Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why Does It Have To Be Normal?

There was a discussion on a local moms' discussion board recently and one of the subjects has really stayed with me. I was home on Tuesday, cleaning house, organizing. My thoughts kept going back to the discussion. A mom was asking for advice regarding her 6th grader saying "I'm not pretty." This mom and several moms offering support said the same thing... "It's normal for this age." I stewed over that a good part of the day and the more I came back to it, the angrier I got. Yep, angry. Why are we willing to be okay with 10 or 11 year old girls being focused on beauty? Thinking it's just normal for them to criticize their appearance? Why are we willing to use that as an excuse to brush it under the rug? How often do we stand in front of the mirror and criticize our nose, our double chin, our cheekbones? How often do our children see skinny models on TV being told they look fat? How often do our kids take in magazines where various people and stars are being criticized for the latest "fahion faux pas?" How often do our daughters hear their mothers saying they need a make over, they need to lose 5 pounds? How often do we get overly excited about a new shade of lipstick and how it changes our face? How often do our girls see us hinging our self esteem on the compliments we may or may not get from our husbands or partners? I wrote once about being shocked to have Teagan asking a lot of questions about looking fat, what fat means, and so on. We eventually figured out that the language was coming from Alvin and the Chipmunks. However, the first thing I did was to look at my own actions and words. I'd spent about 3 months being focused on becoming healthier- had I been saying anything about being fat or food making you fat or... No, no I hadn't. But I had to look at myself first. Because I am the greatest influence on my daughter. It's not about controlling what we watch or what she takes in or what she sees or hears. It's about her witnessing my true feelings and reactions to things. She won't hear me say- "I can't go out! I don't have any make up on! I can't let people see me like this!" She won't hear me say- "I can't wear this! I look like a sausage! Look how fat I am!" She won't hear me say- "I hate my _____." She won't see me making negative faces at myself in the mirror. She won't see me obsessing over my appearance. And our family culture is such that there just isn't a focus on appearance. There isn't a right or best way to look. We don't dress to the nines for church. We don't obsess over the appearance of our home or how nice our furniture is. We don't have a single fashion or entertainment magazine in this house. Not because those things are inherently bad but because they simply aren't on our list of family priorities. Feeling like you aren't pretty... hating yourself... demeaning yourself... it's NOT normal! And the only way our girls will stop doing it is if we all make more of an effort to stop doing it to ourselves. We're the ones that make it normal. And then, when our children follow our example, we excuse it and brush it off as normal, a phase, or just what girls do. Well, that isn't acceptable for my family, for my daughter, for my son. I am going to fight the boxes that the world wants to put my kids in. I'm going to fight the automatic definitions of being a man or being a girl. I'm going to change the norm. I'm going to follow in my mother's footsteps and not focus on hair, makeup, beauty, wrinkles, gray hair, and more. I'm going to follow in my mother's footsteps and model the things that truly make a person beautiful- compassion, kindness, sacrifice for others. My kids are worth that. I am worth that. And so are you. Photobucket

23 comments:

Expats Again said...

Amen, I'm with you!

mimbles said...

*applauds*

It makes me furious when I hear of kids who have learned very young to be unhappy with how they look, so much of the culture we live in is so destructive.

It's one of my great satisfactions as a parent that my kids, when confronted with the nonsense of society's very narrow beauty standards, express bemusement and disgust at how stupid and mean it is to judge someone's worth by how they look.

I don't kid myself that they're completely insulated from the effects of the mainstream media but I do think I've done a pretty good job of teaching them to question and challenge it.

Katherine said...

Great post! While I love pretty things, and my family knows that, we don't define ourselves by that. I'm raising boys, not girls, so issues of appearance haven't been a big deal (as just getting matching clothes on is an issue.) But I think that developing self-worth through meaningful things is applicable to every age, every gender.

Di said...

You are so right! My husband laughs at me because I will look in the mirror and say - Wow I look good! But at least I grew up with the confidence to be able to do that!

C. Beth said...

Amen!!!

kbiermom said...

Yes, definitely, we need to always examine the messages we send people, especially our children.

However. What if she had said, "I feel mad," or "I don't feel smart," etc?

As moms, we need to focus on listening, and helping our children sort out their feelings. When we try to talk them out of their negative feelings, then we might end up sending them the message that negative feelings are not allowed. Or that their feelings are not valid. Or that we simply don't hear what they're saying, b/c we're not taking it at face value.

My 11yo girl comes home with a whole bagful of mixed emotions on any given school day. I just try to be a soft place to land where she can sort them all out.

That One Mom said...

What an awesome post, Liz! I admit, I am vain and I certainly don't think a bit of vanity is bad, but it is when it is to the point of self-deprication and disliking yourself. Way to be there paving a path for your kids!

Shell said...

You are such a fantastic role model for your kids! I love that you are not going to accept that this attitude is okay. Because, it's not.

My own mom weighed herself excessively and would constantly scrutinize me. I remember when I had a growth spurt around puberty and ended up getting little stretch marks near my hips. My mom saw me in my bathing suit, touched them, made a face and said "EWWWWW! What is that?"

I was 15, 5'4", and MAYBE 110. MAYBE. But, my mom saw me as fat and as constantly trying to get me to diet.

She would also say "good thing you're smart" whenever I would try on a new outfit.

Niiiiice, right? This is practically my own little PYHO right here in your comments.

But, I'm SO happy that you are trying to do right by your kids!

Eternal Lizdom said...

Oh man, Shell!! That is rough!! Do you know I don't even have a scale in my house? The closest thing I have to a scale is my Wii Fit board. :)

Kris, I fully intend to be that soft place and to respond and encourage my kids to talk about what they are feeling and help them figure out where it is coming from. But I still want to fight the "norm." I don't ever want to be someone who just accepts soemthing because it's "normal" or it's a "phase" or "that's how everyone does it."

Katherine- you might be surprised. Boys want to be handsome and cut and rugged or whatever, too. Or maybe our boys will have a different idea of what beauty is to them and their vision won't fit in with the rest of the world? I want my boy to love his body as it is. And I want to raise my boy to be the kind of man that will respect and love all forms of the human body.

Mellodee said...

Oh Liz, I usually agree with everything you say, but today, not so much. I don't want to get into it too much lest this turn into a rant, but kids don't live in a vacuum. They are surrounded with other kids. And self-confidence and self-worth are such fragile things and so difficult to instill in our children. It has got to start at home!! The simple truth is appearances do matter, and people do form impressions based on looks. Human beings thrive on approval and the need to fit in and kids don't do well being "different". I think it is like most things....moderation and balance is the key. I'd better stop, it's getting rather rant-like!

It is a tricky situation no matter how you slice it.

Mom said...

I wonder if you misinterpreted what was meant by the expression "It's normal"? At that age, girls' bodies are changing in many ways. A girl asks if she is pretty because she is looking for reassurance that the changes that are happening are normal. They go through periods of self doubt. You just keep reassuring them that they are "normal", beautiful, attractive, etc--however they ask the question.

Emily said...

Liz,

You did it again! You inspired me to write something that was begging to come out, but was scared to.

As a person who has been criticized for being "heavy" since I was about 10 years old, a person whose former love handles were squeezed at 16 and told how "proud" she made "everyone" by becoming thin, and as a person who is coming to terms with her body and trying to make it healthy...I agree.
It's not normal.
Good for you, encouraging Z and T to be healthy instead of "thin."
Good for you, encouraging them to look past looks or body type, to see the true person inside.

Your mom did a GREAT job with both you and your brothers (I'm sure your dad helped :D :D) and it shows.
Thank you for being an inspiration to me...for being a big sister to me, but for most of all, encouraging me by helping me say the things I need to say.

Em

Life with Kaishon said...

I love how you look at life and live. You are an inspiration!! An absolute inspiration. Thank you so much.

kbiermom said...

Oh, Liz, you know I am more than with you on not following society's "norms." In fact, when I look around, I don't see very many people adhering to the "norm" portrayed by the media, or even holding it up as some sort of ideal.

I'm just wondering -- is it really a bigger deal for a girl to say, "I don't feel pretty," than to say "I don't feel (fill in the blank)?" For some girls, for whatever reason(s), feeling pretty may be synonymous with feeling happy and good about themselves. For other girls, it may be something else, like success in academics, art, or sport. At age 11, kids are trying to figure out how they view themselves. IMO, if we encourage them to find many different facets of themselves that they like, and not take any given facet to an unhealthy extreme, then they'll be on track to finding their own personal "normal." :)

Eternal Lizdom said...

I agree with you Kris.

Just to clarify- I'm really focused on the idea that we can brush things off by claiming it to be normal.

There was another incident recently at a local high school of a sports team hazing situation on a team bus. Older boys threatening younger boys. Many people want to say "team mentality, team bonding, boys will be boys" and let it go at that. To me, that's just saying it's normal and that's how it is so move on. I'm not ok with that. I think the way to change things is to not just accept that things are the way they are.

So yes- at that age, it totally is normal for a young girl or boy to be feeling awkward or unattractive or confused. But if I just shrug and says "it's a phase" or "well, that's normal," I'm not really addressing anything, you know?

I recognize and accept norms as part of culture and society. I also think that it's easy to be lulled by them and not do things differently- for fear of going against the norm!

I also wonder how often parents handle their child expressing concern about looks or smarts or popularity or religion or sexuality with too much of their own issues playing into the equation. If I thought I was fat and ugly and I heard my child saying that about themselves, would I be rushing to try and do the things for my kids that I thought would help me- make up and new dresses and brand names. Probably a different post topic, though.

kbiermom said...

Oh, I see :) I was thinking "normal" in terms of "one of those things you probably will have to deal with," not "eh, that's just the way things are."

And yes, I believe we moms have to keep a mantra of This Is Not About Me at all times :) because we have a very human tendency to react more strongly to the issues we had growing up -- we want to spare them the pain we have in our own past. Maybe we can, maybe we can't. But nothing drives an 11yo girl more crazy than someone completely missing her point by taking a tangent -- which this mom apparently does All. Too. Often ;)

gaelikaa said...

Very well said. All true. I like. I found you on Saturday Sampling.

Mrs4444 said...

Liz, this is fantastic! I wrote a very similar post for...um...I don't even remember where it was supposed to be published, but it mirrors your attitude, and I love it. I have to recommend a great book, if you don't already know about it. It's called, I Like Me, by Sandra Boynton (I think). It's absolutely perfect for encouraging self-celebration of our bodies. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful book :)

Matty said...

I wish more kids had role models like you.

Emily said...

Great post. Makes me glad I don't have a daughter, it is so hard but your style of parenting seems right on!

Kirby3131 said...

You are raising your daughter with a great role model :) I like how you think!

Kristin _ The Goat

Mrs4444 said...

Loved it then, love it now, linking to it tonight :)

Life with Kaishon said...

I loved reading this again tonight. Absolutely LOVED it. I love you Liz. You are wise. Your new page looks so pretty!