One of my biggest fears for my daughter growing up is not that she will get pregnant at the age of 16, because I don’t think she will. It’s all the body image nonsense that teenagers have to deal with.
At the extreme end of my fears are anorexia, bulimia and self-harming. But even pressure to get your hair dyed and straightened and be fake tanned to within an inch of your life seems unfair. There is so much pressure on young girls. Why can’t they just BE?
Having watched Gok’s Teens on Channel 4 last night, I realise now that things are even worse than I’d feared. These days pressure on teens doesn’t just come from friends, it comes from the internet. Naive teenage girls are spending hours poring over ‘perfect’ pictures of celebrities and models online, not realising they have been digitally enhanced and that their figures are completely unattainable. They want to be like them and will do whatever it takes, even giving up eating.
These things start early. I hate to say it, but I am aware of it even now. I will not have my daughter’s self-confidence destroyed because of body image crap. If my boys ever call her ‘fat’ we are straight on it. It’s stopped immediately, then we have a quiet chat with them about how important it is never to say this to girls.
And of course she isn’t fat. She is tall and skinny, but she does have a very female bootylicious bottom, which didn’t come from me, and incredibly muscular arms and legs, just like her brother. So she doesn’t look as dainty as her friends.
Recently she got herself upset about her glasses. Having gone through getting glasses at an early age with two of my children (age 3 for my daughter and age 5 for my younger son), I would reassure any parent that this is a good thing. Young children are remarkably accepting. On the day he first wore glasses to school, my son came home buzzing – he had lots more friends ‘because I’ve got glasses’. When kids asked my daughter why she had them she said ‘because the optician says I’ve got to wear them’. None of her friends know what an optician is, but they accept this.
Anyway, I digress. The recent stress was to do with when she’s a teenager. Teenagers don’t wear glasses, apparently. They wear contact lenses. But she doesn’t want to wear contact lenses. But people will think she’s weird if she’s a teenager wearing glasses.
What can you say to that? No-one’s going to think you’re weird. You can wear glasses if you like and you can wear contact lenses if you like.
In the meantime, I bought her a Tshirt with a picture of a rabbit wearing glasses for her birthday. If the rabbit is wearing them, surely they must be cool? And here’s a secret I don’t often share… I don’t really need to wear glasses. Not all of them time, anyway. I have the choice – to wear them some of the time or all of the time. I choose to wear them all the time for my children – if they saw me constantly taking my glasses on and off that could give them the message that wearing glasses all the time is not cool. They don’t have the choice, so I choose not to have one either.
But, glasses or contact lenses, my daughter will still be beautiful either way. Yes, I know you shouldn’t constantly tell girls they are beautiful or they think that’s all that matters. I tell her she’s beautiful, but I compliment her on her school work, her kindness, her running, her dancing, her swimming etc etc.
And I tell my boys they are beautiful too. Because they are.
Which brings me to my final point. It’s not just girls you have to watch. At the age of 5 my younger son (the big, muscly one) went on my sister’s Wii Fit. It told him he was ‘at risk of becoming overweight’. Luckily he told me this. Because he then stopped eating for three days. It took me this long to piece together what had happened. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but you don’t expect your 5 year old boy to take things like that to heart. When I eventually challenged him, he admitted that’s why he’d stopped eating. I explained to him that the Wii Fit is designed for adult’s bodies and doesn’t understand children’s bodies. He is big, muscly and strong. He is not fat.
None of my children will ever go near a Wii Fit again. But I know I won’t be able to keep them away from the internet.