Sunday, October 6, 2013

Don't Be Such a Girl

I was reading Salon.com's article "The Real Boy Crises: 5 Ways America Tells Boys Not to be Girly," after writing the post blog post "glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity," and having spent some time considering the website "Princesses Free Zone,"  which features This charming animated logo.

It's pretty clear that it's not just boys who are being told not to be girly. Girls are hearing the same message from many different sources. Messages like: Don't be a princess! You need to like math and science. You should play a sport, preferably a team sport. Don't "give in" to traditional roles! Don't dress to be cute or attract attention, you want to be liked for your brains, not your looks. Girls, and their parents, are being told girls shouldn't be girly, they should be smart and strong and brave. (Go back and read "glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity" for more thoughts on this topic.)

Because I have teenage daughters, and I spend time on Pinterest, my awareness has been raised concerning these messages in relation to the bodies of girls and women.

The latest thinspo fad (if you don't know what thinspo is, particularly if you have daughters, you might want to do a google image search) is the "thigh gap." In my 45 years I think I've met one woman who was naturally thin enough to have a thigh gap without starving herself. And yes, teenage girls are supporting each other in starving themselves to the point that they have a thigh gap.

And then there are the latest fitness fads. Exercising because it makes you feel good - physically or emotionally - is great! But the latest fitness fads seem to be designed to make women not only stronger, but also look like men. What is up with that? Crossfit, birkram yoga, and other cult like exercise regimes seem bent on sweating the womanliness out of women. As one of my fb friends asked, "Why would you want to look like a 14 year old boy?" And that's seriously what some women seem to be trying to attain. Being a "strong woman" increasingly means decreasing your body fat to the point that your muscles show, and those muscles include 6 pack abs and the loss of anything remotely feminine about the body.

Women should apparently no longer be shaped like women. The 80's woman would dress like a man in hopes of being taken more seriously or fitting in or something. Remember the pinstriped suits and the ties? Well, now, it seems we've progressed?!? to the point that women need to look like men when they are naked, too.

That's not self-acceptance. It is not self-care, though many women pretend that it is. No, that's being so desperate to feel good about yourself that you'll do damaging things to your body in order to make it into a shape it was never intended to be.

If you are a parent who loves to exercise, that's your passion. But, realize that children internalize the messages we are transmitting, including those we never put into words. It is normal and healthy for girls and boys who are entering puberty to gain some weight so that their bodies have the reserves they need for some serious growth and development. When tweens become obsessed with having a thigh gap, or start dieting, or feel they are fat because their tummy is softer or they need larger jeans, their health is at risk, as is their sense of self-worth and mental health. It's not good for teens either!

It is normal and healthy for women to have more fat on their bodies then men, to have soft thighs and a rounded belly, to have wide hips, and breasts. Some women are naturally thin, with lower levels of fat and fewer curves, but they are a minority. Loving our bodies means taking care of them, not forcing them into some culturally defined shape so that they can be acceptable, to us or to others. And loving our children unconditionally means accepting their individual preferences, including the clothes they wear, the colors they love, the toys they like, the activities they are passionate about, and the shape and size of the body they live inside.


Please note: I'm not talking about transgender individuals in this post. My hope is that we can support everyone in loving and caring for the body they live in, but I recognize that for some people it's not just a simple matter of accepting and loving the body they were born with. 

RESOURCES: 

Skinny, not anorexic, in defense of thin woman: Sonneborn agrees with Conaway's statements and claims the media's perception of an ideal is elusive since magazine covers are airbrushed. Therefore, no one, including model-thin women, can completely measure up. "Less than 5 percent of women fall into the media's ideal," Sonneborn said. "But there is no ideal. How do you emulate someone that's not real?" 

Being a Girly-Girl: It's NOT a crime.  "At the end of the day, I believe there are two questions for you to answer: Who are you comfortable being? What choices best reflect you?
If the answer to those questions stereotype you to be a girly-girl, so what? Embrace it. Enjoy it." 

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