It was this insightful and touching post by a father talking about a trip to Old Navy, wherein his daughter showed signs of our culture having stamped her with body shame, that kept me up last night. I used to be that college co-ed who sat around criticizing patriarchal culture and the “male gaze,” while theorizing that eating disorders and body hatred were a direct effect of pornography and post-colonialism. I know, I know, it was insufferable.
And, now I have a daughter, whom we’re likely raise right here in the good old U.S. of A. So, it’s no longer a theoretical issue for me– this issue of how the pressure to have a normative body might affect a young female psyche. And I keep asking myself what I am going to do the day that Sadie emerges from a dressing room lit by those awful lights that seem to spotlight flaws and says, “I’m fat.”
I have heroic fantasies of what I will do in that moment. In those fantasies, I sweep her into my arms, and I swim like hell up current– past every TV commercial, every US Magazine cover, and every story about how a celebrity mom lost all that unseemly baby weight in 17 hours. I will paddle until my very last breath until Sadie and I reach the shores of self-acceptance of the body beautiful– that mythical land where WE ARE OK JUST AS WE ARE.
But, those are just fantasies. And I am not sure what to do in reality because it only takes one trip to Target to be assaulted by destructive magazine covers. In reality, when we have our dressing room moment, I will break down in sobs, shake my fist at the heavens, and speed dial my therapist, who will probably tell me to take a deep breath and have a snack so I can be present for Sadie. (I pay him good money to remind me that it’s not all about me all the time.)
Of course, long before Sadie ever articulates that she hates her body, there are plenty of things I can do. Here’s my working list of actions I can take to raise a little girl who loves her body, and then gets on with the business of growing up, growing wise and learning physics or piano or origami:
1. Limit exposure to Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus and any of their fans.
2. Pay attention to the media we support and to which we expose her.
3. Let Sadie know how beautiful I think she is, while communicating that it’s not the most important thing about her.
4. Support Jeff and Sadie having a close and loving relationship.
And there’s one more thing I thought of this morning at 3:40 AM. It’s actually a real kicker, because it’s the action that involves me and my attitudes and my relationship to my own body. After all, I am a product and student of this culture too, and I have had my struggles with trying to make my body be something that was unnatural and unhealthy for me (like be a size 2). So, it occurred to me that perhaps the most important action for me to take is to deal with my own body issues.
I am the woman who Sadie is closest to in the whole world. I can blame Miley and Lindsey and Kate Moss and Maxim all day long, but a slightly more relevant question might be: What is modeled for Sadie at home? How does Sadie see me react to my reflection in the mirror? How do I talk (and feel) about my body? Will she learn from me that her body is a project that constantly requires “fixing up” or slimming down or toning up or subduing in some way? Will she have a relationship to her appearance that is joyful, empowering, and evolving?
Because, as my spiritual mentor once said, “You can’t possibly give it away unless you have it yourself.”