Perfect Looking Girls at Target: Not Our Bullseye

The kids and I were running errands today and while walking past the girls’ section in Target my eight year old daughter Amelia asked me why all the girls on the signs looked perfect. At first I didn’t understand what signs she meant, but she was referring to the photos of girls modeling the clothes above the racks of merchandise. I asked her to explain what she meant by “perfect”, and then we talked about why and how models are chosen, professional lighting, make up artists (even when it looks like no make up is there), professional hair stylists, clothing stylists, photo retouching, etc.

We talked about the infrequently revealed truth that the models don’t even look like the girls we are seeing. The girls would have arrived on set looking like normal seven, nine, eleven year old girls and then they would have sat through hair and make up before going to wardrobe where a team of adults ensures the models look perfect before sending them out to the photographer whose assistants are then checking for perfect lighting. Amelia and I discussed that what we were seeing was the finished product approved by photo editors, digital retouchers, marketing teams, and so on. The young girls in the images are designed to look perfectly imperfect with professionally styled fly away hairs and garments that show movement to make it appear more playful and childlike. But even the casual, easy-breezy un-perfectness of it is all is very planned, very precisely, for consumer eyes.

Including eight year old consumer eyes.

We went up to the signs and I pointed out how each model was a pretty girl to start with, but had obviously been retouched and I pointed out the ways in which each photo had been altered. I taught Amelia the tricks to look for, and told her it was important to remember the tricks because sometimes your mind would try to fool you with all of these as you think to yourself, “I don’t look like that.” The secret to remember is, “Neither does she.”

Amelia asked what the models thought of their images being changed. She stated the practice of retouching images wasn’t fair to girls who might look at the signs and think about being pretty because it wasn’t real prettiness, it was computer made prettiness. We talked about the fashion, magazine, and advertising industries, and how we can never find our own beauty by looking at someone else. I told her that beauty isn’t a competition and isn’t defined by comparisons. While it is important to see the beauty in others, it is most important to find the beauty that is within ourselves, and that is done by looking inward and at our own skin.

I told Amelia that she was one of the most beautiful people that I had ever met. I told her that inside and out she was lovely, and that knowing and feeling that way about yourself is the best gift you can give yourself. I said to her that too often girls were defined (or defined themselves) by what they looked like, instead of what they accomplish or what they know. I told her that in our family, what you do with your body is way more important than what it looks like.

She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and asked if I was beautiful, to which I answered I most certainly was.

I know from her comments and actions that right now Amelia is confident in her appearance and who she is. She is eight, going into third grade this fall. This is how soon you have to be prepared to have these conversations with your kids and start building their personal brand. Because there are multitudes of marketers out there spending multi-millions ready and willing to do it for you.

 

One of my favorite photos of Amelia, from earlier this summer. She had finally earned the money needed to buy her American Girl doll that she had wanted for over two years. She is so beautiful here, but it is her self confidence shining through and pride in all her hard work that makes her so.

One of my favorite photos of Amelia, from earlier this summer. She had finally earned the money needed to buy her American Girl doll that she had wanted for over two years. She is so beautiful here, but it is her self confidence shining through and pride in all her hard work that makes her so.

 

To  be fair to Target, I don’t think the photos we saw today in the store were inappropriate or anything out of the industry norm. In fact, I think to most people the images are refreshingly age-appropriate, sweet, and fun. But the industry norms are the problem and when we continue to sell girls the mirage of beauty we continue to imprint their minds with the message that above everything they do in life, they must be effortlessly beautiful while doing so.

This Is My Normal Face

Every morning I try to fix my hair or put on a touch of makeup to pull my overtired face together (I average four hours of sleep a night) before heading out with the kids. Usually only one happens, this morning was washed and styled hair but no time for makeup.

As I was dropping my daughter off at her summer school class, one of her little friends approached me to say hello and get a hug. When she pulled back she said, “You look different today. You don’t look normal.”

I asked her what was different, and she said that I didn’t have any makeup on. I laughed and said that she had seen me without makeup on before. I said that this was my normal face, that I add the makeup but my natural face is normal. I asked her which face she liked better, and she said they were both okay. She wasn’t trying to be rude, she was being honest with her observations in that authentic way only young children can be.

I smiled and told her to go play and have a good day, but her comment made me wonder…..She is right, both my natural face and my face wearing makeup are okay. I like the way I look either way. But how much do our kids, especially our daughters, expect women to cover and alter our natural faces each day?

I like makeup and don’t think it is inherently evil, but do we know and understand why we use it? Do our kids? And can we go out in public without it? If we do go out in public without makeup, is that really being ‘brave’? When we say it is being brave, are we reducing the experience of being a woman to how she does or does not accept society’s expectations of her to be pretty? But maybe in today’s image-obsessed world being authentic with our actual selves/looks is being brave, most especially for women. I welcome your thoughts on this.

Some women never wear makeup, some wear it for fun, some wear it out of habit or ritual, and some wear it as a mask. Whatever our reasons, they seem to come into sharper focus when we have to explain our actions to our inquisitive children. You do not have to defend any of your choices to me, or anyone, but I would love for you to consider the questions above and feel free to share any answers or thoughts!

This is my normal, nothing-on-it-but-a-little-sunburn face.

This is my normal, nothing-on-it-but-a-little-sunburn face.

Fancy Dresses and Hurtful Comments: A Lesson From Award-Winning Comedian Sarah Millican

A recent unfortunate event that comedian Sarah Millican experienced provides us with an important conversation starter for our kids. I’m uncomfortable raising my children in a culture where the public verbal crucifixion of successful women who appear in public looking anything less than a super model is widely accepted as the staus quo. While Sarah is certainly not the first female celeb to encounter this kind of public body scrutiny (can you imagine just for a minute how that must feel at that level of publicity?) and she won’t be the last, I think her response to the matter provides us with an important teachable moment for our children/students.

Why does it matter so much what I was wearing? Why did no one ask my husband where he got his suit from? I felt wonderful in that dress. And surely that’s all that counts. I made a decision the following day that should I ever be invited to attend the Baftas again, I will wear the same dress. To make the point that it doesn’t matter what I wear; that’s not what I’m being judged on. With the added fun of answering the red-carpet question, “Where did you get your dress?” with “Oh, it’s just last year’s, pet”.

-Sarah Millican

Read Sarah Millican’s response here — Sarah Millican: Twitter was a pin to my excitable Bafta balloon.

Also read this great piece on PolicyMic by Julianne Ross, who ties in similar responses from Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, and Gabourey Sidibe — Comedian’s Response to Criticism of Her Red Carpet Look Deserves a Standing Ovation

Such endless emphasis on looks implies that women’s bodies are always blank slates for commentary and criticism, and it trivializes their other, more meaningful, accomplishments. Comedy in particular is not known for being the most gender equitable industry; female comedians are often held to a higher standard of presentability and expected to be both hilarious and hot in a way that male comics aren’t. This makes Millican’s refusal to put up with this type of treatment all the more satisfying.

-Julianne Ross

Gabourey

Gabourey shows twitter how to *drop mic*. Dang girl!

 

I recommend that you read both links together with your kids and discuss a few points:

1) Talk about why women and their bodies are publicly discussed and judged in our culture.

2) Then talk about the effect that has on women, famous and not famous. Also, what effect does that have on boys and men?

3) Review some comments your child could say should he/she overhear people making judging or hurtful comments about someone’s appearance. It is fun to dress up and we often feel great when we do. Is it ever acceptable to tear someone down based on what they look like or what they are wearing?

4) Discuss if you have ever been on the receiving end of comments like this, but more importantly, if you have ever been the one making comments like this. I recently did this with my 8yo daughter while resolving some mean girl behavior at school that I was horrified to discover she was a part of. While having a conversation about accountability and empathy with my daughter we talked about her involvement, which was being a silent follower of the mean girls and how I felt that was worse of all because she was letting someone else think for her. We talked about leading with kindness. I let her know that her behavior was similar to what mean girls did to me in school and how sad and lonely it had made me feel. She was devastated and it opened her eyes to the situation from all angles.

5) Talk about the importance of appearance (as far as fitting into the Beauty Myth) over the importance of accomplishment, and why one matters and one does not. Also talk about how to demonstrate confidence and class.

 

Learn more about Sarah Millican and her fantastic career here.

Sarah Millican

I think Sarah Millican looks beautiful here, but for the record and more importantly she is hysterical which is just how I like my award-winning, sell-out crowd comedians.

Lying for The Scale: To Hell With That

Image via Fit Vs Fiction.

Image via Fit Vs Fiction.

Yesterday my friend and colleague Carrie Goldman (author, “Bullied”) tagged me in this post she wrote about her 10 year old daughter, K:

“My 4th grade daughter told me that yesterday the kids each stepped on a scale in class as part of an exercise to calculate how much they would weigh on Jupiter. Of course, the kids began telling each other how much they weighed. My daughter told me “I was afraid people would think I was F-A-T, so I said a lower number.”
 
So young, yet already worried about body size as a reflection of value. My daughter said she weighed a full fifteen pounds less than she does. We then had a very good discussion about our bodies, what they do, what they mean, why we look the way we do, and more. I’m so glad she told me about her concerns so we could talk.”
 

This was my reply to Carrie:

“It is so funny that you tagged me on this because I was reading the top half of the paragraph and my head was exploding. Tell K that I think if her peers were S-M-A-R-T they would have thought she was T-A-L-L or S-T-R-O-N-G when she said her number. That is 15 pounds of muscle and brains she may have just short changed herself. No way, Baby! She is too intelligent to give away some of those brains and has worked too hard in swim earning those muscles!
Also, you can tell her that her good buddy Melissa was at the doctor today and I’m 5’7″ and weigh 188 pounds. <— And I didn’t fudge that number. My brain is super heavy. So’s my funny bone. And my sense of adventure. And my dancing feet. xoxo to K!” 
 

Further in the thread, Carrie said this: “I have kids on both ends of the bell curve. My 10-year-old is bigger than 95% of her peers, and my 6 and 3 year-olds are smaller than 95% of their peers. We talk a lot about how bodies come in all shapes and sizes, especially within our own family, and it’s what we do with our bodies that matters. They allow us to make our mark on the world!”

It is time we take very seriously the job of teaching our girls how to love their bodies. This body shame takes root far too young, in FAR too many girls. We have to work together to stop this.

We also need to remember our boys are not far behind. 

Why and how do even our youngest girls learn to be ashamed of their amazing bodies?

Why and how do even our youngest girls learn to be ashamed of their amazing bodies?

Later in the day someone messaged me to say I was “so brave” to put my weight out there for the world. Is that really brave? I mean, isn’t brave more like fighting fires, teaching a difficult student population, staring down cancer, searching for the lost in a landslide, providing medical aid in a war zone…..I get the point but at the same time, I’m proud of my athletic frame and I guarantee you that telling the public my weight is the by far not the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Me and Dr. Jen Hartstein behind the scenes at the Today Show.

The ironic thing is, Carrie had just messaged me a few days prior to say that she thought I looked great when I was on the TODAY show the week before but also that she could tell I had dropped a lot of weight and wanted to make sure that I was losing weight safely. I did lose a lot of weight and I am under a doctor’s care (thyroid issues are FUN!) and I thanked my dear friend for being invested in my health and well being.

188. I’d never cheat myself out of any part of my body. I work hard for my muscles. I’ve spent years making my brain smart. I think my funny bone is hilarious. My tummy is squishy because I carried and birthed two children I was told I would never be able to have. Like I’m going to give ANY of that up so I can fit some superficial definition of beautiful? Of worthy? To hell with that.

And that’s what I wrote in my note to K when I sent her a gift in the mail yesterday, so in the 4th grade she hears her mom and her dad and her buddy Melissa tell her that she is great and she is worthy just as she is.

 

Need help with talking about body image with your kids?

I cover that topic in my book: “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween”

Marci Warhaft-Nadler’s book is also great: “The Body Image Survival Guide For Parents”

Bonding Over Beauty Isn’t So Pretty

Do you bond with your girl over beauty and the process to achieve it?

Shouldn’t we be bonding with our girls over applying Band Aids to skinned knees, wiping dirt or finger paint off faces, fixing lopsided pigtails messed from running around all day, unhooking a dress caught in the branches mid-climb of a tree, and shaking dirt out of softball or soccer uniforms? How did our generation of moms get this so, so wrong?

Some occasional play make up or a night of pedicures never hurt a girl, but is that all we limit it to? Or are we drinking the Kool Aid and sharing the glass with our daughters? How much of your daughter’s toys, clothing, books, and screen media focuses on prettiness?

A preschool teacher told me that yesterday she heard one four year old ask another four year old if she wanted to come over after school for a make over. As a one-time event, this is probably no big deal. But what if “beauty” is all the girls ever played together? What else are they missing out on? What stories, adventures, and skill building are they rushing right past?

Could something that seems harmless now, day after day after day lead girls to obsess and despair over their looks? Hate their amazing, healthy bodies during what should be one of the most carefree times of their life? Strive for beauty so greatly they pay to have their sexual organs butchered to achieve a false ideal in order to attract and keep boys’ sexual attention?

It sounds extreme, but as my colleague Soraya Chemaly points out in her post on the subject, girls as young as three years old are changing their eating habits to avoid becoming “fat”. Three. Years. Old.

Girls need the time and space to be little kids. As parents, it should be our goal to allow them this space.

When does innocent fun stop being innocent and become a major problem?

When does innocent fun stop being innocent and become a major problem?

Must read post on this subject: http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2014-01-do-you-bond-with-your-daughter-over-beauty-products