“WE ARE ALL DAUGHTERS”
My daughter (# 1) and I
My daughter sent me a blogpost which caught me off guard. It felt so much like a punch in the guts that I had to respond to it. The post I received was on Tumblr blog by Moxiebird, but it was written and originally posted skoppelkam on WordPress. I reposted it at the bottom of this page, it might make more sense if you read that first (you’ll need to scroll down quite a bit).
Anyway, after reading it I was overwhelmed with shame, at first…
“I’m not frightened of appearing vulnerable.”
~ Amy Winehouse
I let Amy say it for me, but yeah, I’m going to fess up to the big stuff, so read on…
I agree with skoppelkam on almost everything she says, and on how she says we, as mothers, should all behave, but in reality, I have done the opposite of what she recommends. All the things skoppelkam says not to do, I have done, constantly and relentlessly, while raising my girls.
Well, to qualify, I am guilty of doing all those things with my younger daughter (daughter #2), and I am still doing them (that’s another story). However, I actually did the opposite when I was raising my older daughter (the one who sent me the post, daughter #1). I did, in fact, raise her almost to the exact prescription set out by skoppelkam.
I think I did an okay job raising my daughter #1. I never mentioned her weight, I encouraged her to be strong, healthy, self-sufficient and creative. And she is all that. I did, however, have a serious hang-up about my own appearance, and as much as I tried to be low-key about it (ie. don’t say anything to anyone, just get on with that extreme diet and exercise regime), it was an issue. I’m admitting it now; it has always been an issue, and it probably always will be.
My daughter (# 1) is a sassy badass. God, I love that girl! She’s nineteen now, and commands respect wherever she goes. She’s a new-wave feminist, she intelligent, street-smart and oh so wise, and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. But, if all that being a good mother, as in the skoppelkam prescription, was supposed to not give her hang-ups about her weight, then I failed absolutely and totally.
Daughter #1 is overweight by today’s standards, and is not happy about it. She is always trying to lose weight through exercise and diet and although she would never show it, she is cut through by the disapproval many of her male peers throw at her, just because she’s not the skinny, log-haired, makeup-wearing ideal they have bought into. She’s not hurt, but she’s angry. So, the question is, did I do that to her, or was it this messed up society?
Well, did my mother make me this tortured, angsty, insecure woman? As much as it’s easy to blame her, I don’t believe she did this to me. I believe that, yes, it was this messed-up society.
Let me illustrate.
When I was six years old, all I wanted was a long blonde wig. I dreamed of it every free moment, imagining my charmed life as a pretty blonde and how much happier I would be. You see, I had already observed (from personal experience with school, my extended family and from TV), that not only do blondes have more fun, but that pretty girls with long blond hair are the privileged few in the female population – everyone adores them and they get much better treatment all around.
When my parents succumbed to my nagging and bought me a long-haired blonde wig I was so excited that I wore it to school. I was in first grade, but I was very tall, so I was a freak already, but the day I wore the wig I was relentlessly ridiculed, teased, harassed and shunned (at least that’s what the memory of it has grown into). Needless to say I only wore the wig at home after that. It was a painful learning experience, but oops, I think I learned the wrong thing.
What I should have learned from that horrible experience, is that there is nothing better, or more authentic, than being yourself. What I actually learned was that girls who are not naturally pretty, don’t have it nearly as good, and that life just isn’t fair for certain girls (meaning me). Why did everyone treat the pretty blonde girls like princesses and the rest of us, like we were nothing? I had no idea why back then, I just knew that there must have been something wrong with me, because I wasn’t treated the same, and it stemmed from the way I looked.
Much later on in my life I found out the hows and whys of skinny-pretty-girl privilege, and I’m sure most of you know about it too. It all stems from the disempowering representations of females in the media.
Well, I know you’ve heard this from me before but it’s worth repeating. It goes like this: Consumerism is driven by desire, and we all know that desire is a response to the feeling of perceived lack. Advertisers have long known that in order to create desire for their products, they need only generate a feeling of deficiency in people and then position their products to alleviate the mass mirage of inadequacy (which they set up in the first place).
Consumerism is propelled along its voracious course by media images. These are images of skinny-youth, beauty and perfection, and they are designed to make us feel inadequate and dissatisfied with our current state-of-being, so that we rush out and buy products designed to remedy all that depressing personal angst.
Originally posted by Brokenly
In his article, The Body in Consumer Culture, Professor Mike Featherstone of Nottingham Trent University, argues that advertising is responsible for causing people to become so “emotionally vulnerable” that they continuously scrutinize themselves for physical flaws, which are no longer considered natural.
Featherstone explains how in consumer culture the body is the quintessential expression of self and, for a woman in particular, the physical state of her body acts as visible proof of her worth.
Disturbing? Yeah, at least, but I think the most distressing part of this distortion is the current narrowly-defined template for female beauty.
Susan Sontag asserts that men are judged by two standards of physical attractiveness, the boy and the man, whereas women are judged by only one, the girl. You’ll probably agree with me that the prototype of the ideal postmodern female is a tall, skinny teenager with a smooth, unblemished complexion, long luxurious, and preferably blonde hair, curly-long eyelashes and pouty lips.
We are constantly barraged with images of these sexy child-women. These are the devices advertisers employ to keep us in a constant state of anxiety about our physical appearance, so that we ‘need’ to purchase more and more products to restore our flawed bodies to an imagined state of perfection.
In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf claims that this rigid model of female beauty is like an ‘iron maiden’ torture device, spawned as a backlash to feminism in order to limit women’s power by disrupting their internal sense of themselves. Wolf asserts that this male-controlled ‘beauty myth’ acts to silence women. And it has, until recently, been very effective at this.
But now we women are getting the guts to stand up and say something. We are beginning to address this culture crime with action. This is what skoppelkam is doing in her excellent post. It’s a beginning, but we must understand that it’s not going to fix the problem of personal body-angst. WE WILL NEED TO ADDRESS THE SOURCE OF THE ANGST, WHICH DOES NOT STEM FROM MOTHERS, IT STEMS FROM THE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN CONTROL OF THE MEDIA.
It is also the reception our girls get from the people they encounter along the way in their lives. The guy who makes a pig-grunting sound as he rides past an overweight girl jogging on the side of the road. The pretty, skinny retail assistant who snubs the overweight girl when she tries to get help with a swim suit in the surf shop (these are the places we need to be standing up, speaking out and sending our disapproval). I guess what I’m trying to say here is, you can teach your girls all these excellent things, but don’t expect society to respond in kind.
Maybe we should be honest about who we are in front of our kids and teach our girls what the society they have been born into is really all about, and prepare them for it by helping them to be resilient?
A child who is protected from all controversial ideas is as vulnerable as a child who is protected from every germ. The infection, when it comes – and it will come – may overwhelm the system, be it the immune system or the belief system.
~ Jane Smiley
My greatest goal in raising my daughter #1 was for her to not have to endure any of the pain and anxiety that I have had to go through over this body-issue thing, but unfortunately, I have completely failed at that.
I think I was doomed from start on that front, because I have absolutely no experience in being free and clear of my personal self-loathing about my body, so how could I model it? Isn’t that what successful parenting is all about? Parents are supposed to be the example, right? I’m assuming you said yes to that. So, should I really not have had kids until I had rid myself of this terrible angst?
Or, maybe I did okay under the circumstances. I haven’t taught her to be unaware or oblivious of the cultural expectations on we, females to be thin and pretty. I have however, taught her to be honest with herself and the world, and to be badass enough to not give a shit about what anyone else thinks of her, except herself, of course.
I am so proud of my daughter, she is about as awesome as a person can be, but she’s just like you and I, a victim of the insidious machinations of a society controlled by consumer capitalist misogynists. What can one little messed-up person do to fight the overwhelming barrage of media messages designed to disempower us, to disassemble any small shred of self-esteem we may have been able to retain after being relentlessly brainwashed into thinking we are not good enough?
I guess the first step is to affect change in our own families, and speak out about it, which is what Moxiebird and skoppelkam are addressing with their blogs. So thanks, Moxiebird and skoppelkam!
I just hope I haven’t messed up my daughter too badly. Well, at least she’s not anorexic or bulimic, like I was.
Thanks for reading to the end.
Here is the original post by skoppelkam:
How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.
Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.
If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:
“You look so healthy!” is a great one.
Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”
“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”
Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.
Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.
Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.
Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.
Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.
Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.
Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.
Teach your daughter how to cook kale.
Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.
Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.
Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.
Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.