So yesterday morning I was getting ready for work. Bean was awake and Husband was holding her up to look in the bathroom mirror while I was brushing my hair. Husband pointed to the mirror and said "There's your pretty mommy, Bean" and I replied with some snarky comment about my post-partum body that does not bear repeating.
Husband reacted quickly. He said that he didn't want me saying negative things about myself in general, but especially to Bean. Though she is too young to understand it now, it won't be long before she'll understand him when he says the words say the word "pretty" and "mama" and see my pained grimace in response.
This exchange, in which Husband is totally on the side of Good (with a capital G), renewed my fears about raising a daughter.
Let me say first that I know there are definitely strong pressures on boys to be fairly lean and to conform to an image of physical strength. Boys have body image issues too, and they are (increasingly, in my opinion) subject to pressure from visual media of all kinds to be attractive.
But for girls, the beauty ideal is so much more narrowly defined and so tied to our (apparent) value as human beings. Just watching TV for 5 minutes, or flipping briefly through a magazine (even one that's not devoted to beauty... my Cooking Light magazine is just as guilty) and the women you see are young, very slim, white, and well-off. The only time you see a woman over 50 is in an add for an anti-aging cream, and the only time you see a large woman (or even a normal sized-woman) is as a foil for the "beautiful" women. While men can fall within a relatively large window of body weights and muscle tone and be considered attractive, women are under constant pressure to be smaller, slimmer, and bonier.
I sat down last week to watch one of my favorite shows and was distressed to see that one of the actresses, who was already VERY skinny, had lost even more weight since last season, making her ribcage stick out even more, and the outifts she wore during the show were designed to show it off.
I cringe when I think of sweet little Bean who will someday be deluged with these images of beauty, no matter how hard I try to filter them out. Even if I continue to be sure that Bean is not watching TV, she will see magazine covers and billboards, and she will get it through her interactions with her friends.
She will also, most likely, be picking up negative cues from me. I've struggled with a very negative body image and very low self-esteem for a long time. I've had struggles with food issues since I was in high school. I know that my struggles with food, weight, and body image can be toxic for the people around me, my friends and loved ones. And I haven't made peace with myself or my body yet.
I need to find a way to be a positive role model for Bean when it comes to building a positive body image and good self-esteem. While I know that I can't shield Bean from facing the issues surrounding body image and beauty in our culture, I need to help her develop positive self-esteem so that when she is confronted with images of the beauty ideal, with negative comments among her peer group, she can maintain a healthy outlook and be strong in the face of negative pressure. And part of helping her develop a grounded sense of self-esteem is to take the focus off physical appearance and weight.
And I think it starts with me.