I have a daughter who will be 12 in November.
I rarely tell her she’s pretty.
We don’t get habitual pedicures or manicures. Our mother-daughter bonding time is not comprised of marathon shopping trips. I don’t regularly mention her hair, face, legs, shirt, pants, shoes or accessories. And when she comes out of her room wearing something slightly ridiculous, clothes that just don’t work together, five bows in her hair, white socks with brown ballet-flats—I don’t say a word.
When the cheerleaders go by on the float in the parade, we talk about it. We discuss young girls in short skirts and make-up, cheering for the boys and dancing provocatively, literally parading themselves for the enjoyment of others.
What? What’s that, you say? “It’s all in good fun?” Maybe. But in my house, we’re going to question it.
When we walk through Target or Old Navy or any department store for that matter, we talk about the girls’ clothes:
“Look at that hot pink shirt that says ‘Future princess.’ What’s up with that?”
“Let’s compare these clothes to the boys’ clothes. Why do you think they are different?”
“Do you think a young girl can play in this skirt?”
And we talk about Barbie. We talk about the objectification of women. We talk about the media’s depiction of the perfect female body and personality, and we talk about how it’s absolute drivel, how a mindless woman is apparently the best kind of woman, and how emaciation is the new “hot.”
We talk about idiotic females in movies who toss their hair and run out of burning buildings in stilettos, screaming desperately for their man to save them. Save your own damn self, I’ll say.
We talk about sexy faces and duck mouth. We talk about teenaged girls on the Disney channel, flirting and blowing kisses. We talk about the pathetic grasping for a man’s affection, and the fallacy of the princess story. And we laugh at it. We laugh at all of it.
Am I indoctrinating her? Am I going out of my way to instill in her a staunchly critical, feminist eye?
But as far as I can tell, the stakes are way too high to do anything else. I won’t let my daughter fall into the arms of mainstream American media and hope for the best. I won’t let them tell her who she is, and what she is.
No way. This is my daughter. This is my grand-daughter and great-grand-daughter and their daughters.
It isn’t “fine.” It isn’t “harmless.” And self-respect will not establish itself in my daughter, not when everything around her is screaming a very, very different message: “You’re a plaything, a toy, a sexual object for the enjoyment of men, and as such you need to conform to our idea of ‘pretty.’”
Because in some circles, emaciated is “pretty.” Because there is a whole population of females striving for a “thigh gap,” the latest obsession for young girls (though I remember it from when I was young, too). “Thigh gap” is when your upper thighs don’t touch and your life, apparently, has meaning. It’s the current holy grail of thinness.
This is the crap my daughter—our daughters—are facing: a morass of humanity screaming that she’s overweight, ugly, defective, less-than, FLAWED…because her thighs touch. Because she has some muscle, or (GASP) fat on her legs.
And don’t fool yourself, those voices are really freaking loud.
She’s facing Victoria’s Secret stick figures and runway models and Kate Moss. And if all that isn’t sufficient motivation for a starvation quest, there are “thinspiration” or “thinspo” Tumblr blogs and websites, complete with photographic evidence of “thigh gap” success, streams of photos of skeletal girls and women and “motivational” quotes like this one:
Have people tell me they want my body.
Have that gap in between my legs.
Have a guy say I’m really easy to pick up.
Wear a bikini in public and feel confident.
Wear any kind of clothes I want to wear.
Get the question, ‘Have you lost weight?’
Have people tell me I should model because of how I look and not just my height.”
And some day my daughter will meet girls pursing this “dream.” She will see the girls who have achieved this “ideal.”
And she will look down at her own thighs. She will put her knees together to see if her thighs touch.
And then she’ll have to make a decision: Is this me? Is this all that I am?
And in that moment I may have no power. I won’t be able to whisper in her ear “Little one, you’re beautiful as you are. You are more than this.” And I may have no ability to draw to her mind the baby that was born into my arms, the intelligence and spirit and soul we’ve been cradling and loving and nurturing, the one the world is trying to diminish into nothing more than skin and bones and some desperate, imaginary definition of sexy.
Will she see that there’s more? She’s the sense of humor that kills us. She’s the intellect, the critical eye, the insight. She’s the strength of a thousand women, and a thousand fathers and grandfathers, who would give it all up for her.
I may have no ability in that moment to remind her of all this, of the stuff she’s made of, of her depth and her heart and her strength. But I’m sure as hell going to try, now, while there’s still time, to create a voice in her with another message, a deeper eye that knows the truth: None of this matters. This is not what I am.
And so the world may tell her she’s the gap between her thighs, but her family will not. All I can do is show her what I am, as her mother, as a woman. I’m more than a body, more than the world will ever see. All I can do is trust, and hope, and work like hell, to always be enough, just as I am, to be the change I hope to see, so she will see, and she will know, even when I’m nowhere to be found or long gone.
This is not what I am.