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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Of Barbie and Women

 I'm noticing a tug-of-war between women and the media lately - women feel that the media doesn't accurately portray the true spectrum of beauty, while the media argues that the images they present sell; and both are right. When you're trying to raise healthy young women in a body-conscious society, how do you decide which battles to fight?

I have two daughters - one on the brink of puberty and one quickly approaching. I myself struggled with bulimia and borderline anorexia as a teen and young adult. I'm no expert on parenting, nor am I licensed in any field of psychology that deals with eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, or self esteem issues.

As a woman, however, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I started weighing my worth as a person based on my physical appearance. It wasn't watching supermodels strut down a catwalk, or dressing my Barbie in her super-stylish miniskirt.

I was 8, and I was listening to my mother talk about how "ugly" and "fat" she was, and watching as she shoved clothes to the back of the closet, reasoning that she wouldn't get rid of them because, "some day, she'd lose all the weight she'd gained and be able to fit into her skinny clothes again."

I don't blame my mother. She had no idea that the seed she was planting in my 8-year-old mind would have me living off Pepsi and vomiting any real food in the shower a few years from then. At 8 years old, my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world.  She wasn't stick-thin, but she was far from "fat," and my little girl mind was more in love with the woman who read me bedtime stories and kissed my boo-boos than worried about whether she fit into a size 4 or a size 18. 

My point is, fellow moms - if you want your daughters to have a good body image, don't ban Barbie.  Don't shit-talk Kate Upton or Heidi Klum or whichever genetic freak of nature makes you feel like Quasimodo by comparison (and I mean "genetic freak of nature" with love, I really do).  And don't ever, ever let your little girl (or little boy) hear you talk down about yourself.

Ever.

You see, the beauty of childhood is that no labels exist yet.  There is no "skinny" or "fat," no table of comparison that they set people on and examine with a magnifying glass.  When they're little, you are their world.  You are the absolute center of their universe, the standard for which they will build their entire sense of self on.  They'll learn labels soon enough when they leave your little nest - the trick is to give them a strong enough foundation that their little minds already know that the labels mean nothing.

Teach them that "beautiful" isn't just superficial and that a person's value can't be weighed by a number on a scale, a color of skin, or a lifestyle choice.  It's okay to tell your children that they're beautiful, but don't forget to praise things besides their appearance - and don't forget to praise yourself once in a while, too!

I'd be lying if I said that I never slipped and said something negative about myself in front of my girls.  When my then-10 year old started putting herself down, I decided to take action.  I bought a cheap cork board at Walmart, wrote each family member's names across the top, and left a stack of index cards with a pen on the shelf below it.  Every few days, we have a family meeting and write out a card for each member of the family, INCLUDING OURSELVES:

 
It's right above the girls "snack center" (on the side of the fridge), so everyone sees it several times a day.  It's tricky the first few times to find something positive to say about yourself, but after a while it gets easier - and even more so when you see the sweet things that your family members say about you.
 
Do you do anything like this at home?  Share in the comments below!
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