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'Her eyes are bigger than her waist': Peggy Orenstein on selling girls on the idea of being hot

Author Peggy Orenstein
Courtesy Photo/Michael Todd
Author Peggy Orenstein

Girls want to be hot.

They want to look good – not because they want to feel good, but because they’re thinking about how others are thinking about them.

“Defining femininity is about pleasing others,” author Peggy Orenstein told KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel.

Orenstein’s latest book is "Girls And Sex: Navigating The Complicated New Landscape."

In her book, Orenstein describes a girl asking her about whether a feminist message is effective if it comes from the mouth of an unattractive woman.

“Could Beyonce say what she’s saying?” the girl asked.

“Hot is a very narrow, commodified idea that tells girls over and over that how their bodies look to someone else matters more than how it feels to them,” Orenstein said.

She said that young women today are told to be confident and powerful – but that being that way requires looking good. Another girl told Orenstein that she feels most liberated when she wears skimpy clothes. “It’s a very narrow idea of self-expression.”

Orenstein, a mother of a pre-teen daughter, shared a story from her daughter’s experience. Her daughter had gone to the beach with a group of kids her age. The beach, being in Northern California, was frigid, but that didn’t stop some of the seventh-grade girls from stripping off their clothes and posing in their bikinis for Instagram.

Yandel asked Orenstein how she’s kept her daughter from these pressures.

Orenstein said that she’s been talking about these issues with her daughter since her daughter was 4. One example was discussing the detective in the animated movie, “Despicable Me.”

The detective wore high heels and eyes bigger than her waist. Orenstein said that she mentioned that to her daughter – “I wonder how she runs,” she told her daughter. “Don’t detectives have to run?”

Orenstein said she cheats, too – by taking her daughter to her events.

“Those things open up a lot of conversation for us,” she said. “You have to have an entry point.”