The full on modern world scares the hell out off me sometimes! My daughter Sofia is 7 years old but told me the other day she can’t wait to be a teenager (eeekkkk!). One of the things that plays on my mind is what this crazy mixed up world is telling my daughter about what is beautiful. Sofia is the essence of beautiful through and through. I want her to grow up really understanding and believing that.
It’s easy to be horrified by the multimedia onslaught of sexy, stick thin and airbrushed perfection. I don’t show my daughter music videos anymore. Trying to explaining to Sofia as a toddler why Shakira was contorting naked in a cage (in the She Wolf video) made me think enough is enough! There are no circle of shame magazines in our house either. She doesn’t watch too much non kids TV yet (apart from Strictly which we both love). I like her to dress like a 7 year old, not like a mini adult. Sofia loves clothes and I know there are some clothes related battles on the horizon.
I think I’m really lucky to have a pretty healthy body image. I can’t remember as a teenager aspiring to look too different than I did. I was lucky that I was a healthy weight and fairly active. If pressed I might have said that would like to be a bit taller or have more impressive cleavage. I was a bit dismayed that my hair was mousey and wavy rather than sleek and straight like I wanted it to be (I so wanted to look like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction!). I was not the cutting edge of fashion but vaguely indie as a teenager. I had a tie dyed heart Tshirt and silver new balance trainers that I was particularly fond of. But overall I was pretty okay with what I looked like.
Maybe the media influences when I was a teenager were a bit less full on. I loved Blue Peter, Art Attack and Going Live – not exactly sexy TV! But if I really think about it the real reason is a bit closer to home.
I believe my mum gave me the gift of a healthy self image. I can’t remember any occasion from my childhood or teenage years when my mum talked dieting or being on a diet. Nothing was labelled as bad food. I never heard my mum say one critical word about how she looked. I was well into my 20s when my mum might have made any comment vaguely related to her needing to lose weight. Even then this was more with regards to her needing to keep an eye on her cholesterol levels.
I also can’t recall any time when my mum or dad have made a critical comment about a person’s weight, either someone we knew or someone on TV. I can think of times when they commented on people being scruffy (Bob Geldof needing a comb has definitely been said on more than one occasion) or badly dressed (my dad has told me many times that American men have very scruffy shirt collars).
Reflecting on the messages I got about appearance and weight it really strikes me that the most important influence for my daughter is not out there in magazines and music videos. May be it’s me! Is it more about her role modelling what she sees me saying and doing on a daily basis more than Shakira or Rhianna? I don’t know where the lines between external and home influences are, I guess they are different for everyone. There are also sure to be other contributing factors as well. I have a sneaking feeling that I shouldn’t under estimate the lessons I’m teaching Sofia.
In one way this is quite empowering. What I say and do is obviously within my control. In another way it makes me scan back through what I might have said in front of Sofia already. It also makes me aspire to be like my mum. To resolve not to add to the critical and confusing messages that my daughter is bound to hear.