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”.
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.
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.