Monday, July 11, 2011

Beautiful Lies

I took Sabine to a new neighborhood park, where we watched two eight-year-old girls play on plastic, flower-like seats that functioned as self-spinning, individual merry-go-rounds. The girls would sit on the low-lying seats and spin either fast or slow, depending on how heavy or light they were. One of the them was tall and very thin. The other girl was of medium height and was not overweight, but wasn't thin either. The skinny girl was flying around and around and the thicker girl's seat moved more slowly. When she noticed the difference in their respective speeds, she looked up at me and said, "I'm too heavy. I'm fat." My heart sank and I said, "You are not fat. You are beautiful." She lifted her eyes from the ground and smiled an enormous smile that radiated.

It kills me to think that an eight-year-old girl, who is not unhealthy, is already beating herself up about her weight and her appearance. Not so long ago, one of our neighbors, who is constantly jogging and very thin, looked at Sabine and then asked me in an oddly concerned way if she'd gained weight. Sabine has always been in the fiftieth percentile for weight. She's average; not skinny or overweight. I wanted to sock the neighbor and put a little duct tape over her mouth so that she stops spewing her own poor self image and insecurity onto other girls and women as if there's something wrong with them. How does an adult think to comment on the weight of an almost two year old who is not even close to being overweight?

My sister spent the weekend with a friend's fifteen-year-old daughter. She was struck by how the girl  commented on the size of another girl. The friend's daughter seemed disturbingly preoccupied with how "big" the other girl was when in fact, she wasn't that big at all. The next line I was going to write reads like this: I don't even want to know what they--the neighbor or the friend's daughter --think of my body as it continues to cling to an extra twenty five pounds. But I don't want to see myself or my child through somebody else's eyes. Other people's eyes come with baggage and insecurity and an individual perspective that's individual and not necessarily the truth.

I think women and girls (and men, too) are as hard on themselves as they are on other people. Why is that? Is it because we are all watching movies and television and reading magazines that display women, who for the most part, are all the same kind of beautiful? They are mostly thin or mostly have long hair or mostly wear the same kind of clothing. But who says that's what's beautiful or that it's the only kind of beautiful? I think that even though we are all completely different--straight or curly hair, short or long hair, skinny or curvy, tall or short, wide or narrow hips, thin or thick thighs, soft or hard stomachs--we see women in magazines and on screens who don't display all of these qualities and we start to think we have to look the way they do in order to be attractive. I guess that's why women dye their hair and have body transformations and pay for hair extensions and plastic surgery and lighten or darken their skin tone.

Yes, my neighbor's comment about Sabine makes me want to lock my door and never speak to her again for fear that her warped image of beauty might effect my growing toddler. But I think with all of the perfectly manufactured and narrow-minded imagery that we're all faced with, the better thing to do is tell Sabine and every eight- and fifteen-year-old girl, and even, my neighbor, my friends, my sisters and myself that we are beautiful in a million different ways.

Image via Deviant Art


Leslie said...

Where do girls get that from? My 7 year old on occasion tells me her stomach is "fat". And she is a skinny-minny. Not an ounce of fat on her. And also, I know that I have never complained about my (truly fat) stomach infront of her. I think she got it from other girls in her school. So sad.

Nancy said...

I am guilty of beating myself for never feeling skinny or fit enough.I am better now after I had my daughter but those thoughts still creep inside my head. I've lived with it for so long it's the norm to me. But I hope my daughter never think this way.

I believe my mom has a lot to do with it because she had always (and still does) remind me how big my thighs are getting or how droopy my stomach is.


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