Attention-grabbing educational ad campaigns are one thing; fearmongering is quite another — or, as a smart British Red Cross PSA once put it, “There’s safety. And then there’s stigma.” The simple truth, borne out in study after study, is that taboos surrounding STDs are the No. 1 reason people avoid getting tested. It’s also a barrier to people being honest with their partners about their status. PlentyofSyph’s gag-inducing come-ons about “licking the [canker] sore on my open-faced ham sandwich” only further stigmatize sexually transmitted diseases. (Also, how old are these copywriters?) Now, fear-based campaigns can sometimes work — but researchers have found, at least when it comes to HIV messaging, that it can also increase unsafe behaviors among high-risk groups.
Syphilis in particular can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught early, so the public health message should be two pronged: 1) Practice safe sex, and 2) Get tested routinely. This campaign, however, values the shock factor above those very practical points, which aren’t effectively communicated. A quick visit to the site could easily give the impression that a syphilis diagnosis means you’re destined for a loveless, sexless future in which your body is consumed by abscesses and your brain begins to rot. That only pushes people farther away from the clinic door.
Of the 13 feature-length films in its 16-year history, Pixar’s Brave—a story about a Scottish princess/aspiring archer who defies her parents—is the animation company’s first original fairytale, first movie co-directed by a woman, and first narrative with a female lead character.
This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.
That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.
“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.
“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”
Most kids do.
“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”