Last week was Fashion Week in NYC. Other than the fashion intern students who were absent from my classes, the week did not impact me in any significant way. I did notice some people who were even more glamorously dressed than usual, a difficult feat on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This led me to think about how my daughters are growing up in a different era than I did. With awareness on the importance of good body image, the connection between weight disorders and media representations, and the focus on promoting a positive self-esteem in women, my daughters are supposedly in an environment where being yourself is in.
Because I am raising two daughters and I study media and gender, I have tried to be very careful about exposing my children to media representations of women and the body. I work to teach my daughters not to focus on looks but on inner beauty. And in case I ever forget, there are plenty of reminders across media. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty reminds me that you can be beautiful, no matter what type of body you have (though I should buy all the Dove products to be even more beautiful). The Spark Organization organizes activism against the mediated sexualization of girls, and Adios, Barbie builds awareness of and a defense against disempowering negative body image. Even the National Organization of Women (NOW) sponsors a Love Your Body Day.
A while back, I remember seeing news coverage of 14-year old Julia Bluhm, who petitioned Seventeen magazine to include more truthful portrayals of girls. So, I’m well informed here, and I’ve been careful. I do not obsess over food choices or body image, I never make unflattering body comments about anyone’s body, and I’ve discussed inner beauty with my children. I limit their media consumption. I let them pick out their own clothes while discouraging sexualized clothing. Aside from my middle daughter’s obsession with shoes, I have avoided preoccupations with fashion.
Something has gone horrible wrong, though. I think my daughters are making me self-conscious about my body.
I was getting dressed for work the other day when my eight-year old told me that she didn’t find my skirt flattering. A few days later, my six-year old said I shouldn’t really wear jean skirts; they don’t look all that good on me, she confided. Each morning as I get dressed, I feel like I’m heading down a catwalk: get rid of the stripes, that shirt is too tight, those shoes don’t go, you fit into that outfit better last month.
Of course, I’ve reiterated how looks aren’t important, how it’s what is inside that counts. However, I must admit that now when I look in the mirror (something I didn’t do often before), I’m suddenly faced with a level of discomfort (maybe these polka dots weren’t a good idea, after all).
My friend is having the same issue with her four-year old, who told her she might be getting a little chubby. Clearly, the girls are still getting these ideas from somewhere, and our efforts to inoculate them are not going well. Does peer pressure overcome all else? Does fashionista ideology just ooze out? Are there any support groups for moms with critical daughters?
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