What’s Inside the Package?
Here’s the scene: four giddy middle school girls gather at my house to watch Twilight. They are all avid readers and have heard that the author makes a cameo in the movie. She does show up, sitting on a stool in the cafe, and my daughter emits a shocked exclamation, “I didn’t realize she’d be fat.” Before the blood can drain from Rob Pattinson’s face I bark across the room, “what are you saying? A person’s size has something to do with their ability to write?” Of course I embarrassed her in front of her friends, but I had such a knee jerk reaction to the comment because I have worked so hard to shield my girls from this sort of thinking.
I have two girls ages 8 and 14. Since birth, I have been on a mission to ensure that they grow up free of shame or dissatisfaction with their bodies. I know it’s a losing battle because they are surrounded by images and peer pressure that equate thinness with beauty. Just last night I picked up a Star magazine left behind by one of our thanksgiving houseguests that included a 6-page spread showing female celebrities’ “beauty bloopers,” which included Angelina’s skeletal arms, J.Lo’s dimpled thighs, and Victoria Beckham’s acne.
I am 48, and was lucky enough to experience a brief window during my coming of age years (in the ’70s) where we thought hairy legs, rubenseque curves, and the natural look were going to set a new standard for beauty. Shortlived fantasy, but I never let that go (saved a lot of money or razors); it’s just that today I get lumped into a category of frumpy older hippy moms. I also came of age during the height of the feminist movement, which celebrated women for their talents, their brains, and their amazing capacity to get shit done.
My takeaway from that: it’s what’s inside the package that counts, but this message is much harder to instill because you can’t see it. It’s not just about size either, it’s about our compulsion as a society to comment on the things we see–whether it’s a new haircut, a fashionable look, or whiter teeth. But how much more rewarding–and what better behavior to model for our kids–than to greet someone with a “Hi Tracy! I really like the way you expressed yourself in last night’s book group.” Or “Hi Anne, your grasp of the material in yesterday’s meeting was superb.” or “Jen, your capacity for emotional connections is truly inspiring.” If we could just focus a little less on what’s visible, and more on what’s not, I think we might make some headway.
So my post today is just one of many that are being written to support a project called the Blogger Body Calendar, which features smart lady bloggers of all sizes who pose au natural for a calendar. The effort is designed to promote positive body image in youth, and the proceeds will benefit the National Eating Disorder Association. Hopefully it will be a lifeline for some. Even in my 70′s utopia, my teenage friends and I already thought we were too fat at 14, and in college, three girls left during my freshman year because they were suffering from anorexia or bulemia. Miss June, over at Toy With Me, offers a truly heartfelt post about mothering an anorexic daughter (and why she’s posing naked on a horse for the calendar).
Finally, because I’m practical beyond words, I’m going to offer you these tips for waging the daily war against negative body image in your own house:
- when the subject of dieting comes up around your kids, stop it dead in its tracks
- when you hear other people criticizing their looks in front of your kids, ask them to stop or change the subject, but do not engage.
- when your kids comment on someone’s size, ask them to tell you why they’re expressing this sentiment, and challenge it, then reinforce your admiration for what’s inside the package!
- do not get your body enhanced, but seize the opportunity to love it and flaunt it as a positive model for your kids. Celebrate all forms of expression.
- when you see unrealistic depictions of women or men, highlight the fakeness (airbrushed! 10lbs of makeup!) and counter with a realistic photo of this celeb.
- when you encounter obnoxious double standards, call them out!
- when you hear the chat amongst the peer group about calorie-counting or food avoidance, pay attention. If you can, step in to reinforce the “you are beautiful inside and out” message. If you suspect one of the kid’s has an eating disorder, talk to his or her parent.
- don’t stand for body image negativity in your own peer groups!
- challenge yourself not to comment on someone’s exterior, but come up with ways to compliment their other fine qualities.
- get help from other sources, plenty of parents deal with this. Here are some tips from SIECUS
I’d love to hear your ideas!