Some of the toughest questions about raising girls are about body image. The response to Parenting Girls Through Diet Season with body image expert and author Julia V. Taylor was clear – you want more!
Recently, both of my younger brothers have married women with substantial amounts of plastic surgery. Both have had their breasts seriously augmented, both have had nose jobs, and while both have used facial and lip fillers, one’s lips are unusually large. I live in an area of the country (far from my brothers) where visible plastic surgery isn’t especially common, and I’m at a loss as to how to speak with my daughters about it, not least because I wouldn’t consider it for myself. I also feel like a hypocrite: while I draw the line at surgery, I wear contacts and makeup. Why is my line of reasonable better than their line of reasonable? And both women are kind and loving to my daughters.
I would be horrified if one of my daughters wanted to change her body so substantially, and I know that horror comes through when we talk about their aunts’ appearances. I’m not even sure if the girls understand that their aunts had to make long-term, often surgical, changes to their bodies to look the way they do. Do I tell them this? Do I wait until puberty or until they begin saying things like “I wonder if my boobs will get as big as my Aunt’s?” (Answer: NO.) I have no idea how to even begin with this.
The cosmetic surgery industry sends an absurd and impossible double standard to women and girls. Girls are pressured to look older and women are pressured to look younger. We teach children to love and appreciate their bodies, as is, yet cosmetic alterations are wildly marketed as a “should” to adults, and a viable option for privileged teens. When celebrities your daughters admire undergo cosmetic procedures, it’s “news”, and they are either commended, shamed, or both. These messages are confusing, at best.
This afternoon, I heard a radio ad for laser hair removal (because, you know, summer is almost here) and another for varicose veins. Not because varicose veins hurt or could pose a health risk, but because they are “unsightly.” Then, while scrolling through Twitter, I read a celebrity had a non-surgical procedure and the “results are amazing!” It’s completely inescapable. My point is this: your daughters are already receiving these messages.
You mention the “line” between wearing contacts and makeup. There are many lines and arguments for and against body alterations and enhancements of any sort. But this isn’t really about the line; it’s about self-acceptance, being a body positive role model, and family values. Can you go a day without your contacts and wear your glasses without feeling poorly about yourself? I hope so. Can you do the same with makeup? I hope so. You don’t “need” them to feel confident. I worry deeply about women and girls who won’t leave the house without makeup on.
In regard to talking to your daughters about their aunts, I’m all about age-appropriate honesty. You used the word “horror” – what if you accepted their aunts for who they are and speak to your daughters honestly when/if the subject comes up? Perhaps focus on the lovely things they do for your daughters, not what they look like? If you’re “horrified” or make comments, roll your eyes, sigh, or discuss your disapproval later at the dinner table, think about the message it sends to your girls. If they ask questions, perhaps say, “Aunt Jodi made a choice to have a surgical procedure” and let it go from there. Ask your daughter/s how they feel about it. You can communicate your values in a way that sends a healthy message. For example, “I wouldn’t choose to do that because I am happy with my body.”
Finally, our society is beautifully diverse, but that diversity is unfortunately absent from most mainstream media. When you are out and about, help your daughters notice the diversity in people’s sizes and shapes and colors. Our world would be incredibly boring if everyone looked alike, and I think it’s healthy to point that out to children once and awhile. As you know, this really isn’t about looks; it’s about how you feel about your looks. Apples and oranges, but still fruit. Self-love and appreciation comes from within.
Author and confidence expert, Jess Weiner, recently posted the image below on social media. It’s completely true.
Julia V. Taylor is a school counselor and Ph.D. Candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens, The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You. She can be reached at www.juliavtaylor.com
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