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The Minefield of Being Your Daughter’s Role Model:  Part 1

I did not plan on writing this post this morning when I was going over my to do list. My plan was to write a post for the girls that talked about the fashion industry’s changing definition of beauty.  I was inspired by an article that promoted the changing face of high fashion models. Gone is the “classically beautiful” face replaced by a more unique, distinctive profile.

I thought, “this is great, what a great message to girls that even the fashion industry is embracing individuality and letting go of their unrealistic ideal of beauty.” As I looked at the images of this new breed of models I had a second thought; not only were they the same stick-thin waifs that have dominated runways for years, they continue to be photographed with the same hollow, sullen expression on their face.   Hmmm, is this really an example I want to hold up to our girls?

Switch gears, focus on the positive. Sports Illustrated just featured their first plus size model in the annual swimsuit edition. Okay, this is progress in, admittedly, a very twisted way.  I’m thinking, “I can focus on the combined evolution of fashion embracing unique faces and popular culture celebrating a real woman’s body.” So, I started to do some research on our swimsuit model. In a Google search on plus size models I was confronted with topics of Body Shaming, Bullied for Their Size and How I Respond to People Who Call Me Fat. Again, NOT where I wanted to go with this. In the end, I decided to scrap the whole idea of any mention of models for now. The title by its very nature doesn’t convey thoughts of empowerment or authenticity.

I couldn’t let it go though. It still appalls me that people feel they have the right to expect women to explain or defend their physical appearance. How does this happen? Is there anything we can do to protect our girls from this kind of abuse?

Although we never intended for GirlNation to be a forum for body image discussions, it would be irresponsible of us to ignore the fact that body image and self-confidence are still, regrettably, intertwined. Because we are just getting started, this is not something that we will address in the girl’s forum. We want this to be a safe and fun place to go. As we get a better feel for the topics that girls really want to talk about, we’ll evaluate the propriety of addressing body image.

And so it comes back to those of us who are raising these girls to be the role models that help shape their attitudes about their bodies. But, how well equipped are we for this role when we have grown up with the same unrealistic ideals and negative stereotypes? In trying to wrap my head around this I found this article, How Mothers Impact Self-Image, by Jaqueline Lapa Sussman, MS, LPC. In addressing a group of mothers, Sussman said this,

“Your attitude about your own body and sensuality, whether you talk about it or not, is automatically passed down to your daughter. Who you are affects your daughter’s sense of self for the rest of her life.”

Pow! No pressure there…So if we don’t love our bodies, do we now have the pressure to get our own act together – and make it quick – so we don’t mess them up? Then we can start to deal with the guilt of the damage we’ve already done.

I think if our attitudes about ourselves tend toward the extreme, there is truth to Susan’s view. But, for most of us, we’re not on the fringe and just somewhere in the middle. We have a more garden-variety assortment of insecurities. I am not an expert, but I can’t help but feel that going to extremes analyzing ourselves and our daughters has the potential to do more harm than good.

For those of us who have a somewhat conflicted relationship with our body, it’s something that we are always trying to reconcile. It’s a process. These deep-rooted ideas we have about ourselves can seldom be tossed away with one self help book or in the course of a reality TV makeover show. But here’s the thing, we’re aware. And, by being aware we have cleared the first hurdle at helping navigate this minefield.

Our own attitudes and behavior are integral to shaping our daughter’s. Our influence however is not rooted only in how we feel about our own bodies but in our attitude toward other women’s. When our girls hear us criticize an actress for putting on weight or for looking old this sends two very strong messages: one, that this is something to feel bad about and two, that it is somehow okay for us to pass judgment on someone else’s appearance. So much of body shaming comes from a lack of respect that manifests itself in casual, hurtful criticism.

Women and girls need to stand together to stop the hurtful dialogue about our own and other women’s bodies. Even if we, as parents, can’t pass down an attitude of complete self-acceptance, we can instill in our daughters a sense of respect for themselves and others. If we can teach them to regard the physical differences that make each one of us unique it will be a huge step toward accepting (and maybe even loving) their own bodies.

Below is a beautiful video from Jubilee Project that exquisitely tells the story of how other’s criticism of our appearance influences our own self-image. It’s not long and completely worth the time.

All the best, Vicki

Here’s another really great common sense article about this topic. Take me to it.


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