At my daughter’s age, I had already been on a self-imposed diet. It didn’t last long, but at 8 years old, I already got the sense that I was taking up too much space in the world. I was a little "chubby" but I was active with swimming, dancing, and riding my bike in good weather. I worry that my own daughter will start picking up on social cues that encourage dieting and other unhealthy behaviors; cues I am trying to combat with body positivity and self-love. Still, I fear that no matter how hard I try, I won't be able to fight against all the ways society is making our daughters hate their body.
For now, it seems like my daughter appears to have a healthy relationship with her body. She's also old enough to start paying attention (and understanding) society and its many messages. For example, recently she told me she only wants to wear leggings, because she likes things to fit tightly. (What?) We had bought a few small mirrors to arrange to make a full-length one, and instead she asked for them to be placed around the room so she could look at herself on every wall. (Excuse me?) She also asks to put on my make-up (which goes mostly untouched by me), use my hair product (which is pointless as 8-year-old girls have the most amazing, natural, healthy hair), or wear my clothes (especially the dresses, which she chastises me for rarely pulling out of my closet). I do not spend much time fussing over my appearance, especially in front of her, so can't help but wonder (and assume) where is she is learning these particular behaviors and, most importantly how bad they'll inevitably make her feel about herself and her body.
As moms, we are fiercely protective of our children, and that innate protectiveness definitely includes constantly registering common behavior in others that could have a profoundly negative impact on our kids’ self-esteem and body confidence. I’m always on the lookout for those potentially dangerous insistences, even if they don't seem like a "big deal" or, to others, appear like little things. When it comes to my daughter and the relationship she has with her body, I don't think I could ever be too careful.
Here are some little ways I’ve noticed that society could be making our daughters hate their bodies:
Offering Few (Or Hardly Any) Loose Clothing Options
Kids grow fast so I’m always hunting for bargains when it comes to rounding out their wardrobe. In other words, I'm usually hitting up the cheaper retailers for everyday basics. Unfortunately, most stores in that category haven’t really come around to the idea that young girls are most comfortable in clothing they can actually move around in. I often buy shorts and shirts a size up for my daughter, so she can run around and climb without anything riding up. Clothes are supposed to look good, sure, but they’re also supposed to make you feel good and allow you to be functional. How can these girls feel good about short shorts when they’re causing wedgies when the girls scale playground equipment?
Asking Kids In School To Line Up By Size
I’m sure this is easier for teachers, so they can sort of see (at least) the top of everyone’s head when they’re moving through the halls. However, for short kids like my daughter, this is just a constant reminder that most of the kids are taller, and it reinforces her insecurity about her ability to ever grow. I would love for schools to find a different organizational method that doesn’t compare kids’ physical traits.
Not Showcasing A Variety Of Body Types In Kids’ TV Shows
The television landscape is evolving, and we’re seeing more diversity among characters in the plethora of shows we love watching (Orange is the New Black, Transparent, Black-ish). Sadly, that change has yet to trickle down to kids’ programming, at least when it comes to representing different kinds of bodies. All the tween sitcoms feature svelte lead roles. I mean, when have we ever seen a thick protagonist in an animated series or movie (that wasn’t a sea creature or monster)? I would love more variety in the portrayal of bodies in children’s media. Kids notice these things.
Asking Girls To Smile All The Time
The world wants to see happy children. I get it. I want my kids to be happy, too. However, my daughter gets asked to smile by random strangers like shop clerks and hairdressers and elderly folks on park benches, but that never seems to happen to her little brother. My daughter doesn’t have to be happy for anyone and she is absolutely under no obligation to present her face to other people in a way that pleases them. Can everyone just stop forcing little girls to smile for them (unless it’s school picture day)? It’s creepy.
Policing Outfits In School
When I was in middle school, we were not allowed to wear shorts, even in June and even when it was hot. On a particularly hot day, I wore baggy shorts anyway, reaching far past my knees. I was sitting in class, taking a test, and a teacher passed by our room, pointed at me from the hallway and declared, “She’s got shorts on!” My own teacher shooed him away, responding by saying, “She’s taking a test.” In that moment, I was distracted from my work and totally self-conscious about the fact that my lower legs were showing.
My kids’ school doesn’t have a dress code, and that suits us fine, as they love being free to express themselves with their outfits (as long as they are climate-appropriate). Recently, however, in anticipation for summer the school issued its annual “appropriate attire” notice that called out many features of female-specific clothing as unacceptable: tank tops, spaghetti straps, shorts that didn’t extend to at least fingertip-length. Those attributes are rarely found in boy-specific clothing. Now, it would be a terrific thing if clothes for kids were more universally constructed (as young girls and boys bodies have not begun to develop in ways that would require their clothing to fit their shapes differently). But when the temperature rises above 80 degrees and the school is not air-conditioned, and my daughter rides an overheated school bus for 30 minutes each way, I want my daughter to feel that she can wear anything that keeps her cool and comfortable.
Lack Of Strong, Female-Identifying Action Figures
I see a lot of trim and fit dolls targeted for girls, and a ton of muscle-clad action figures aimed at boys. Right now, there’s a dearth of female-identifying superheroes in mainstream media, but I’m staying hopeful the Wonder Woman merchandise will be flying off the shelves when the film comes out in 2017. But can we at least get some female dolls out there that demonstrate strength? I’m glad that Barbies now come in more variety of body types and society (or at least the toy companies) should do the same for male-identifying dolls, so they don't all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime bodybuilding days.