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Monday, March 06, 2006

An Elusive Search for Perfection

This has been my day to think about the difficulties kids have navigating from children to adults. Elcie will be 13 on Thursday and Rochelle just turned 11. Both are developing quickly and both are already obsessing over their appearance. I reassure them as much as I can but what do I know. Even little Rebecca looks in the mirror and shakes her head and frowns.

They are bombarded with images of perfection. T.V., magazines, movies, the cookie cutter women are everywhere. All artificial, all perfect. We read about anorexia, bulemia, drugs, self-mutilation, and, in extreme cases, suicide. It isn't easy being a teenager.

Next I was reading a post on Blogging Baby about bullies. The writer was focusing on racism but she could as easily been talking about the way kids treat any child who is "different". No kid wants to be different and even the most innocent remark can send an already troubled child over the edge.

I went on to a post about the cutthroat competition in New York City for admission to the very best pre-schools. These are 3 year olds we're talking about. If they don't start from the cradle, they're doomed. All their lives they can live with the knowledge that they weren't quite good enough.

I had stored all this away in the back of my mind until I was checking other blogs earlier tonight and ran into Barbie. My gals have never been Barbie fans. They decapitated their Barbies when they were younger and never bothered with the costumes or accessories. Turns out that's not as unusual as I thought but it wasn't what grabbed my attention.

Julian at "Out of the Blue" printed a poem about a teenager who took a bully's words to heart. I don't remember ever reading a more searing indictment of the search for the perfect face, perfect hair, perfect body. Oh, to look like Barbie or the latest Hollywood sensation.

I'm not on a destroy Barbie campaign. Millions of little girls have loved their Barbies, outgrown them, and moved on and to blame one doll for the problems facing teens today is far too simplistic. It's much more than that.

The poem was the extra little push that led me to write about kids. I've been thinking about it for a couple of hours, changed my mind at least 3 or 4 times, and finally decided to write it down. It's a side of me you don't usually see.

To me, my girls are perfect as they are. To them, as they look in the mirror, they see something else. I don't know how to combat the pressure to conform as they get older. I can only hope that some of what I've tried to teach them about real values will stay with them.

Tomorrow will be a better day and I promise I won't do this often.

Good night my friends who live in my computer.

28 comments:

Alice said...

I'm never going to stop being angry at the emphasis placed on people looking 'perfect'. And what IS 'perfect' anyway? Beauty is never skin deep. You can be the most 'beautiful' person on earth, and still be ugly inside.

I think mirrors are evil. I feel so sad that your girls, and anyone, has to live through this.

I've lived through it since I was 11, and it's only now that I am beginning to accept myself as I am, and realise that there is nothing wrong with me being ME, just as I am.

I'm going to stop typing now before I begin a full on rant.

Thanks for the post, anyway.

Arti Honrao said...

I undersrtand the phase ur gurls are going thru because I, myself have gone thru this phase. 28 yr old now, when I look back I find it silly.

I do not know how much effect it would have on ur gurls [the mirror peeping] because in India things are lil' different.
But I can say this ~
With a granny like u around to take care, it would not be as diastrous as u fear it would be. At this "growing up" age gurls need to be held but let loose too, try to hold them too tight and they go against what we want them to do.
With my personal experience with my grandma I would say that grandparents can influence kids in much better/positive way than parents can.


Warm regards
Arti

Alice said...

I linked through to the poem as soon as I got a chance, and left a comment.

Can't feel anything but sadness and anger about it right now. Maybe I'll calm down enough to think and speak coherently about it later, but right now the world and society as a whole leaves me speechless with rage.

Mary P. said...

My girls (12 and 20 years) both have pretty solid self-esteem, and don't spend much time fussing about their appearance. Something I did right, or just who they are? Don't know.

Though the other day, I was telling my 12 year old how much I enjoy this phase of her life. That, for a mother, seeing a child go from "little girl" which she was last year, to "young woman", which she is now, increasingly, is a marvel and a delight. In this context, I mentioned something about her being a pretty girl. I don't comment much on their appearance, except to make sure they're clean and dressed right for the weather...

She looked at me in suprise. "I'm pretty?"

"Well, yes, of course you are."

"You've never said so before."

Well, that was a little disconcerting. (I'm sure I have, but apparently she hasn't been hearing it.) Then off we go into a discussion of how I think what you do is more important than what you look like, but that I think she's beautiful! She was happy with that.

Cuppa said...

Hi Grans, thanks for stopping by and saying hello. AC writes more than I do these days, but I sure hope to get my act together and post more in the future. Stop by for a cup of tea and a chat again soon.

ipodmomma said...

I feel pretty blessed that Teddy seems fairly unconcerned with how she looks, etc... however J is more aware. but I remember how it was back for me in junior high, which I think is the most horrible time, and am really glad J is not in that situation.

in the UK it's not as bad as here, because there perfection in looks is not as important.

it is the heart, where beauty truly shines. and I can detect much love in your girls' hearts... :)))

Tom said...

I wish this was a passing fancy and that the next generation will not have to deal w/ it (but they will have their own demons to deal with). It seems that this quest for perfection has been w/ us for a while. Look at the Greeks and read their mythology to see how many times the pursuit for the "unobtainable" whether it was a quest for fire or a trophy wife (Helen, and that started a bit of a war) led them down a path of destruction. But that didn't stop the next god from doing the same thing...we never learn.

I don't know how to get past this shallowness that is becoming the hallmark of our society. It's as tho we judge by the outward appearance to avoid having to get to know that person and then deal w/ their complexities.

This is a very obvious form of bias and it hits us guys as well. When a job appraisal carries a phrase such as "does not present a good company image" it is the kiss of death AND you can also read "not physically attractive". Just look at the Enron boys...just the kind of folks you want speaking for your company; confident, well dressed, well spoken and possibly terribly immoral which is not part of the physical presentation so, if you don't dig you can be comfortable w/ the superficial. And in many circles that is all that counts!

Been there, know that!

JBlue said...

Granny (and Alice), this is a topic that has been simmering in my mind a long time. When I was younger, I remember so much emphasis being placed on how women look. And it doesn't matter how pretty you are because you are NEVER pretty enough. For example, I always thought I had a lovely smile and liked that about myself until I read in a silly magazine that women whose eyes crinkle when they smile don't have real beauty and can't be fashion models. Well, mine damn near disappear! So, I didn't have "real" beauty, only a bit of what? Cuteness. (Funny because my oldest son's eyes do the same thing, and everytime I see them crinkle up like that, I feel such joy.... I think it's beautiful ON HIM!).

And there's the competition factor. All of this pits women against each other. In the little town where I grew up, the main goal attributed to women seemed to be to snag a man. Status was directly related to looks. The competition was fierce. I was always hurt when I realized that to other women, their relationships with you, a friend, always took a backseat to the men around. I thought women's relationships were just as important! GOD, I hated that. The men were more loyal to each other, I thought.

So much emphasis was placed on how a woman looked, and for years, I was obsessed with hair and makeup. I wouldn't leave the house with a hair out of place. That was so hard to grow beyond. After awhile, the makeup became a mask I hid behind. (Ha! I just came back from taking the boys to school wearing no makeup, my hair sticking out, etc. I've come a long way, baby! If the hair is really bad in the morning, I have a favorite baseball cap I slap on).

The saddest part is that when I was having children, I didn't want girls. I didn't want to have to deal with these issues. I didn't know how to raise them. Swear off makeup and teach them to? What about when they came home and said, "Clown Girl's mother taught her how to be pretty. You may think intellect and personality are important, but you've made me a social pariah, you old cow." Boys seemed simpler. Mine are confident and happy young men. Could I have done the same with a girl?

Ms. Lori said...

I wrote a long post just now, but deleted it. Bullying has touched my life on more than one occasion, and I guess this subject is still too hot for me to touch without going ballistic.

Eventually, I think I'll write a rant on my blog about this subject.

Thanks, Ann, for bringing it up on yours. People just don't realize the seriousness of it all -- both bullying and the perfection myth -- and how much worse it is now than years ago.

I'm going to go read that poem now...

Angela said...

There's this wonderful book called
'Wanting To Be Her: Body Image Secrets Victoria Won't Tell You' that I read last semester and it was absolutely wonderful, it put everything into new perspective. It is aimed more at the college group, but I think sharing some of the ideas with younger girls could be really beneficial. Why should girls have to wait until they are 18 or older to talk about body image? I've struggled with it for years, and still do on occassion, but not near as much after reading that book- it was one of those inspirational, make-you-think experiences. Just keep telling those girls that they're beautiful, even if they don't appreciate it now, they will in the future!

Baraka said...

A wonderful post!

Humans are so beautiful in all their variety- it's such a shame that one narrow ideal is being promoted more and more worldwide.

When will we learn to celebrate & embrace the differences?

Bossy♥'s YOU said...

I agree with you 100%..it seems now a days kids worry bout thier appreacne at an early age..My 9 and 6 year old are very aware of what they look like when they leave the house..

the imgaes kids are forced to see are awful..they dont realize that real people dont look like the folks on tv..thats just smoke and mirrors..

Andrea said...

I tried to comment yesterday but had a cranky baby to contend with. Everyone has said basically what I wanted to though, especially Angela.
I think that this is a phase that we all go through in a search for a feminism within. As long as we have some one like you in our lives while growing up that reinforces the fact that we are beautiful as we are, I think we then grow up to be level headed women. Those that dont didnt have someone like you reminding them that all women are beautiful.
Keep doing it and things will work out fine!

Uncle Roger said...

You need to dig through the BB archives and find the post that linked to an expose of how those cover girls you see on the magazines differ from reality by way of photoshop.

I'm a pretty hideous looking creature (although I can be not so frightening if I try) and we never had the money to have the latest fashions or anything. We got our clothes from the Sears catalog. So, to sum up, I didn't get dates in high school.

Now, however, having worked on my 20 year HS reunion, I get to see how those who wouldn't give me the time of day turned out. Sure, I don't look any better, but I own a home in San Francisco, a nice vehicle, and make a decent living. Those who married the "captain-of-the-football-team" types and are stuck raising the kids while he's off drinking and partying are kinda envious in that regard too. (Not that I'm a superdad or anything.)

Tell the girls that looks aren't important and anyone that thinks they are -- over kindness, intelligence, etc. -- is in for a pretty rotten life, further on down the road.

That said, other than being about 40 years too young, your girls all look great. And appearance relies a lot more on internal attitude showing through than it does on actual physical shape anyway.

Uncle Roger said...

One more note... in this country, at least, bullying should not be allowed at all for any reason. All you have to do is say "columbine" and the school better fix the problem pronto. If not, call a lawyer.

Caitlin said...

It's hard to be the girl who doesn't have perfectly straight blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy skin when that's how all of your classmates are. I'm mostly Scottish, but my great great grandmother was Peruvian, so I have kind of odd coloring and it was hard to find clothes that didn't make my skin look greenish. I didn't have the cute button nose all my friends did, I wasn't petite and curvy. I was tall and gawky, with an awful mess of curls. I used to wear my hair down and look down so people couldn't see my face. I was also the only Caitlin in a class full of Jennifers, Elizabeths, Kimberlys, and Lindsays. It was also made worse because I am smart, and I was the Caitlin who was almost 3 years younger than the people she graduated with. In high school, it was much better to be pretty than smart if you were female. Didn't want to scare off the guys.

I used to really identify with Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was a kid. She was the boring brunette, while her sister Mary (blonde haired, blue eyed) was pretty. It took me a long time to really accept my looks. One of the reasons I never got into make up is that no one knew how to do the right colors for my skin. It just made me look like I was trying to be one of the blonde girls.

Now that I am an adult, I am glad I look like me. I stand out, even without purple hair. I have had an easier time getting a job when there were quite a few applicants than my friend Jenn has. We've decided it's probably because people are more likely to remember the woman who's a bit over 6ft in sandals, and isn't the 423rd person named Jennifer that looks like they were a high school cheerleader 10 years ago. It's kind of funny, because 10 years ago, I would have gladly traded looks with Jenn, but now she'd rather trade with me.

Badoozie said...

I just read julians comment, and i have to say, i'm the same way. i obsessed about it for years. i would not pass a mirror without looking in to make sure i was ok. but i never felt ok. now? i am confident enough to leave the house first thing in the morning, no makeup, no shower, pj's on, I DON'T CARE. thats right folks. there's more to life than refusing to leave the house with out everything in its place. i'm so relieved to be here. i don't worry about impressing anyone anymore. not that i'm a complete slob, but i just don't worry about it. and as for all those hollywood, new york tooth picks, YUCK. those women in the magazines who are so skinny look bad. i'm not putting down anyone for being skinny, but i'm just saying, it is not that attractive. and society has convinced itself that it is. if we saw nothing but "dove girls" every single day, THAT would be attractive.

if men would stop oogling all the skinny girls, maybe it would help too. but they have also been programed as to what is attractive. i blame the media in all forms. magazines, movies and TV. For all the goings on about suicide prevention, and eating disorders but they just won't stop with this crap. you know why? because of MONEY. the root of all EVIL.

what can you do? do NOT subscribe or purchase the girly magazines for your kids. take a good look at the covers. and tell me what you see? Skinny and SEX. for girls ages 12 and up. i say, boycott all magazines that promote anorexia through the models they use.

easy for me to say, i don't have a girl.

Uncle Roger said...

From a guy's point of view -- make-up ranges from just stupid to absolutely disgusting, depending on the guy.

Just for the record, btw, I ogle all the girls, not just the skinny ones. 8^)

jw said...

I've got boys, now 17 and 20. I see the opposite problem: they don't care how bad they look! Neither one has been on the mission to attract girls yet, so that may change their grooming and dressing, someday.

Janice said...

Hi Ann,

I hate bullies and I hate this perfection stupity! I blame the media for bambarding us with this plastic version of what feminity is.

What is being female? It's being a little girl who plays with dolls, then a teen with acne, then a young woman, then a mother, then yes God willing a grand mother.

It's not perction, it's not a flat stomach or a perfect complection, it's organic and it changes as we change.

That's what we need to teach our girls.

Janice~

Lindsay Lobe said...

Hi Granny

I think we are in danger of over complicating life, particularly in relation to raring children. I am sure your common sense and life experience will stand you in good stead.

There is no doubt rearing children is a very difficult task but all you can do is to set as good example in the way that you have, being actively involved in their life.

Children have always been cruel to one another at times , angels one moment and devils the next. I guess ultimately all we can say is to be true to yourself and be consistent. You cannot protect them from society and the images on screen but you can provide a good example with love and compassion, that hopefully allows a safe passage through to adulthood.

Parents can have a wonderful effect on the child or the opposite effect. I think the outcomes generally going to be more positive the more supportive and involved the parent is with children.

Siri said...

i dont have kids but i sure can tell you about my teenage years which are not too far in the past. i used to hate the way i look. really absolutely hate. so much so that it led me to introvertion. i did not have hair as good as that girl or the perfect bod. which brings me to the point of perfection(pun intended) - perfection is personal perception. what my mom sees as perfect in me (34-32-36) need not be true for my husband :). How does one become perfect? Is there a degree which we can get to prove it? How would they measure us anyhow? All this talk about perfection is crap. And grans i never liked barbies too.

megz_mum said...

Lots has been said that I agree with, just wanted to add a little bit. The people that, to me, look attractive are the ones that are comfortable in their bodies. Even if they don't conform to the norms of beauty, it is trite to say, but true, that beauty comes from within. How do you convey this to your children??? So hard isn't it, but has to be linked somehow with the parents accepting their children for what they are and accepting THEMSELVES for what they are. Its OK to be YOU. In the end I have written too much, hope I can do a good job with my girls, as I am certain you are doing with yours

stefanierj said...

This is *exactly* why those durn Dove commercials make me cry every time--because most of us (women in particular) have been there. And you know, we can't undo what others say, but we can help our kids have the confidence to one day see that what other people say isn't as important as they think!

Meow said...

Hi Granny, thanks for stopping by my place. It was great to finally meet you. Your blog is wonderful, I will come back later and have a great read. Have a great day, Meow

JBlue said...

Suze, are we still going to grow mustaches and force men to like them?

Jenorama said...

Well said, Ann! You know, it isn't just girls anymore. My little BOYS worry about being fat, and push on my tummy and ask if I am ever going to lose weight. It takes everything I have every day to tell them that I am healthy and they are healthy and that how we LOOK isn't important.

But daily I feel like the rest of the world is winning.

Angel said...

As someone who has been a "fat chick" for my entire adult life, it is so hard to go against the messages that society sends. At the same time, while I am working hard to lose weight, I worry what messages I send to my daughter (and yes, to my son too, when he is a bit older and understands).

I try to emphasize to her to eat healthy, exercise, and be strong. She was worried (at 10!!!) that she was too big compared to her peers. I was thrilled when her sports physical revealed that she was at the 50th percentile--because then I could tell her she was right where she needed to be, and that little number reassured her.