The Mirror, My Daughter, My Lead

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.”

So far, the mirror is for entertainment not self-torture.

So far, the mirror is for entertainment not self-torture.

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'm Starting With The Mama In the Mirror

I’m Starting With The Mama In the Mirror

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?

Do I?

Because, as my spiritual mentor once said, “You can’t possibly give it away unless you have it yourself.”


20 thoughts on “The Mirror, My Daughter, My Lead

  1. Amen to every word of this beautiful post. Your lips to god’s ears for me and my daughters, too. I kind of like the image of you shaking your fist to the heavens. Just sayin’!

    • It’s the power move, right? Pauly and the Jersey Shore did not invent the fist pump. Mothers who love fiercely, like me and you, did. Goddamnit, I want us to get some credit. Anyway, I think to myself that you will have no problems because your girls are so thin and athletic. Then I realize that thinking like that IS PART OF THE PROBLEM. I get nervous because Sadie’s diet seems to include bricks of cream cheese and lots of Veggie Sticks. I don’t want her to have to fight through what I did. Oh god, this is depressing. I am going back to bed.

  2. What a great post! Three times in the past month I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant (I’m not) and began to consider dieting, etc. But I’ve realized that I cannot obsess about this for my sake and my daughter’s sake. Exercise more, eat healthier? Yes. Obsess about it? No!

  3. I read the Daddy post – it was touching. And yours is heart-wrenching. I feel it too. I think* we have to accept that there will be times when they feel bad about themselves – our sons and our daughters. I think* being aware of commercial body image issues is an important step to fighting them. I think* all of it is a cumulative process and no battle will be won or lost on a single trip to Old Navy or a single look in the mirror. We just keep trying to emphasize their strengths and minimize the negativity*. Does that sound like a bunch of crap?

    *Disclaimer: I have no effing clue what in the world I am talking about. I make this sh!t up as I go.

    PS – I am scared too.

    • No I agree with you. It’s not one day or one image. It’s impossible to know where I play a role and where there’s not much I can do. I wonder about my son too. It’s not like he won’t face any of this himself.

  4. I just long for the past centuries where hippy women were prized and valued as the ideal (of course it was only because they had a better chance to breed, but you can’t have everything).

    I think I have this genetic thing figured out. I come from a line of really big women. Each generation married a thin husband, which in turn produced thinner children. I’m smaller than my mom, and she is smaller than my grandma was. Marry small! I’m kidding. Sort of. 🙂

    In my household we are pretty sporty types and played softball, volleyball, almost any sport that was available. For us, exercise was fun. My daughter took that into high school and played sports. She no longer plays competitively but anytime she feels like her waist is expanding she just ups the fun factor and goes outside to play more. I think that’s pretty healthy.

    Make it fun, keep the kiddos busy, and moderation in all things food. That’s my motto. Now, where did I put that Slimfast shake?

    • When I visited India a few years back, most of the really weathy women we met were zaftig and admired for having plenty of food. In a country with that much poverty, vanity looks very different. I may move there.

      I married a SUPER thin guy too! I am hoping that works for us. My mom and her mom were both rails. I take after my dad– hearty, Texas, farming folk. At least if a famine comes, I will outlive the skinny bitches.


  5. This is so inspirational and moving….THANK YOU for putting this subject into a clear perspective for myself and others! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  6. Beautifully written! I’ve been mulling over a similar issue with my son (it’s not just an issue with daughters) and appreciate your insight on this. Sadie is lucky to have you!

    • I know it’s bound to come up with our sons too? It’s harder for me to imagine how Simon might suffer but I am sure he will. A good media diet will help us all.

  7. So true. Well said. I have an 8 month old little girl and this post has given me a lot to ponder as I look towards the years ahead. Thank you. 🙂

  8. Beautiful piece sweetie. Quiet applause from the gallery. Amen to the concept that we teach best by example.

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