What Little Girls Are Made of…

Nov 09

“…sugar and spice and sweat and fury and grit and strength.” These words are a part of an advertising campaign, Strong is Beautiful, from the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).  But, they ring true for more than just the awesome women who are a part of professional tennis – I believe there is a message here for all of us.  As for me, it reminded me of a time in my life when I thought strength and beauty had absolutely no relation. In fact, I would have picked beauty over strength any day.

As a social marketing practitioner, with a personal penchant for creating a culture of smart, strong young women nationwide, I have looked to my own story to ascertain what does the WTA’s ad campaign really say?  How can we use its message to improve the lives of young girls across the country?

I remember thinking when I was a very young girl, gymnasts are so beautiful! I chose to get involved in gymnastics because the girls I saw in it were impossibly tiny, with cute ponytails adorned by brightly colored ribbons. To me, they looked like pixies that defied gravity.  In my young mind, they exemplified sugar and spice. I wanted to be like these beautiful, sugary, pixies.  However, I wasn’t impossibly tiny; I didn’t have the kind of hair that my mom could throw up into a ponytail (at least not one that looked like the girls in my gymnastics class, no matter how many ribbons we added); and I had no earthly idea how to defy gravity.  Yet, I was determined to be a gymnast.  This determination also brought on an obsession with being thin.  By the time I got to the competitive level, traveling throughout the country for competitions, I was almost afraid to eat, and I was a healthy eater (vegetables, lean meats, nothing but water to drink, small portions…).  I vividly remember, every day when I would arrive at the gym for practice, we would first walk over to the scale, get weighed-in, have our weight recorded in the “notebook” and turn in our list of every single food, beverage, piece of gum (sugarless of course, who was going to risk the extra calories) that went into our mouth that day.  I must admit, this was almost three decades ago and gymnastics is now a much different sport (thanks Mary Lou Retton and Gabby Douglas!).  But, during that time this was very much the norm.

After spending most of my career developing social marketing, public health and behavior change programs, I am delighted to see organizations, associations and corporations start to change the way they advertise a new standard of beauty and success.  There is a more positive message and tone that is being promoted, one that I certainly hope is resonating with the millions of young girls and teens who have seen beauty being achieved by diet drinks and injections to take away any small line, wrinkle or crevice that may appear, or even start to appear, on their face.  What I really like about the WTA ad campaign is it goes further – it promotes strength, hard work and sweat as a part of what makes you beautiful.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting beauty is bad.  We all believe beauty is internal, external and of course, in the eye of the beholder.  None of that is bad.  But being a strong, athletic, sweaty, determined girl isn’t bad either.

Those of us who work with these organizations, associations and corporations have a responsibility to continue to push for positive, healthy images for girls.  It is important for young girls to know, they can be both.   For years, advertising messages seemed to equate thin with beautiful.  But we are slowly starting to see the image of beauty change – it is more about being healthy.

I got into a sport because I thought it would make me beautiful.  I succeeded at that sport because I wasn’t afraid to sweat, and show fury and grit.  After years of training my body and my mind, I gained the strength needed to not only defy gravity, but to also be healthy and successful.  I didn’t need to be impossibly thin to stand on the medals platform year after year.  My mental strength and determination made me equally beautiful and successful.

The WTA ad shows some of the world’s top tennis players and from these ads young girls all over this country can see beautiful, strong, healthy, determined women.  I want all of us social marketers continue to create campaigns, programs and ads that inspire a new generation of girls to realize, size isn’t what makes you beautiful.  So, as we continue to beat the childhood overweight/obesity drum, I hope girls will find an activity that makes them sweat, show grit, fury and strength mixed with sugar and spice (in moderation, of course).

Thank you WTA for this message, because Strong is indeed Beautiful. I am happy to say, I decided to choose both.

This entry was posted on Friday, November 9th, 2012 at 6:05 pm and is filed under Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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