Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When You Sit Right Down in the Middle of Yourself

“Wow, she looks amazing. I hope I look that good some day.”
I see the imperfections; they see the Mama.

“Don’t be silly, Mom. You already look that amazing.”

I love my girls. They are good for my ego (most of the time). But we do live in a tricky world where figuring out this whole self-image thing gets pretty complicated really fast and can be devastatingly destructive. I know it is an issue both males and females battle (my husband doesn’t go to the gym just because he likes to wake up early and smell other people’s sweat), but as a female raising females, the female battle is the one I am more familiar with and the one I have been trying to figure out how to talk about.

When I was younger, I did the whole mall modeling thing. I even had an agent. I exercised in my bedroom in the mornings and before bed, doing sit ups and leg lifts then measuring myself. I always knew my size. I also always knew every single flaw with my appearance. Eyebrows were waxed and plucked, skin was inspected for any blemishes, and I would spend hours pacing back and forth in front of a full length mirror. Then I’d go to school and hear someone say, “Sure Emma’s pretty, but then she opens her mouth.” Bam! And if people heard I was modeling, the comments were, “Seriously? Her?” Yeah. Their skepticism really rammed home my knowledge of my short comings (including my shortness . . . I’m only 5’8”).

Now as the size 2 mom people love to bash in blogs and songs, I wish I could say things are better, but people still love to be snarky. It is up to me to ignore the “skinny bitch” comments I hear from random strangers when I am shopping (wish I could say I was joking) and in songs (can’t love “All About That Bass” if it is calling me a bitch because I am not overweight). It is up to me to hold my head high and not feel responsible for people obsessing about their thighs just because mine don’t touch. Honestly, I don’t look at or measure other people’s thighs and didn’t know “thigh gap” was something to talk about until people started making such a fuss about it on facebook. I only think about my thigh gap when I drop my phone while I’m on the toilet. I cannot let other people’s visions of themselves define my vision of myself.

That is what I try to teach my daughters. They already get bombarded with pressure to look certain ways. Don’t believe me? Let your second grader shave her head. Count how many people tell her she is no longer a girl or no longer pretty or that she is weird, wrong, etc. Let your first grader wear shoes from the boys’ department. Less extreme action, but she’ll get similar comments. The pressure to look one way and fit a generic mold of “this is what little girls are” is intense and destructive. Not every person fits the same mold and trying to force them to breaks them. As parents, my husband and I decided our goal was to help our girls express themselves and be true to themselves - even if that means coming home from school and shaving their heads in the bathroom then rocking a Star Wars t-shirt and one of my blazers in the pediatrician's office. Looking fierce, Tuna!

My girls and I (and my husband, too!) watch America’s Next Top Model or Star Trek as our evening tv. These two shows were chosen intentionally because they help us teach our daughters to be "fierce" and embrace their differences (and remind us to do the same in our own lives!).  Their dad and I can say over and over, “you are beautiful as is,” but it doesn’t have the same impact as hearing a super model or star ship captain with perfect hair tell them that being true to themselves makes them strong and gorgeous.

Here are some of our favorite lessons the girls can take away from those shows to help them battle the pressures to “look perfect” all the time:
  • ·         Confidence is Beautiful – The judges on ANTM say this all the time. They send girls home for not being confident. They tell girls that beauty comes from within and that they must BELIEVE they are beautiful.
  • ·         Compassion is Powerful – This lesson the girls see on both shows. One of their favorite episodes of Star Trek is “Plato’s Stepchildren” because it shows Cpt Kirk and the other crew members showing compassion to a man, Alexander, who had only experienced bullying and abuse before he met them because he didn’t look the same as the other people. Alexander’s transformation is a result of that compassion and helps to defeat the bullies. The compassion was stronger than the hatred showered on him. We talk to the girls not only about the need for them to act as Kirk did to others, but also act that way to themselves. They must show themselves the same compassion.
  • ·         Diversity is Necessary – This is a Star Trek lesson that is evident just by looking at the make-up of the bridge. The crew comes from all over. Each character brings different strengths to the table, and Captain Kirk relies on all of them to help him.
  • ·         No One is Always Perfect Looking – ANTM is great for teaching this lesson. Every girl has something she doesn’t like about herself, including Tyra Banks. Plus, by watching old seasons and comparing them to new ones, the girls also see how the trends change. If a girl from season 20 made herself look and dress exactly like a girl from season one, she would be outdated and wrong. There is no point beating ourselves up to fit the idea of perfection of the moment because the moment changes. Also, the fact that the judges don’t always agree drives home the message that this idea of perfection is a myth. Perfection is an idea that varies from person to person, minute to minute. We should not change who we are or sacrifice ourselves to a false idea.
  • ·         Be True to YOU – Both shows teach this well. Captain Kirk and Tyra Banks in their own very different ways encourage the people around them to be strong by being true to themselves. When the girls do that, they can be more confident, embrace diversity, show compassion to themselves and others, ignore other people’s definitions of perfection, and – most importantly – be happy.

As Ani Di Franco, my other go-to for shareable wisdom for my girls, so nicely says, “when you sit right down in the middle of yourself, you’re gonna want to have a comfortable chair.”

Why I am ok with my daughter shaving her head.

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