, this effort will go a long way to create an equal world, which will ultimately lead to an enabled world,” said Denomme at the International Women’s Day event hosted by the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Aurora/Newmarket Friday at Trinity United Church in Newmarket.
“Anxiety levels for girls are at an all-time high. More than ever we need to find a way to help our girls — and ourselves for that matter — increase self-esteem and confidence levels, and this process needs to start at much earlier ages.
“We need to continue to have the conversations with girls and let them know they have the power to control the way they are seen by others,” she said.
Denomme, a Toronto Crown attorney, said she was inspired by her two daughters, Madison and Brooke, to write two books, Mommy, am I pretty?, and Awesome, Inside + Out!
Social media and its influencers are a particularly powerful force in our children’s lives, creating impossible and false standards of beauty and self-worth.
Even as adults, looking at magazine covers as we stand in line at the grocery store checkout, we can struggle to remind ourselves that the images of the celebrities and models have been digitally altered, Denomme said.
“So what about young children? Young children today are so inundated with social media and warped perceptions about what defines beauty. We need to be sure that they understand that no one can meet these beauty standards,” she urged.
Comparing ourselves with these actresses and models is a losing battle and one that can’t help but impact our body image in a negative way.
She pointed to the Dove Self-Esteem Fund global research, which has highlighted the universal issue that beauty-related pressures increase while body confidence decreases as girls and women grow older — stopping young girls from seeing their real beauty.
The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited statistics are “mind boggling”, Denomme said:
- Only 4 per cent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful (up from 2 per cent in 2004);
- Only 11 per cent of girls globally are comfortable describing themselves as beautiful;
- 72 per cent of girls feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful;
- 80 per cent of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful, but do not see their own beauty;
- More than half of women globally (54 per cent) agree when it comes to how they look, they are their own worst beauty critic.
“We don't have to match our own standards of beauty to that of the media’s standards. We have the choice to define beauty on our own terms,” she urges.
“We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight lies, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. I’m hopeful that all of us here today can join in the movement to actively challenge these beauty stereotypes. Educating our young girls about Photoshopped images in media will, in turn, help to increase their self-esteem, body image and overall self-confidence.”
We also need to join the movement to have corporations use “real people” in their advertising campaigns, she said.
Through her books, Denomme takes these empowering messages to girls, as well as boys, and has done readings at more than 100 schools across the GTA as part of her CelebrateYou tour.
As she spoke, an image with a quote by Lauren Jauregui was on the wall above her: If our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be.
“What if we had the opportunity to see others by what’s in their hearts before their exterior looks? How very different we would look at one another and how very different our world would be,” she said.
“Let’s help give our children the tools to become beautiful souls and redefine beauty on their own terms, ” she added.
There can be painful, life-altering consequences for girls with negative self-esteem, including eating disorders, bullying, smoking, drinking, drugs and even human trafficking.
In fact, Denomme said a compelling reason she wrote the books comes from her experience as a criminal lawyer and the “devastating effects” of low self-esteem she has observed in the last two decades.
“I’ve seen poor choices and the consequences that sadly result. I’ve seen victims being preyed upon due to low self-esteem. The fastest growing crime right now in North America is human trafficking and these predators are primarily preying upon our young girls.
“We need to work together to create strong, empowered girls by raising their self-esteem from the inside out.”
Her books are a tool for parents, teachers, grandparents to create the crucial dialogue with their girls about who they are.
“They are inundated with so much garbage. Let’s get back to basic values,” she said.
Denomme emphasizes that as much as her messages are important for girls, they also resonate with boys.
She wrote her second book, Awesome, Inside + Out!, to initiate a dialogue with all children about developing character and resilience, following their passion, and understanding that true beauty and strength come from within.
She encourages children to understand that there are consequences to all our words — “Words are important because they make people feel happy or sad,” says her book.
The books emphasize the importance of inclusiveness and kindness, to others and to ourselves.
In the second edition, she has added a lesson about positive affirmation — reiterating the importance of changing negative thoughts to positive ones.
“And again, going back to the theme of Women’s Day, we are in charge of our own thoughts each day and every day.”
“True self-esteem comes from hard work and challenging yourself, making difficult decisions and difficult choices … and teaching children to be brave, trying new things, stepping out of their comfort zone, setting realistic goals and learning from failures.
“These are lifelong lessons that should be reinforced early and often.”
Denomme shared a highlight of her “book journey”, recalling that after a reading at a school, a girl came up to her and said, ‘I just really want to thank you for writing the book because I never thought I was pretty, but now that you’ve taken the time to explain to me what pretty is, I think I may be.’
“Honest to God, I thought .. the reason I wrote this book was for that girl.”
The CFUW International Women’s Day event included a symbolic walk along Main Street to the Water Street Bridge.
The international day celebrates the economic, political and cultural achievements of women, CFUW Aurora/Newmarket president Lynn Bird said, and marks a call for action to accelerate gender equality.
“Women worldwide have yet to reach full equality in many aspects of life,” she said.
This year’s theme is #EachForEqual, An equal world is an enabled world.
“We are all parts of a whole; our individual actions, conversations, behaviours and mindsets have an impact on our larger society,” Bird said. “Collectively, we can help create a gender-equal world.”
Mommy, am I pretty?, and Awesome, Inside + Out! are distributed by North 49 Books to select stores throughout Canada, as well as on Amazon.ca.