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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Scuba Lessons
May 9, 2012 - 8:30pm

S.C.U.B.A. — self-contained underwater breathing apparatus

I jumped on a plane recently to try and assist my son Nick with changing his “F’s” to “D’s” or “C’s” on his high school report card in order to graduate in June. His father and I realize that our last ditch efforts to discipline may be ‘too little too late’ for our son, but Nick understands that he cannot move out of his Dad’s house (or into my empty one) until he gets a GED. I let Nick know that some of the readers of this column are interested in hearing from him about his high school burnout, and he may, in fact, write a response to my maternal blogging (after we get through the next three weeks.)

In the meantime, Katie (Nick’s younger sister), Ted (my partner) and I are taking scuba lessons in Florida.  Katie is interested in the marine sciences.  She volunteers at the Tampa Aquarium in Florida where she tests water quality on Sundays.  Ted and I are interested in underwater photography and the research surrounding dispersant testing in the Gulf of Mexico.  We have all found the challenge of sinking underwater and learning how to breathe the perfect analogy for the end of the school year.

Katie is one year younger than her brother, so next year will be her senior year of high school. The stress of being in the middle of angry words between her brother and her father has not been fun. Katie is tired of the constant tension — “Get off of Facebook! Don’t try to hide it from me!” -- the yelling and the inevitable apologies. Katie avoids Facebook for the most part and prefers to get out of the house and hang with her girlfriends.

As most parents know, when one child is having a problem, the other children get less attention.  I sense Katie’s feeling of abandonment, which is why I try to find opportunities to do special things just with her.  We went to England to visit her cousins last year, scuba lessons this year. These moments seem to help Katie, but I also realize that I am still not spending enough casual chat time with her. Katie suffers from the inevitable sexist media pressure that demands unrealistic body shapes from women. When we went to our first scuba lesson, Katie was more upset at the thought of being in a bathing suit around strangers than — as I feared — with the potential for drowning in a pool.

Ted and I both try to help Katie by giving mini-gender studies lectures to balance out the Seventeen magazine and Victoria Secret pressure. Ted told Katie about a recent petition mentioned in the N.Y. Times against Seventeen for doctoring all of their photos of young women. Fourteen-year old Julia Bluhm, a blogger for the young women’s online site SPARK started the protest. SPARK began as a response to the APA’s report on the sexualization of girls.  The site features blog entries by young women discussing topics that cover body image, sexual pressure, film reviews and Hillary Clinton.

After outlining the negative impact of unrealistic images—“eating disorders, dieting, depression, self-esteem” — Julia’s petition asks the editor of Seventeen "to commit to printing one unaltered -- real -- photo spread per month.” Before long Julia’s online petition had 46,000 signatures (currently at 62,000) and Julia and her mother were traveling to NYC to meet with Seventeen’s editor, Ann Shoket. 

Even though I have acknowledged Seventeen’s efforts to represent different body sizes before in this column (and the N.Y. Times does as well), I praise a young person’s initiative to scream out against the Photoshopping of our imagination that takes place in all public media.  Seventeen may go further than many magazines with showing a range of body sizes -- e.g. see the Body Peace blog -- but it barely scratches the surface of real girl skin.  (H.B.O.'s new series, Girls, is getting a bit closer...) Julia Bluhm and the blogging staff of SPARK are deeply committed to alleviating the psychological pressure to conform to certain body sizes that every young person experiences.

The Seventeen protest did not seem to impress my daughter much, but, fortunately, we all made it through our first scuba practice lesson.  After swimming 12 laps, Katie was more confident than I was.  (My mask was too big and I kept inhaling water through my nose.) By the end of the day, though, no one cared about their appearance since we were all exhausted, hungry and proud of surviving.

I look forward to when we can all get out of the pool and test our scuba abilities in really deep waters…


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