Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Soapbox



I’m just going to have to get this down, because it’s hanging around, sitting on my shoulder and while all is Keep Calm and Carry On around here, there is the distant jingle of tiny warning bells. It may seem as though it is nothing. But I reckon it’s a potential Something.

A week or so ago, we were all sitting around while the Mr was reading the bedtime story and I was practising my knitting-without-looking. I glanced over at the seven year old and saw her place her flattened hands against either side of her thigh. Antennae tingling, I sidled over and asked her what she was up to. “I’m seeing what my legs look like if they are skinnier”. Radar crackling I say: “So... how come you want to do that?” “Because the girls at school were deciding who was too fat and who was skinny.”

Stop. Right. There.

Huh? She’s only seven.

I may well be up for the Naïve Parent of the Omniverse award. Did I really think that by avoiding commercial TV and limiting the non-commercial variety to an hour on Fridays, that I could protect my childrens’ innocence? Did I think that sending them to a Steiner school where branded clothes are banned and where other children from generally like-minded families attend, that my kids could just be ‘kids’ for a good bit longer? That they could get on with perfecting five cartwheels in a row, having a big imagination, learning and creating stuff – all the while nutting out the whole making-friends gig? Sheesh.

Naïve and furious, I am. Actually, I was already furious. Seething at the insidious side to our culture – something that in the main, we seem to accept, possibly because we’re pretty used to it. The billboards on the drive to school, the sexy little girl fashions, the Bratz dolls, the Spice Girls (mighty catchy tunes back then, but what does it say about our thinking? Girlpower: because five girls turned blokes on?), etc, etcetera. Those few examples are but a taste of an attitude that challenges any feminist ideal but also endangers the mental and physical health of the kids who grow up into it. Think self-esteem issues, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, self-harming, depression, worse.

In a tiny gesture of protest, earlier this year, I gifted my older-than-her-years, turning-ten niece, a subscription to Indigo magazine. A publication with a strictly no airbrushing policy, Indigo is the brainchild of two driven Mums. The aim of the magazine is to promote positive body image, self-esteem, confidence. It’s fun (confirmed by excellent niece review), topical, creative. It doesn’t sexualise girls, offer diet tips or suggest surefire methods for a twelve year old girl to snare a fifteen year old boy by doing something highly ill-advised but nonetheless found with step-by-step instruction in the sealed section of a different magazine (ok, NOW I’m ranting).

I realise I may be coming over as an unrealistic wowser getting things WAY out of proportion. But my kid with her thinner leg thing, the two subsequent skinny references and an escalating mirror obsession is sending me a message. When I replied to her that she didn’t have skinny legs and she didn’t have fat legs – that what she did have were good, strong, perfect-for-her legs, I reckon that made some sense, this time. But searching her eyes, I think I also saw my first small confrontation with peer pressure. And I’m big-time wary of what drives that sort of peer group mentality.

As luck would have it, the planets aligned and I happened to be listening to ABC local radio and bumped into a discussion on the sexualisation of girls last week. You can listen here (I’m not sure how long the link is available – and fast forward to the 36 minute mark to miss the intro).

There are also newly published books in the offing: ‘Getting Real – Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls’ by Melinda Tankard-Reist and ‘The Butterfly Effect’ by Dannielle Miller. Dannielle also has a website and a blog.

47 comments:

natalie said...

Tania i had a similar thing happen with my then 6 year old being told by older kids at school that she was too fat and she stopped eating for 2 weeks to get skinny. i showed her internet pics of anorexic girls and obese kids and told her that this look was unhealthy and how she looked was just right as we are all different. she started eating again and i have been lucky we havent had any more probs.

Anonymous said...

Tarn,
It truly is frightening (the whole body image thing)! I hope that by the time my two girls are at school they don't face the same 'issues'.
I must look into that Indigo magazine as I am sick of airbrushed beauties.
Tell your lovely girl (from her Mummy's cousin) that I think she is gorgeous just the way she is!
Love Jen

Cass said...

Tania fantastic post. I am continually worried about this peer pressure as well as my daughter is a little on the chubby side. I think we all need to be worried about our young children, especially the girls and the amount of pressure they are under to 'conform' to the "ideal" image

Kirsty said...

Hmmm...it's a sad reality. As the mother of a stick thin 12 year old I can tell you this whole thing scares the living daylights out of me.

We just try to focus on the "strong healthy body" stuff with all the kids. You need to fuel that body & keep it nourished so that you can do all the things you want to with it.

One Flew Over said...

I am utterly speechless...your gorgeous one is 7...7.

Maybe I have had my head in the sand, but 7???

I am worried...very worried.

Nikki Cardigan said...

I don't have the magic words your daughter needs to hear, now and later. I wish I knew them. What I do know is this. She is lucky to have you... a mother who is fiercely protective of her daughter and will do whatever she can to make sure her girl is as best prepared as possible to deal with all the crap out there, the crap that we cannot shield them from forever.

FWOG. A blog. By Fi and Wendy. said...

T
Get on that soapbox Mrs and we'll be there with you. You're brilliant.
And feisty.
Which is even more brilliant.
W

Kylie said...

Hey Tania - fabulous post. It is a very real issue and I'd be surprised at anyone who hasn't had to deal with it with their daughters. I can't remember now when my girls first came home with these things (they are 12 and 9 now so it must have been a while ago). i do remember having to deal with it and in one hysterical moment of arguments telling them I was going to take them to the Anorexic unit at the local hospital so they could see where they're heading (extreme, yes, but this was a culmination point). Since then, they've been fabulous. It passed - we had to go through it and we'll probably have to go through it again when they're older but they know the basics... and isn't that what we do as parents? We give them a firm grounding, they stray off the path from time to time but then come back to their grounding? This is my hope anyway ;) It's a constant job. Kx

Becky said...

These issues seem to be cropping up younger in girls than I remember from my day.

Do the people responsible for the publications targeting young girls not have children themselves, and therefore don't see the damage they do with their messages of the 'right' image?

Other than tell our children often that they are beautiful/loved/special/smart (and they are) I am not sure how to combat this as an issue.

Tinniegirl said...

I've been trying to find some words to add. I don't have anything. It's a really tough situation and good on you for thinking about it and trying to address it.

Thanks for the Indigo link too. I see some niece presents coming.

m.e (Cathie) said...

oh my..what is wrong with this picture!! I really can't believe a 7 yr old..but I guess I can. it seems as though kids are older quicker nowdays, or am I just sounding old.
just dropping off my 3.5 yr old at kinder you see how all the girls form little groups and some are excluded. my partner & I were discussing this last night about the "cool" girls & fitting in...ohhhh geezzz, this is gonna be hard.
i have absolutely NO idea how I would handle this but I totally believe your little girl is shown by you how truly beautiful she is but unfortunately we cannot shield them from everything we can just make them feel like the most special beings in the world to us.
goodluck love ♥

sophie said...

So freaky and obscene, and I too have had this crap come into our lives as well. I have a 13 year old who is so skinny but everytime she grows out of something she has a freak out like she isn't supposed to be growing, she is scared it wont stop and she will keep on getting bigger...how do you combat these crazy ideas? How do you not yell and scream, and go charging out into the neighbourhood and blame everyone for this outrageous and ridiculous shit!
I have to keep telling her that she is supposed to grow it's normal and means she is healthy.
I am so sorry that your daughter is dealing with this is SUCH a young age, it's too young, it's so wrong.

katiecrackernuts said...

OK. Three girls (all adults now) and a Girl Guide leader. Think I'm kinda qualified. Yes. In the years I have lead Guide units I have seen it become more of an ussue. It is, sorry, unavoidable. I do love my Guide unit and it's girl only space for allowing the kids, over-sexualised for sure, to just be themselves. I was at a camp of 14-18 girls a couple of weekends ago and it was a warmish day and we found a very cold but deep and inviting rock pool. They stripped off or dived in in whatever they had and supported each other to have a go, or not, and there was no competition, no showing off, no embarrassment about shapes, or lack thereof. No one cared when they got out and dried off and looked muddy and wet and grinnin' like fools. Bless 'em. I had one kids years back who was outside of that unit what I'd call prissy. In the unit she was a D.A.G. and she loved it. She actually said to me it was the one place she felt she could be a dag and no one cared. She used to come deliberately daggy to show her younger "sisters" that this too cool for school girl they saw at high school was also someone else.
My only advice is find her safe places and people who are daggy and don't care. People who have gumption and spirit to be themselves. Those shining lights will be remembered. Be one yourself. I am sure you already are. Have daggy times with her. PJs all day. Don't brush your hair. It's OK. We all love her just the way she is.

Andrea said...

gosh! my girl, 7, (steiner-oriented school and all) has had the same issues...she has been known to suck in her tummy and say...i wish i lookied like this! yikes!! just because some girl in her class really looks like she's anorexic...funny thing was I spoke to the mum and she said her girl had said the same thing!! apparently it's meant to be a "normal" phase 6-7 year-olds go through....nevertheless I'm scared!! Seeing reports about ana-websites and girls who WANT to look anorexic doesn't help...
I really hope our building-up-self-confidence-sport-is-better-than-dieting-do-worthwhile-things-in-your-pasttime-scheme works...
I don't have any alternatives...
xoxo andrea

ambette said...

Oh this stuff drives me mad! I saw a documentary the other day about how advertising affects children (particularly the kind that affects young girls and they way they look at themselves)and it was truly scary.

So many girls are growing up to be vacuous and image-obsessed, and think that the only value they have is looking good. I don't have kids yet, but I find the prospect of this stuff scary.

I think the only thing you can do is try to keep the exposure to negative influences to a minimum (which you seem to be already doing) and keep giving your daughter plenty of positive reinforcement. Kids are smart and if you lead by example it should eventually sink in.

Leonie Guld said...

blooody hell.... I hope I can come up with the right words when its my turn. Keep doing what you are doing, it sounds good to me!

Jo James said...

Damn. I thought this was an American thing. So sorry that it's on your continent as well. You said all the right things, and all you can do is continue to do what you're doing (and cross your fingers that she picks the right friends). My daughter did the same thing at that age, but she's a healthy 17-year-old now, who actually likes her strong legs. No eating disorders or anything. I read somewhere, and it makes so much sense, that if you want your daughter to be OK with themselves the most importent thing a mother can do is to be OK with their own selves.

A Spoonful Of Sugar said...

Great post Tania - your have stimualted some great discussion in your comments. There certainly is more challenges in raising a daughter than sons. It is not just the body image stuff but peer pressure, bullying, cyber bullying, mean girls, etc. By being aware, encouraging positive friendships, and having good channels of communication you can navigate the challenges of childhood.

elly bee said...

Tan, I read an article lately from a woman who had done research on photoshop and what the result was for the self image of young girls. and she disoverd that girls who were familiar with the photoshop programmes and possibilities were more happy with their body then girls who did not. reason? because they know in an early stage that manipulation of pictures excist and that the pictures they see in magazines might just nog be real. I thought that conclusion was quit surprising....

Gina said...

Parenting is one terrifying journey. I really don't have any clue what it is like to parent a girl, let alone a 'noughties' girl... I don't envy you the task.

I guess we can't shield our kids from reality forever. As they move towards independence from us, in thoughts and actions, we'll all just have to do our darnedest to set great personal examples, and give them the tools to critique our society for themselves. Sounds like you're doing a fabulous job on both fronts there Tania.

Cath from chunkychooky said...

So wrong.... and the sexualisation of little girls selling them bras etc - that is corporate pedophilia... it makes my blood boil and I totally agree with you... but I think what others have said is true. You just have to continue to be a good example to her and surround her with strong minded confident women and she will be fine.
having said that- I hope I still "know" you in 5 years!!

I am right behind you on this one!!!

Tanya said...

Sounds like you're doing a great job Tania. I have recently left teaching, and am thinking about children with my partner. These things scare me, because while you can control what happens at home, you have limited input as to what their peers, schools and outside influences can have.

All we can do is our best. Strong grounding. Strong support networks. Resilience and Self-Esteem.

Good luck with it all.
Tanya

Melanie said...

Wow. Just wow. I am absolutely dreading the time when my girl comes up against this stuff (a while yet, she's only 3). As someone who struggles desperately with self-image (and is very overweight - cause or effect, who can tell!) I just don't know how I'm going to avoid passing that on to my beautiful confident little one. I think you're doing a fabulous job Tania, and I hope to emulate it.

beck said...

Great post Tania. It's good to be passionate about this topic as it is bloody important. All school yards are the same, whether Steiner, State, Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish...wherever there are kids there will be comments like these. It's what happens at home that counts the most, helping your kids to grow up with good self esteem in a loving and supportive household. It doesn't mean they won't be affected by the 'real world' but it will go a long way to helping them be happy with who they are. I bet you are just the kind of mum who creates that kind of enviroment. It's also important to get the message out there that the sexualization of women/girls in the media is out of date, overused and just NOT ON! Enough already! x

Sandrine said...

Uhm...yes you are right, my 7 year old girl is going through that similar things of questionning/comparing their body image...I am like you a bit frighten and in another hand think it is probably a normal stage of growing up as I still remember going through similar as a little girl...I like to believe that encouraging healthy leaving, selfesteem, using homeopathie etc...will help them to learn to respect life (their own and others)...I also hope that I am keeping communications channels open with my girls and giving them the tools to grow up happy and healthy?
I wish I knew the magic words or answer...But I am sure you are doing a great job...it is a hard job to be a woman I beleive ;)

Karin said...

First of all: She is so lucky with you as her mom. And I am pretty sure you will be able to guide her through all these fases.

But ofcourse you are right. It's scary. I find it to be scary too and my little girl is only three right now.

It's hard. There is so much confusion everywhere when it comes to what is healthy, what is normal, what is sane. I hear people say the silliest things, once heard a little girl (8 years old) declare that 'fat is bad'(what? Children need some fat to grow.. it depends on what kind of fat, doesn't it?) and wonder where we are going.

We only can do the best we can. But it's scary. Raising children, loving children and preparing them to their life in this world is scary. It's beautiful and the best experience ever, to me, but sometimes really scary.

You will do fine. She will do fine. I'm certain.

Nikki said...

Well put, Mrs.... it's a terrible situation that scares the bejaysus outta me. What kind of world have I brought a little girl into..?

I'm hoping that there will be some sort of groundswell reaction to the culture that is creating ridiculous 'beauty' ideals and early sexualisation and bring it back into some sort of balance. I'm probably ridiculously idealistic.... But I did listen to that radio programme the other day and I've heard other similar discussions. A lot of people are saying 'enough is enough'...
(Am I clutching at straws and hoping against all likelihood that my daughter will be affected by all this madness?).

Good on you for bringing up the discussion. YOu may jsut start a groundswell revolution....

Nikki said...

I think I meant to say that I hope my daughter will NOT be affected by all this madness.

My soapbox is a bit wobbly.

mum space said...

rant justified and thanks for the link. i feel for you and am also scared for my four year old's (and my) future. lucky for me our kids are still into lifting their shirts at the finish of dinner to measure who has the biggest tum and being proud as punch of their little puds. please can I just stay in this phase forever? Sandra x

dearmrsreese said...

My girls are not even 2 yet and I am already concerned. Its sad that we can go to extremes to protect them and still not have much influence over them compared to their peers.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

You're doing all the right things . All children need self worth , love , fun , stability , structure and an outlet for all that creative energy ....and lots of giggles . Yours have all that . Then they're not so vulnerable to peer pressure . Meanwhile talk to her Headmaster/mistress and ask what the school's doing to counteract what is , after all , a mild form of bullying .
Having said all that , I'd like to point out that I'm not trying to criticise parents whose daughters do have eating disorders . Growing up is fraught at the best of times and , as you know , there are no guarantees .

HB said...

Hi Moms: I am so glad I stumbled over here today since I have been talking about body image and girls since 2006, and just presented at BlogHer on the topic.

Girls start dieting at 8 years of age...yes I said 8! I am a Girl Scout Leader, and we start teaching about body image in 3rd grade --we need to start influencing them a young as possible.

BUT the GOOD NEWS is - Stats show MOMS are the biggest influence on our daughters (and sons) body image --more than peers, media, etc. So don't think its hopeless to teach your children the reality of being themselves, self esteem and positive body image.

The key is, in my opinion- you must, must have positive body image yourself (or at least be working towards it!) Be real with your kids, tell them how you feel, how perhaps you struggled, and how you worked through it. Point being--talk, talk talk!

I hope you will all pop over to a new blog from body image activists --dedicated to this very topic. Its called WeAreTheRealDeal dot com, and we launched about a month ago with already a cool community of moms and women with the same concerns you do.

Take care, and thanks for bringing this topic to the surface on your blog!
Heather
aka mamaVISION

Thea said...

It is scary that the media is getting to the girls at an increasingly younger age.
On a more positive note, you have won the mystery prize this month for being my follower! Please email me thea[at]thea-sami[dot]com[dot]au with your postal details.

Grace said...

7? This makes me so sad. My oldest is 6 and homeschooled so we don't have intense peer pressure right now. But I'm like you - I think my head is in the sand. The sexualized dolls are the worst. Really, I'm speechless.

You did a good job dealing with it.
It is just a shame you have to.

Anonymous said...

You might want to join

http://www.kf2bk.com/

This came up with ours this year (9) - turns out some of the girls were starting pre-puberty and ours had noticed that her legs were 'fatter' than the others - when we explained that her body was on the move and their wasn't - it helped - but has not eliviated the notion of fat = bad, thin = best. We're working on it!

Good luck.

Me

ick and ooo said...

Parenting brings so many challenges!
I remember being at school in second grade (7yrs), being weighed and being one of the heaviest children (boys and girls)in the class. I was certainly not fat but tall, and was until 15 or so until everyone caught up - still after this time I was taunted and called fat for most of my school years.

My oldest son (who is almost five) has come home from preschool a few times saying he is fat...again he is a healthy tall boy. I think it is such a confusing time we live in with so many mixed messages e.g about obesity, attractiveness. Sometimes I wonder how I am going to explain issues such as drugs, drinking, when our culture actively promotes it on one hand and then tries to educate against it on the other.

Slightly off topic: Last night we were invited to my sons best friends birthday which was going to be held at McDonalds. Now I have never eaten there and my children know I don't agree with it at all - but I suspect this will not be the last time this will happen. All I can do is talk about why I don't like it, why I have made my decisions and hope that he listens and learns.

Good luck, you are wise one and so I fear not for your children. But what of the other children?

Madeline said...

How frightening and heartbreaking. This particular subject is one that really bothers me. I struggled with self image issues as a teen and even well into my 20's. I also knew SO many girls who struggled far worse than I did. In retrospect, I see how truly beautiful we all were, and can't believe we thought differently. It just hurts my heart to think about the torment that so many of us go through all in the name of an unattainable and unrealistic image...one that isn't even as beautiful as what and who we really are. I hate that that image is so invasive. But, I do think you are doing an excellent job. She's a lucky little girl to be able to navigate this scary world with you at her side.

Christie said...

wow, i've got a bit teary over this post.

at least you are aware of your daughter's thoughts & being an active parent.

the scary thing is that as an adult i have to remind myself that the images in the media ARE NOT REAL, but what hope do our kids have? they take so much on face value (pardon the pun) & don't realise that the pretty girls in magazines look very different in real life.

may the force be with you both, your daughter is beautiful, if only she could see herself through her mother's eyes

Jodie said...

Move over !!! There need to be more room on this soapbox ! I work in a school and see this all the time. This week as kids got into their costumes for concert a really big deal was made of the kids who needed "large" . ! And then I was asked not to take a photo of the "fat kid" . Are you kidding me? Don't even get me started on the dolls that look like hookers..... Oh Dear I might need a bex and good lie down....
(oh and I have an 18 yr old daughter and we fought this stuff for years....I am not sure that we won )

Loz and Dinny said...

Hi there - after years of being a high school teacher - I sadly saw so much of this (with girls - definately - but also with boys and their desire to look like muscle bound footy heros). But there is a light - there are teenagers who get through it all - they are a resilient little bunch - and that was the buzz word in pastoral care- resilience - and how can we give this to our kids - I don't think there is an elixir - but I reckon being a parent that is open to discussion and affirming and unconditional in the love giving department is a real part of the formula ...we can only lead from the heart x

Brett said...

Disturbing Tarn.

In other news I met a role model for you today.

More later.

Where are the studio shots?

Lauren said...

Its scary and tough, huh? You can try and insulate your children as much as possible, but its still seems to creep in... Its one of the reasons we chose home education over the local Steiner school in the end. It even happened there... I think all we can do is re-assure and listen and let them be kids for as long as humanly possible... and offer a hand while they dodge the patriarchal peer pressure stuff... x

Alisa said...

Wow, scaaarrry stuff! My eldest is only four, so thankful I have a little time to read up.

Megan.K. said...

Great post Tania. I'm just starting to read read that butterfly effect book at the moment (being mum to a 12-yr-old as well as the 2yr-old)and I like what she offers about teaching girls how to "read" the images they see in the media - to understand how they are manipulated etc.
That said, it can be scary. And it makes me ANGRY too.
We've so far got to 12yrs without any major issues by just constantly re-inforcing how "healthy is good." But, when it comes down to it - sometimes I think it's just been dumb luck that has kept my girl safe so far...
As mothers I feel we need to be their safety net - so we can't go getting all crazy abt our own image and expect our girls not to follow suit too...
Oh, so much could be said about this topic...

x

M* (Melanie) said...

Yes, it happens at seven. My daughter was told a couple of years back by friends who were obsessed with weight that she was fat. I was gobsmacked because firstly they were 8 yo and secondly she wasn't overweight in the slightest. The girls who were saying this to her happened to have that extra skinny kid build and because they were skinnier in build than her, they said she was fat. She was so devasted and I was so furious and lost in a flurry of what to do. I told the teacher who was equally as gobsmacked and reassured my daughter that none of what they said was true but I still fear the damage is done. Will she always have that niggly voice in the back of her mind when she looks in the mirror?

Julie Parker said...

It is scary - but the fact that you are an aware, caring & communicative Mum is going to make all the difference!

Cindy said...

Ok, I have started building the ark, if we all start piling them one and sailing off until they can reach mid-20's perhaps where you can feel confident and comfy in your skin. I think you can't forget the boys too, I am always telling Caleb how special he is too as I think self-esteem is a real issue for thema s well just not as obviously so