This is one of those posts about a topic you prefer pretending is nothing serious. At a certain point you decide it’s time to put it down, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. I’ve dealt with self-image issues during most of my life, because I’ve always thought physical appearance and fashion are powerful means of self-expression, tools I’ve used to change myself and to try to show outwards my inner self. I’m a 39-year-old woman who knows herself pretty well and who knows how to deal with the traps of what is considered acceptable, trendy and so on. I usually ignore them or subvert them, but I know I can do it now that I’m an adult, because I know how to do it. What about a child who’s growing up? What about MY child, who’s starting to face these issues?
B has always been pretty confident: she knows what she likes, she knows what she wants to look like as an adult (she knows she wants to use all my nail polishes and make-up products ;)), but she’s starting to ask herself, my husband and me about body issues, which is perfectly natural. What worries me is the impact with others’ approach to the same issues. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me who is overthinking, but things she tells me about her pre-school mates leave me baffled. She used to spend most of her play time there with a girl friend; I don’t think they’ve ever been “best” friends, but they surely were very close. B spent some afternoons at her place and she did the same. Well, this girl sometimes models at local fashion shows, and B says she’s growing more and more interested in this; she often speaks about it and seems to care a lot about her physical appearance. Some time ago B told me they were not friends anymore, explaining the girl wanted to be the centre of the attention all the time and that she (B) didn’t want to end up being her sidekick. I became quite upset when B told me the girl’s aunt once gave her niece a “dieting candy” one day she took her to school. Being 5 = dieting candy??? Of course it wasn’t a dieting product, but maybe something sugar-free, yet I was appalled by the focus that the aunt put on the concept of dieting.
I’ve been reading a lot about this topic recently (I totally agree with this article, for example), which I consider particularly relevant because we know how important (and sometimes destructive) can be weight issues on children and adults alike. Now, I don’t care if B’s mate’s parents think it’s good and educational for their daughter to take part into fashion shows at such a young age (they’re the parents and I’m no one to question their decisions): the whole contemporary (Western and Eastern) culture is imbued with children’s adultification (and sexualization), but – I repeat – I’m no one to judge others. The point is that I don’t want B to think you must be skinny to be considered beautiful or accepted among the “cool ones”. Life – with all the (subliminal) messages on tv and magazines, not to mention the example coming from future friends – will surely put that in her face when she’s older, but why does the torment need to start now? Am I wrong in wanting to protect her from these issues now that she’s 5? She asked me about that “dieting candy” and I explained that it was just a sugarfree candy; I also explained that body categories and their division into cool/not cool is just a way people lacking self-confidence use to be accepted by others. Weight is just a number and, as such, doesn’t define who you are. I’m glad B has me as an example: I’m not thin and I’ve never been scale-obsessed. I’m plump, I’ve got black-to-white hair, I’ve got a shaved head and tattoos, and I desperately want my daughter to see me as an example, not of beauty, but of self-confidence, of someone who’s satisfied with her body even if she’s not a size 0. I feel responsible for the process of self-image construction she’s slowly going through, but what more can I do to help her? Maybe it’s just my sense of protection which would like to keep her far from disillusionment, from exclusion, from others’ teasings and mockings, from everything which made me feel sad and a loser when I was young. As a parent I feel scared and worried, but I know I’m not powerless, which is good. I keep on giving her positive messages and I think it’s important to talk to her about these issues; at the same time, I’d like to do more. Is it right for me to feel so responsible or should I let things go, because she needs to go through this process by herself? Maybe I’m taking this so seriously because I know what problems she’ll find on her path or because I’m worried of how she will consider me when she’s older. Who knows? I’ve always felt I’m a loser and I can assure you this is not a pose, because life has proven I’m such, but I don’t want to be such for her.