Friday, April 20, 2012

The Dreaded Three Letter Word.

Yesterday I volunteered with my daughter's class. The kids were quilting. As they made designs with their pieces of fabric, I watched the girls and wondered how they go from supreme self-confidence to debilitating lack thereof.

Where does it start and what can I do to prevent it?

The first thing that occurred to me is that putting a copy of Teen Vogue in my daughter's Easter basket might not have been one of my better ideas.

Except, I was so certain it was perfect!

My daughter loves fashion. She wants to be a designer. She keeps a sketch book of outfits and regularly pillages through my closet for inspiration.

True, it was three days before Easter and I was a little desperate to fill the basket. Also true, I thought she'd think it was fun and glamorous, cause who doesn't think the Easter bunny has a fun and glamorous side? What I didn't think about is that Teen Vogue isn't just about fashion.

The first thing she focused on, as she flipped through the magazine's glossy pages was the dresses. There was a prom feature and so we spent a lot of time talking about fancy dresses. Later, her sketchbook had several new Vogue inspired designs. The second thing she noticed was an article about The Hunger Games. Two weeks later, she's on chapter six of a book she had previously dismissed as not for her.

The third thing that happened was she overheard a conversation between her brother and her father. This conversation involved a three letter word. Maybe it was fun or cat, or sat. It's hard to say what the word really was because what my daughter heard was fat. "How dare you call me fat," screamed my fifty-five pound daughter as she threw a pillow at her brother.

And there it is.

Despite my enthusiastic pronouncements that "Mommy is perfect just the way she is, all sizes are beautiful, strong bodies are beautiful bodies," and many, many other variations on these sentiments my daughter has gotten the message that thin is the best currency.

Do I blame Teen Vogue, myself, High School Musical? I'm not sure if it even makes sense to try to assign blame. Instead I'm going to try to shift course a little bit, steer her back towards the place where the only currency she's worried about is what makes her happy.

On Monday I'll talk about my ideas and look forward to hearing all of yours too.


Kristen Wixted said...

I read Teen Vogue at my daughter's orthodontist appts in the waiting room, so I know what you're talking about. So far my girls think it's "weird" but I know bringing one into the house could bring in all kinds of stuff we don't have here yet.

PS Go Red Sox!

Beylit said...

When I was young things like Teen Vogue would have never been allowed in the house. In fact magazines like Seventeen and the like were frowned on for me even when I hit an 'acceptable age' according to my mom (16) because I had a younger sister.

I didn't spend a lot of time watching tv that involved actual humans (I was a cartoon junkie) unless it was on Nick at Night, and you know the Dick Van Dyke Show and Get Smart were damaging for other reasons than body image.

I wasn't allowed to listen to popular music, and mostly was only influenced by country artists or the Beatles. Again not much influence on a girls body image.

Still by the time I was in 5th grade I was hyper aware of my weight and the fact that skinny was important and fat was a terrible thing.

Yes the media peppers us with that idea, but it goes beyond that. It is ingrained in us sometimes at home, but mostly where we get it is from our peers.

It is wonderful that you teach your daughter that she is beautiful no matter what, which I think all mothers should do for their daughters, but sadly not all mothers do that. Even if you diligently monitored her access to things like Teen Vogue and other possibly damaging media, her peers aren't being watched in the same way.

When it comes down to it her peers attitudes toward body image will weigh heavier than anything else. Sadly young girls can be vicious and evil, and that fear of not conforming to their standards can cause a girl to think about themselves very negatively.

She is lucky to have a support system that can counter that negativity, even though she won't always listen. This just reminds me why you couldn't pay enough to be young again.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Man this is so hard. My niece who has NO fat on her little body has asked us if her butt looks fat. She's 9! Gah! But they are bombarded everyday by images. Not just in teen magazines. I think an open conversation with them is important. Good luck!

Angela Cothran said...

As a teenage I never read teen magazines, because they did nothing but make me feel bad about myself. I don't think there is anyway to escape the world's view for our girls. I think we just have to be louder.

The praise I always got from my mother was always focused on my kindness or good choices so that is what I focused on. Who doesn't want to please their mother?

Carol Kilgore said...

I don't have a magic answer for you. It's a huge problem, a vicious circle, and the cause of much heartache for lots of girls. It will take a coordinated approach from designers, magazines, parents, and more to end this manic focus on thinness. Some countries are now banning ultra-thin models, and that's a start. But there's a long way to go.

Johanna Garth said...

Kristen, we really need to up our smack talk quotient ;)

Beylit, thanks so much for your thought provoking comment and today's post!

Jenny, open conversations are huge but not enough by themselves.

Angela, I think that's such a good policy but because of my daughter's love of design I'm having trouble filtering all the negative images that go along with that world.

Carol, if there were an easy answer it probably wouldn't be such a difficult problem but I do have a few things I'm going to talk about on Monday.

Johanna Garth said...

Kristen, we really need to up our smack talk quotient ;)

Beylit, thanks so much for your thought provoking comment and today's post!

Jenny, open conversations are huge but not enough by themselves.

Angela, I think that's such a good policy but because of my daughter's love of design I'm having trouble filtering all the negative images that go along with that world.

Carol, if there were an easy answer it probably wouldn't be such a difficult problem but I do have a few things I'm going to talk about on Monday.

Amber said...

These are tough issues that I do not look forward to addressing, but my 1 1/2 year old daughter will eventually hit that stage. I did write a poem called 'mommy why', which is posted on my page- it's me answering about why she looks the way she does :) (for when those questions come up)

I think also, one super important thing is for us as moms to love ourselves. My mom used to complain about how fat she was, and how ugly she was- BUT I LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE HER- so when she'd say I wasn't fat, I couldn't help but think she's just full of it. I can remember as early as fifth grade complaining about how fat I was....and I was super skinny, but I'd heard my mom complain, so it was only natural for me to repeat what I'd heard.

Weaver said...

Author Annette Lyon did a post back in December on this very issue. I shared it with a coworker who's 17 year old beautiful, athletic, fit daughter has body image issues. What's wrong wth this world?

Alison DeLuca said...

My second grader mentioned the three letter word a few weeks ago. SECOND GRADE!

And she's as much as a large dictionary.

Personally, some of the most attractive people out there are a bit "plus-sized." Adele, I'm looking at you!

I do hope that your daughter learns to navigate these dangerous waters safely.

Joyful Minimalism said...

This makes me so sad. I think that the media are so focused on their idea of perfection that they have no idea they are destroying other people with it!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I remember three of my little nieces all worried about fat. They were 9, 10, and the oldest was 12. But I was curious so I asked, what do you consider fat? So we looked through magazines.

I learned that fat was really obese in their eyes. By that I mean the girls and guys they picked out as fat weren't the difference between a size 4 and a size 10. It was truly big people.

Now, I'm 5'9". I wear mostly 16 and 18 depending upon how its made. So I have few catalogs. I remember I had one that used plus sized women models, like Esme. So we looked through that. I was curious about their reactions. We talked about who was pretty and who wasn't and why, the clothes they showed. Well dress didn't seem to get the same reaction. It was interesting.

Have a great weekend, Johanna!


jenny milchman said...

I don't think we can control our girls receiving that message--it is everywhere. All we can do is be strong moms, as you are, Johanna, and show them that beauty comes from so many, many sources.

Jemi Fraser said...

It's tough on kids these days. The pressure to match an idealized unrealistic image can be quite overwhelming. As a teacher, I think it's getting better (media wise). I've had fewer girls with eating disorders recently. I hope that trend continues to improve!

M Pax said...

I say find something she's good at, get her deeply involved, and other influences won't take root so readily.

I was into horses. My parents had me at lessons every week. It was something I was very good at. Nothing else mattered to me.

Although in HS, I would say, I was more conscious of appearance--started watching what I ate, etc... But that was in the ancient 70's. Young girls seem so much more bombarded.

Heather M. Gardner said...

I am not a fit person. I am desperately trying to make sure my son stays fit with healthy eating and lots of activity. But, I have heard him say things about being fat although he is completely average weight and average height. They pick up on it no matter what.

Brenda McKenna said...

I am very interested in your next post. I have no little girls (just two very skinny boys), but I need to deal with shortness and other body image issues someday. Plus, I do have nieces!

Jennifer Lane said...

Great post. Sounds like Teen Vogue was a mixed bag for your daughter. You might be familiar with the book "Reviving Ophelia" but it recounts the drop in self esteem in young girls. It must be tough to watch that happen!

PK HREZO said...

Don't be too hard on yourself. It's bound to happen one way or the other. At some point, modern day media will find a way to sneak into her subconscious and warp her idea of what beauty is. Maybe you can use it to her advantage and inspire her to take her fashion design to new heights--designing for women of all sizes and shapes!

wendini1 said...

I think I first worried about being fat when I was 10 - this would have been back in 1978. Unfortunately, my mother, who fought her weight all her life, didn't handle it well. The most pervasive influence will be your daughters peers, and there's not much you can do about that. I look forward to your next post.

Unknown said...

I remember wanting to be in fashion and realizing the day that I would never be skinny enough to make it into the industry. I wish that magazines would focus on people like Kelly Clarkson or Queen Latifah....woman that take pride in having curves. You can still look amazing and be larger...and that is a message that needs to be spread!

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh no! My daughters haven't reached the dreaded three letter word concern yet. I'm dreading that day. Life was so much fun before you started to have to worry about fat.

Mollie Player said...

Dreaded word indeed!! Her imagination is overactive, making it especially hard to hear.

Talli Roland said...

There are so many messages bombarding young women these days - from all directions - that I wouldn't say it's the Teen Vogue. It's everywhere in the air they breathe! When I was a secondary school teacher, kids as young as 11 would tell me they were on a diet because they were too fat. So sad.

Nicki Elson said...

In my house, putting the focus on being healthy seems to have worked w/ my two teenage kids (one boy & one girl). We talk about not overindulging in too many unhealthy foods but also about taking in all the nutrients your body needs. My skinny-minnie daughter went through an "Are you saying I'm fat?" stage but now she requests 4% milk instead of skim so she can put on a few healthy pounds.

Sabrina A. Fish said...

Keep encouraging her to love herself and she'll be fine. You sound like you are doing a fabulous job with her! Don't let doubts tell you otherwise.

Great post, Johanna!