By Julia Arnold of Frantic Mama
How can I teach my kids to be kind to each other and to themselves? How can I teach them to be confident, inquisitive, happy children? Children who will gradually grow into young adults and then, unbelievably, adults.
As far as body image and beauty are concerned, I tend to focus on my daughter; I understand a woman’s point of view and all that it covers. Also because it’s hard to argue with the fact that there is a more intense, incessant stream of unrealistic images depicting what girls, young women, and adult women should look like.
Currently, at age 3, my daughter appears to think of her looks very little. She’s blissfully unaware of the oiled, tanned bodies that lurk behind the glossy magazine covers and the scantily-clad women depicted as enviable on the screen. She prefers to wear her favorite polka dot shirt and orange-striped pants– it appears that to her, clothes must simply be comfortable and colorful. She wants her hair out of her face; a barrette I place in her hair each morning takes care of that.
When will things shift? When will she begin to wonder if she’s pretty? When will she wonder if she’s thin or curvy or sexy enough? When will she learn that our culture places disproportional value and importance on women’s looks? I hold my breath, thinking of those moments. Of her wheels turning, urging a second or third glance in the mirror.
What can I do as her mother to help her navigate a world that places such a high value on female perfection? Because regardless of what I’m up against, I will continue to protect her the best that I can.
Though I have few perfect solutions, I make attempts.
I make a conscious effort to focus on her accomplishments, her talents, and her interests more than her physical beauty. She loves painting, soccer, horses, and people. I encourage those passions. I praise those interests.
I don’t make negative comments about myself in front of her. My daughter doesn’t need to hear her mother complain about her burgeoning wrinkles– is there a more horrible expression than “crow’s feet” anyway?– or whatever else is nagging at my psyche at the moment. Come to think of it, I don’t need to hear it either.
I take other measures, too, some less conventional.
I admit to censoring “fat” and “thin” from children’s books. Why incorporate such loaded words into her developing vocabulary? How do you define thin and fat to a toddler?
Gird your loins, Disney fans, but we aren’t pushing her into the whole Princess Thing either. I can hardly make myself read the endings to those saccharine stories where every single time a prince comes and saves the desperate princess with a kiss. I would rather buy a Minion or Paw Patrol character over a Cinderella figurine any day.
I want my daughter to keep exploring, learning, and growing.
I don’t buy Barbies. I protect her from that aisle at the store, taking the long way to avoid the rows and rows of impossible-looking dolls. No, I don’t think Barbie is the Devil. I don’t even think the media is exclusively to blame for eating disorders and body image concerns. But I certainly don’t think they help the matter.
I do think my daughter is beautiful—all pink cheeks, soft little hands, and clear, bright eyes. I hope that every mother sees her children as beautiful. I don’t think there’s anything inherently harmful in thinking our daughters are pretty. I like to feel good about my appearance, too; I love a cute new dress and bright raspberry lipstick, and I won’t deprive her of the fun of clothes and makeup as she gets older.
The point is this: Beauty is not all we are. My daughter’s appearance does not make her the spirited, energetic, creative person that she is. I refuse to let it define her, and you can be sure as hell I’m trying to shield her from anyone or anything that implies the opposite.
This post was originally published on Frantic Mama.
About Julia Arnold