Feeling Beautiful, Inside And Out

I was talking to some friends the other day about their pregnancies. One is having a boy. When she said that she was thrilled to be having a boy, I probed her as to why. Her answer: "It's easier to be a man in this culture than it is to be a woman." I agreed, and added that it's easier to be a man in pretty much every culture on this planet.

Another friend pointed out that there's something quite feminist about raising a compassionate son. I pondered that and have to say that I also agree with her viewpoint. Frankly, when I become a parent, I hope that my first child will be a boy, simply because (in general) they tend to internalize things less. The way I see it -- if I'm going to have a girl, I would love to have some parenting experience under my belt before foisting myself (and my psyche) on my daughter.

When I think back on the messages about body image I got as a girl and adult, my mother's own self-loathing (of her body) is more and more obvious, and I'm very sad for her. I have to believe that she said and did what she did because she loved me and hoped to shield me from some of the issues she had dealt with. But at the end of the day, a mother's voice is quite powerful and her negative messages about weight and "ideal" beauty colored my sense of self-worth in very ugly ways. The ensuing knots in my psyche took years to undo (with the help of several therapists, lovers, and friends), and are something I will always have to consciously work to dispel. Fortunately, I've finally learned how to move through life without craving approval and acceptance from authority figures and loved ones.

It's something I still struggle with, but that I am feeling more optimistic about as I move toward parenthood. I have to hope that when I'm a mom (to a boy or a girl), I'll be like Minnesota Matron. Her essay below helped me reframe my thoughts and feel a great deal more capable of raising kids who are healthy inside and out and who have a very positive sense of self. Is it Really Getting Better Folks? (by Minnesota Matron)
Friday, February 19, 2010

My, my, my. . . the Matron read the Kevin Smith comments with a HIGH degree of interest. She chortled at Mrs. G’s temporary move from Switzerland to . . . well, at least Ireland.

But the outright vilification of flesh gave the Matron pause. Why? She’s thinking of our daughters. Yes, yes, the boys –and she has two of them—feel pressure to adhere to cultural ideals, yes, indeed. But she’s here to argue that there’s a unique condemnation of flesh in females. Is there any male counterpoint to Oprah’s battle of the bulge? Starr Williams? Ricki Lake? She could go on and on and on. For every Jared, there’s a Jenny Craig, Valerie Bertinelli, Kirstey Alley and every celebrity who has ever given birth. The Matron would love to take every “how she got her body back after baby” article to kerosene and torch. That would be one big bonfire. She’d toss in a few pages on Jennifer Aniston’s abs, just to make that flame burn brighter.

Every few days, she’s reminded of how cellular these issues are to women, how this deep-tissue condemnation of female flesh is being passed along to our daughters. You see, the Matron has a good friend – a rail-thin woman who, not unlike the Matron, works toward that condition--- who cannot get her daughter to be thin enough. The daughter is not fat. Not thin. She is firmly in the middle, a 12 year old with new breasts, hips, and a little bit of tummy. The Matron’s friend, Jay we’ll say, is routinely saying things like this:

“I’m taking Kay for a walk tonight to make sure she burns some calories.”

“Do you pack carbs for Scarlett's lunch? I’m just leaving carbs out of Kay’s diet unless she asks for something like a cookie.”

“I know, I know, I’m worried about the weight. But it’s so much easier to be thin. Your life as a woman is easier.” (True)

“Kay? Do you really need to eat a whole hamburger or is half okay?”

“Girls? Can we skip a snack after school and save our appetites for dinner?”

The Matron is not condemning Jay but putting her on a spectrum, a spectrum in which the Matron herself, survivor of an eating disorder, is firmly situated. With three spindly young ones, the Matron hasn’t (yet) navigated the land of ‘watch what you eat.’ But she sees plenty of mothers, not just Jay, fretting about their daughters’ physiques.

Last week, Jay’s daughter, Kay, said this to Scarlett. The Matron overheard from her secret spot out in the open two feet away from the kitchen table:

Kay: “Scarlett, let’s go on a cleansing diet next week. No carbs, no wheat, no diary, no meat, no sugar. What do you think?”

Scarlett: “Sounds good! We can get healthy just like our Moms!”

Oh darlings. It is a little more complicated. Please don't emulate your mothers.

Move beyond us.

What are your wars and/or wishes with a child's weight?

Minnesota Matron is a regular WC contributor. You can read more of her here.