Body check: Why Gisele Bundchen's 3ft-wide butt is nothing to admire in central Hong Kong's Admiralty

Kelly Yang says the myriad billboards in Hong Kong that reduce women to sexual objects send the wrong message to young girls about body image, lowering their self-esteem

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 October, 2015, 11:24am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 October, 2015, 7:46pm

Every day, on my way home from work, I walk under Gisele Bundchen's butt. It's a butt you can't miss, about three feet wide, perfectly round, perched atop thigh-high boots in Admiralty. And every time I walk past it, I wince.

I wince for my daughter, who is two and already bombarded with images of girls giving come-hither looks, scantily clad in bikinis and lingerie, or in Giselle's case, her bare ass.

READ MORE: How the ideal of a thin body harms Hong Kong women and girls

I wince for my sons who are eight and five and the future relationships they're going to have with women, having grown up around images like this. I wince for my mother, a serious, no-nonsense woman who left her life in the US to move back to what she thought was conservative Asia, only to have to look at a never-ending stream of crotches, cleavages and rear ends.

It used to be that such imagery was restricted to red light districts, but now, they're on every street corner, shopping mall and MTR stop. These days, you can't swing a cat without seeing a bra. Sex is how we sell everything from water to hamburgers.

We need to get rid of Gisele's bare butt hanging at the top of Admiralty. To me, that ad doesn't sell boots. The only thing it sells is low self-esteem

I get that sex sells. What I don't get is why so many incredibly smart, talented women - people like Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore - would agree to take part in such ads. Can't they see that when they agree to hike up their skirt or undo just one more button for an ad, it's not just all fun and games? They're also participating in the systematic reduction of women to sexual objects.

I know, I know, it's not just women. Yes, I've seen the bare-chested, buff Abercrombie & Fitch guys and who could forget the six-metre-high underwear campaign for H&M.

But, of the eight million people in the United States who have an eating disorder, 90 per cent are women. And the alarming thing is that it's happening earlier and earlier. New research done by the child advocacy group Common Sense Media shows that kids as young as five are now concerned with their body image.

Half of girls and a third of boys as young as six to eight think they are fatter than they should be and, by the age of seven, one in four kids has started to diet.

Part of this has to do with the parents. As parents, we have a tremendous amount of influence on our children, particularly when it comes to body image. Research shows that girls whose mothers are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to have body image issues.

If that's the case, we're in trouble. Just about every woman I know in Hong Kong is unhappy with her body in some way.

According to The Women's Foundation, currently, about 30 per cent of the pages of our entertainment magazines feature slimming advertisements for women. When girlfriends get together, the conversation invariably turns to the topic of working out. Guess what? All that chatter about our latest diet is going straight into our kids' ears and taking a toll on their body image.

It's time to stop obsessing over our bodies and start giving our girls a real chance in life - not just a chance to look good but a chance to make an impact. As US First Lady Michelle Obama recently told an audience of girls, "there is no boy cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting an education".

I completely agree but I'd also add that girls shouldn't go to the top schools to find a husband; they should aim higher than that.

How do we get our girls to aim higher? By shifting the focus away from their bodies to their minds.

READ MORE: In Asia, the debate over unhealthily thin models hasn't even started

To that end, we need to follow in France, Italy, Spain and Israel's footsteps and ban ads with super skinny models. And for heaven's sake, we need to get rid of Gisele's bare butt hanging at the top of Admiralty. To me, that ad doesn't sell boots. The only thing it sells is low self-esteem.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.