Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mirror, mirror

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.


ruchi said...

One of the things I have learnt with my own self-esteem struggles is the importance of learning to take a compliment. Society actually teaches women not to accept compliments. When someone tells us we're wearing a nice dress, we're supposed to respond, "Oh, thanks, but it's kind of old," or some such.

But actually the correct response is simply, "Thank you." Because when you respond to a compliment negatively, you reinforce negative feelings about yourself, and you make the one giving the compliment feel bad. The more you start accepting compliments, the more you will be on the path to truly believing the compliments.

You are beautiful. You really are. I was scrapbooking last night, and I kept being reminded of how beautiful you are. AND you are brilliant, and kind, and generous, and one of the funniest people I know. And on top of all that, you are my role-model for how to be a mom.

You might not believe all I am saying. You might be rolling your eyes and thinking that I'm full of it. But, if you can pull back and allow yourself to accept what I and everyone who knows you are saying ... I think you might be that much closer to actually believing it yourself.

Another Mom said...

I think the best thing you can do for your daughter is be aware of what society is going to throw at her, and you're already doing that! I have a low self esteem about a lot of things, and I constantly try to remind myself that when it comes to my body, the most important thing is that I am healthy and happy. And skinny is never healthy. You are a gorgeous, healthy woman and a great chef so your daughter is in excellent hands :)