Measuring Up #NaBloPoMo

“I have old man arms.”

“What?”

“My friend said I have old man arms,” explains my seven-year old daughter.

“Who? What does that even mean? You don’t have old man arms.”

My god, how am I going to handle this? I’m in a panic. Post-shower, in the bathroom, I see my daughter evaluating her reflection–her self–in the mirror.

“My neck’s ugly when I go like this,” she laments while pushing her chin to her chest, as if getting ready to somersault.

I show her that mine does it too. “It’s just what chins do, honey.” My stomach is doing somersaults of its own.

“My hair’s ugly. It’s always messy.”

“Your hair is beautiful. Lots of people pay lots of money for hair like yours. It’s blond and wavy and beautiful.”

“I want hair like yours.”

“Your hair IS just like mine.”

I don’t tell her that, by third grade, the boys in my class had christened me with at least half-a-dozen cruel nicknames because of my wild hair. To this day, I’m neurotic about it, constantly patting it down, worried that people are judging me. At least we don’t live in the humid south. She has that going for her.

I don’t know how to navigate these conversations.

The other day, I showed her a video about how Photoshop is used to edit, crop, and enhance women’s bodies. I couldn’t get her to understand this was a bad thing.

“They make everybody in the magazines and movies look thinner than they are, and prettier than they are. Then people feel bad because they think they’re supposed to look that way, too, but it’s impossible because it’s all just computers. And when people feel bad about the way they look, it makes them want to buy the make-up or the clothes or whatever is in the ad so they can feel better. They’re just trying to get people to buy stuff.”

“Oh, so they make people look pretty? Wow, she looks so pretty.” She wasn’t getting it.

But I was getting angry.

I get angry when I feel helpless.

We do everything you’re supposed to do to stay healthy. My daughter is active. She eats lots of veggies and whole foods. And yet somehow, the past few years, she’s gotten chubby. I struggle to find clothes that fit her. I buy pants several sizes higher than her age, and hem the bottoms. I hate when she wants to wear a bikini, but love that she feels comfortable enough to do so. I worry so much about kids teasing her about her weight.

She’s tall, too, and strong. Many of her classmates are the tiny sort. She specializes in lifting them up off their feet to show affection. The German genes from both sides of the family seem to have expressed themselves loud and clear.

She’s growing so fast. For the past year, she’s worn training bras. “I’m the only one in my class to wear a bra,” she says with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. My sister got her period when she was nine. What if the same thing happens to my daughter? I’m not ready for this.

How do I protect my daughter from poisoning herself with expectations and comparisons? How do I help her feel happy about the way she looks, without reinforcing the insidious messages that being beautiful is the most important thing in life?

I want her to feel confident in her appearance and free to express herself. I don’t want her to hate and hide herself because she doesn’t measure up to Photoshop.

Word Count: 600

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Part of the solution since 1973.

50 thoughts on “Measuring Up #NaBloPoMo

  1. Hi Kylie: Pardon my language but damn!! This is tough. As a mother, I want to tell you to keep up with everything your doing. It’s absolutely brilliant, & right!!! As an overweight teen and a mother of an overweight teen, I can relate to everything your going thru from both sides of the fence & tell you there is no answers. By the time I hit sixteen, I had lost sixty pounds and did so to survive. I went from being fat to coming in first place at the beauty pageant, second only to the crowned beauty. My daughter & writing partner, who you can see in our pictures, is a size 3. But was obese up until twenty two years old when she’d finally had enough. And she still speaks of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her highschool peers. Matter of fact, she dedicates a lot of her personal time to support groups for teenagers, anti-cyber-bullying orgs & such & is passionate about stamping out this cruelty. Kids are cruel!!! There I said it and I won’t take it back. They are the cruelest of our species and can be lethal in small doses to those they DO like. To anyone outside their click….look out! I wish I had some sort of briliant plan of wisdom to impart to you my dear. But I wish someone had been straight up with me & told me, you have to weather the storm & do your very best not to loose your daughter in the process. My advice, is keep doing what your doing cuz your obviously very smart. Encouraging her to love herself for who she is on the inside. But as you said, encouraging healthy values as well. Not just for looks, but because of the medical issues that follow from being over weight. Although I know your scrambling and thinking, “What else can I do? Am I doing the right thing? Maybe I’m not letting her know how beautiful she is” Trust me when I say, you are!! These waters have to be traveled unfortunately & there’s only so much you can do to self protect you & your child. it’s a shame these magazines and t.v. shows don’t take responsiblity for the eating disorders & psychological damage they create in young girls. Instead, they promote & put them on pedestals as if this is some normalcy that should be accepted by all of society. But they’ll never understand that paperdolls blow away & are weak & shallow. THEY don’t last. It’s the precious ones like your daughter and mine that have the fortitude to endure & come out strong on the other side!! With a mom like you, she will survive & know she is her mothers daughter & beautiful!!

    1. Thank you. Thank you so, so much. That line about paper dolls really gets at it. My daughter was upset yesterday and kept talking about wanting to jump out of the car so I could run her over and kill her. Sometimes I just don’t know how to help her. So much pain. It just hurts so much.

  2. If she’s eating well and is active, then there’s nothing to worry about. My eldest niece is tall, and a bit chubby, and very active. I reckon in another year or so (she’s 11) then she’ll have another growth spurt and her shape will change. Kids are so cruel, though.

    There’s an article where a girl does the “before” and “after” shot without using photoshop. I can’t find it (I’d thought I’d seen it on facebook but I might have seen it on here) but she explains how standing closer to the camera makes her look bigger, and wearing a pair of bikini bottoms which fit better, a quick application of fake tan and standing properly make her look so much slimmer in the “after” shot. So it’s not just about the computer getting rid of “flaws” but about how we present ourselves too.

    1. It’s just so hard to find the right words to comfort her sometimes. I know it will pass and she’ll be fine, it’s just hard to see her anxiety and not be able to make it all go away.

  3. I don’t think I have anything different to say after all these comments, but I’m sure she’ll turn out fine.
    I used to be the kid who never found clothes her size and always had to shop in the women’s section. And oddly enough, I got my period when I was 10– way too much pressure on a fifth grader. But you get past it.
    I’m sure she’s a strong girl 🙂 And the teasing won’t ruin her confidence (I speak from experience).

  4. Keep having those conversations with her, and keep listening. There’s so much pressure out there to look a certain way (especially for girls and women). I’ve struggled with body image stuff for most of my adult life (until very recently actually) and I’m almost 50 :/ Martial Arts (specifically boxing) changed my life. I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. You mentioned Tae Kwon Do somewhere in the comments. You and your daughter should check it out!

    Karen

  5. You are a great mom. These things are so hard. It’s hearing about stuff like this that makes me glad I have boys, who are naturally confident. It’s almost the opposite – it can’t possibly be *them* She’ll be ok b/c she has you.

  6. Yes. This: How do I protect my daughter from poisoning herself with expectations and comparisons? How do I help her feel happy about the way she looks, without reinforcing the insidious messages that being beautiful is the most important thing in life?
    I think oh so many mothers have the same questions. It’s a difficult society to navigate, and probably none of use will ever do this whole thing “right,” but if we raise them with love and honesty, we are doing the best we can do. Teaching them to be their best is what matters, and it’s hard to do when we’re judging our own selves all the time. Worrying about being the best mom becomes the new fear to replace our old teenage fears of having the prettiest hair or tightest abs. I’m sure you know what I mean. I find myself complaining about my weight in front of my daughter, and I cringe when I catch myself doing it. Okay, I could keep going forever, so in summation: lovely, honest post. I’m certain from reading this that you love that little girl very much, and that’s what you need to keep doing because we simply can’t protect our children from all we would like to.

  7. This made my heart go out to your daughter (and to you)! I was going to say I can’t believe it’s starting so early now, but I recall developing body image issues around 3rd or 4th grade as well. Honestly, it was only after I hit 30 that I started to accept what I look like. My mom did her best to help me when I spent hours frantically exercising to avoid getting hips (side note: didn’t work). She always focused on those attributes that I could do something about — and that will last my entire life — things like being kind and hard working. Also, she gave me this gem: If you peak in school, it’s a long downward slide the rest of your life. 🙂 You’re doing great — and I am loving your blog!

  8. I hated the way I looked growing up, but that was because I hated the way I was on the inside. This is so hard. It sounds like you are doing all of the right things as a mother. Have you seen the video on upworthy about the forensic artist? Two people describe the way a person looks and he draws two pictures. One is described by the person themself and another is someone who has just spent some time getting to know that person. The drawings are markedly different. Strangers see our beauty when we do not. It’s the beauty on the inside that shines through. It took me a long time to figure that out. Great post.

  9. I suggest, permanently turning off the television. HIde all the magazines. Go to check out stands that don’t have magazines. You get my drift? Otherwise, it is pretty much out of your hands. The “world” speaks much to loudly for her not to hear. But you are giving her the priceless “true” information and someday she’ll get it.

    1. Yep. We don’t really watch TV. Part of the trouble is that she spends half the week at her dad’s house where she appears to have free rein to watch all the crappy tween shows on Netflix. Thanks for your encouragement 🙂

  10. You may not be able to stop your daughter from having these initial thoughts about herself. You are one of her grounding factors. So keep showing her the difference between real and fake beauty and that beauty has many faces and body types. It won’t be easy but she will remember how you’ve enforced the validity of her beauty. Put up empowering signs or memos in her room and around the house. Have you looked online for clothes for her? When you’re in the store and having a difficult time finding something that fits, try not to let her see your frustration. I know I felt bad when my Mom couldn’t find something for me; I felt like it was my fault. But I don’t blame her. All this is to say that the more positive you are, the greater the impact on her self esteem, regardless of what external influences make her question herself. Hope that wasn’t too much. I just remember how it was wishing someone would acknowledge how I felt.

    1. Those are all great suggestions, and I appreciate them! I have started to buy clothes for her while she’s at school or with her dad, and then letting her try them on at home to see which ones she likes. Much less drama that way. Like me, she’s sensitive to tags and itchy seams, so I’ve learned to not push her into wearing clothing she doesn’t like.

      I’m pretty good at keeping my “game face” with her. I think the sources for her angst are many, and this is just one outward symptom. Divorce, remarriage, new family, moving a lot, transferring schools. All that takes a toll on a kid, especially a sensitive one.

      1. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to help your daughter. I’m not a mother but I know to tell a mom not to worry is like telling telling a flower not to bloom.
        You have support to help you when it all seems to be too much. That’s a blessing. Your love and encouragement will see her through all the challenges you mentioned. I’d hug you if I could, if you did those things. But since I can’t, here’s a virtual one *BIG HUG KYLIE*

  11. oy. I worry about all of this too. and mine isn’t quite 4 yet. I got my period when I was nine and was wearing a regular bra by then too. god I hated being a kid SO much. I pray pray pray my kid’s childhood is better.

      1. I can tell you this much: my parents didn’t do or say or tell me anything. I figured everything out on my own. For my girl, I plan on being as open as possible. I’ll show her what tampons and pads look like and what they’re for before she gets her period. I’ll tell her what it’s like to get her period BEFORE she gets it. (I happened to get my period for the first time the morning after I had cut off some hair … down there… and I had NO CLUE about periods, etc, so I thought I was literally dying.) Just be open and honest. And offer hugs. and maybe a chocolate shake. 😉 😀

  12. This body image issue kept creeping into my post this week, and I had to kick it out because it’s a whole other melon. Thank you for addressing it here! All I can say is that we have to show our girls how to love their bodies by loving our own. We can’t put ourselves down or criticize our own bodies, looks, hair, or whatever, because then we’re teaching them to do it to themselves. It’s so hard. I’m with you!

    1. Must be the zeitgeist!

      You make a good point. Fortunately, I’ve worked through those issues and feel pretty good about where I’m at. Not sure about whatever messages she’s getting in her other household. My ex used to spend a lot of time complaining about his appearance.

    2. After reading your post tonight, I can see that we are definitely experiencing similar issues with daughters the same age. It will be interesting and enlightening to read each other’s blogs as we navigate this age!

  13. This is a difficult time when your daughter is old enough to try to imitate the standards of beauty, but too young to realize these standards are created in Photoshop. You may have to show this video again, along with the multiple other photos of stars and models before and after Photoshop.

  14. I like that you showed her and explained about Photoshop. Good thinking. These parts of parenting are so difficult. We can feel so helpless. One thing that helps is acting as a good role model by not criticizing our own looks or making frequent comments about our weight or calories (instead we should focus on mentioning healthy foods and why they’re good for us, like I know you already do). I never heard my mother discuss her weight or poor body issues, and I believe this helped me escape concerns in that area. Of course, many factors go into poor self-image, but it’s at least one avenue that’s helpful.

    1. Thanks Carrie. This has come out of left-field, but I suppose it’s not surprising because it’s in the media and kids pick up so many social messages and norms from each other. We don’t talk about calories. Well, actually, my husband does talk about calories with our older boys, but I think it goes over her head. It goes over their heads too. Calories are hard to understand. Did you read Marion Nestle’s book about calories? It’s really a fascinating read on the science, psychology, and politics of calories. Who knew?

      My daughter is the type of kid who gets excited for spinach at breakfast. She spoiled me into thinking that if you just give kids healthy foods from the beginning, they’ll naturally love it. My son showed me that’s not true. I know stress can cause weight gain, and I’m thinking that might be part of the issue.

      1. Yes, my sons also showed me that just because you dole out healthy food from the start doesn’t mean they’ll like it. Teenagers are tricky. But I hope that all the healthy habits I instilled will come back to them when they’re adults.

  15. I *cringe* when I hear my daughter put herself down. And I think that no matter how many times I tell her that she’s beautiful or explain that girls are put under a different kind of microscope and the numerous other issues that you’ve pointed out here that further the disgusting notion that women and girls should be *perfect*, that she will still be affected by the these things and her hormonal struggles. I’ve realized that all I can do is BE there for her and try to pick up the pieces as best as I can. I reinforce and reinforce and reinforce, and I hope that by the endless loop of her hearing me tell her how beautiful she is, she will one day believe it for herself. And my daughter is also on the bigger side and ALWAYS has been. She is remarkably strong. And my thoughts on that is to use that to their advantage – sports, self-defense. Whatever you find appropriate for your family. Turn what may seem like negative into a positive. You sound like you’re doing a great job as it, just believe that you are, which is the hardest thing of all.

    1. Thanks Rae! It must be such a common struggle. Luckily, hugs go a long way 🙂

      She’s been wanting to take Tae Kwon Do, and I haven’t signed her up for scheduling and cost issues, but I think it might be time.

  16. It sounds like you are on the right track, honestly. I think a lot of how a girl thinks of herself is patterned after how her mother views herself and it sounds like you are sending out good vibes! 🙂

    1. Thanks Swoosieque! It took me a looooong time to get there. This makes me wonder what messages she’s absorbing in her other household, though. She spends half the week with me, half at her dad’s.

  17. I struggle with this, hell, we all do. I’ve been in a turmoil lately about all the messages our kids recieve. Have you seen the A Mighty Girl group? Fabulous. I’m not suggesting it as a cure or trying to give you unasked for advice. I’ve just been reading it lately, and sharing it with my girls because I’ve been hoping that not speaking so much about beauty and image, and speaking more about achievement and accomplishment might help. Hang in there!

    1. No, I didn’t know about that! I love unsolicited advice. Truly. Both giving and receiving it 😉

      My daughter’s school has a couple of girl-oriented after school classes. Definitely signing her up!

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