Dear Mermaids: Body Image is Not a Trend

At the beach this summer, I saw two young teens snapping photos at the edge of the water.

The pair giggled at first, trying to get just the right shot with the ocean in the background, catching the sun dancing off the waves. Both wore their hair up in top buns, and possessed strong athletic bodies. Skin tan and glistening, I admired their youth and beauty.

I put my nose back into my book when I heard, “Wait, we can’t use this one because my face looks too round.”

Then, “Ugh. You didn’t hold the camera high enough, so my stomach is sticking out. Let’s take another.”

And then, “OK, just one more, and we’ll edit it before posting.”

By the end of the photo shoot, I was exhausted for them.

Instagram is a powerful place for young people. Posting a photograph can elicit a vast array of emotions for the viewer and subject.

It can empower a young girl by bravely demonstrating she has body confidence or continue to tear down one who feels left out.  It is a place where you can highlight your best assets or get ridiculed for exposing your vulnerabilities.

Recently, I read an article in Self magazine entitled, “Mermaid Thighs Are the Newest Body-Positive Trend Taking Over Instagram.”  On one hand, it makes me smile that so many women and young girls are working to counteract the dangers of the “thigh-gap” craze, where young women whose thighs did not touch highlighted what is unachievable for most.

According to Self: “The mermaid thigh movement is a direct response to the thigh gap trend that’s taken over Instagram in recent years. Basically, having a gap between your thighs was considered beautiful, which shamed a ton of women whose thighs naturally touch. The mermaid thigh movement recognizes that other group of women—those who don’t have a natural thigh gap—effectively giving every woman a body-positive trend to identify with. If your thighs touch, great. If your thighs don’t touch, great. Every set of thighs is beautiful, whether you have a thigh gap or not.”

I looked at the carefully posed photos of the gorgeous women who appeared in all colors, shapes and sizes, highlighting their beautiful bodies with captions of #mermaidthighs scripted underneath. It made me wonder: “Do my girls need to identify with a thigh trend to feel body confident? Can bodies even be a trend?”

Body confidence is not about identifying with a current shape du jour. It’s knowing you are more than your appearance and feeling comfortable in your skin. It comes from within.

Every time we — the media, retailers, consumers and Instagrammers — focus on a new body type as a “trend,” we tell millions of women that their body is “wrong.” It doesn’t matter if is portrayed as “positive” (such as a large bottom) or as  “attainable” (i.e., an eight-pack set of abs), If you constantly are immersed in photos believing your body should look a way that it never will,  you have a hard time loving the way you look right now. You have a hard time loving yourself at all.

And while I want sources of inspiration for my daughters — and even for myself — we need to stop using the shape of our bodies as trends — as something to aspire to — whether we think we are doing it for encouragement or shame.

Because the truth is, body confidence never goes out of style, even though body types do.

We need less posed photos geared towards perfection and more candid pictures of satisfaction; less hashtags about #bodygoals and more about #beautifulhearts; and less ostracizing of the norm, and more celebrating of the unique.

Because every time we highlight our body as a trend, we are stealing away a piece of someone else’s heart.

Keep up the great work mermaids. Just choose your hashtags carefully.

Too Sexy, Too Young

I despise the fact that I sometimes have to tell my daughters to go change because her shorts are too short or her leggings too tight or her shirt rides up too high. I do not for a single moment want to be the source for why she is uncomfortable in her body. But I also need her to be aware that — whether I like it or not — what she wears matters.

So despite all the other noise from social media and video games and friends, I will make sure she knows she is enough, exactly as she is. And then I’ll ask her to put on a new pair of pants…

I am now a regular contributor to a lovely parenting site named Her View from Home. I’m up today discussing the wardrobe war, which is killing me, battle by battle.

Too Sexy, Too Young

I watch my daughter walk into the room with her long, straight chestnut hair swaying side to side. I love watching her enter our kitchen each morning.

At ten, her sense of self is strong. She knows how to put together an outfit and creates just the right hairstyle to go with it. I am always impressed with her ability to match her older sister’s fur vest with a pair of leopard leggings or a jean jacket with a plaid skirt meant for the holidays. She does not get this trait from her style-challenged mother, who has worn her hair the same way for nearly two decades.

Her greatest accessory, however, is the confidence that exudes out of her tiny frame. She walks with her head held high as her voice booms against the walls of our home. She is a force.

I see her from behind as she bends over to pull out a waffle from the bottom of our freezer. When she stands up, I notice her shorts don’t move much. They lay perfectly still, roughly one inch under her buttocks. I think to myself that J-Lo would be envious of that perfect bum.

But then I remember that she is in fourth grade and not on a tour with backup dancers.

Click here to read more.

3 Ways I’m Changing My Daughters’ Measurements

“My sister wants her thigh gap to be three inches,” I heard a small voice say from the back seat of my minivan a few year’s back.

I quickly checked my rearview mirror to assess my daughters’ reaction to this comment made by a sweet third grader I was taking to the movies.

“What’s a thigh gap? Mom, do you have a thigh gap? Do I have one?” my seven-year-old asked.

Trying to sound upbeat while trying not to drive off the road, I responded: “It’s a space between your legs. Some people have it, and others don’t. It all depends on how your body is. You can’t really control it. So, are we going to get the popcorn pack or the pretzel at the movies today?”

I successfully changed the subject, but I knew from that day forward I needed to be more proactive in talking to my girls about weighty issues. The war started, and the first strike came unknowingly from a little girl with a 16-year-old sister.

But as my girls grow up, I am seeing there are more and more measurements that can bring them down. And I’m finding the best defense is a good offense, so here are three measurements I’m talking about with my girls:

3 WAYS I'M CHANGING MY DAUGHTERS' MEASUREMENTS

1. Social Media Sanity: I am starting to believe that there is no greater damage that can impact a young person’s self-esteem than participating in social media.  Girls often gain a false sense of accomplishment, or even power, from accumulating followers, likes or comments on social media, using these numbers as a barometer of their social status. On the CNN documentary “Being 13,” one student in the study admitted she takes 100 selfies a day to get one she likes well enough to post.

Conversely, when a post or photo is not well-received, or when a teen is excluded online (such as not being tagged in a picture or finding out their friends are at an event they were not invited), this often perpetuates feelings of insecurity.  While we all have experienced the feeling of being left out, social media now offers proof.

While limiting and monitoring social media is critical, most damage often happens when young girls “lurk” online, trolling friends’ activities without any context. Parents cannot underestimate the power of discussing social media with their children — without judgment. Whether we like it or not, social media is a part of teen culture, and unless you chain your child to their bed, they will see it. Topics should include how does it feel when someone comments on your photo or, does it ever feel bad when you check your social media accounts? Most teens cannot connect the dots that it is social media that is making them feel depressed, so it’s our job to talk them through it.

A friend recently told her 13-year-old daughter to use social media to make relationships she already had stronger, therefore only accept friend requests from people she knew well. If anyone messaged her about why she didn’t connect with them, she was to blame her “mean” mom for overseeing her account. The result is a young girl who is surrounded (mostly) by positivity as opposed to a teen seeking approval. While this is not a realistic option for everyone, it is a good way to get a young girl’s feet wet when it comes to social media.

2. Tip the Scales. I was in eighth grade the first time I realized I weighed 20 pounds more than my best friend, despite the fact we were about the same height. Now I realize it was because I was exiting puberty while she was just starting, but I remember the exact moment and feeling awkward about it. I also recall trying not to clean my plate at dinner that night.

We all know it’s important for girls to be healthy, not skinny, but teens today get barraged with images of women with “perfect” bodies. The average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily and only about 10 minutes of parental interaction a day, says Renee Hobbs, EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University. Who do you think the kid is going to listen to?

Both moms and dads need to have a dialogue with daughters about weight and body image.  The discussion should include how most photos in the media are unrealistic and untrue, such as airbrushed tummies, elongated legs, and hidden blemishes. See what your daughter has to say about a woman you see on a magazine cover or a model in an advertisement. Ask if she would change anything about her appearance. Most parents are surprised to hear that their child would rather look like an “ideal” instead of themselves.

And it’s important to remember that the number one role model for daughters is her mother. This means it’s not enough to try to avoid negatively discussing our bodies; instead, we need to make sure we discuss what we like about ourselves, too.

3. Weight of the GPA. My nine-year-old daughter acted jumpy last week when handing me three tests she needed signed. I glanced at the top of each and saw she achieved the Common Core grading of “I,” which meant she mastered each lesson. I stopped on her math test when I saw she missed three questions. As I flipped to the back of her test, she burst out in tears and cried, “I’m sorry Mommy, I forgot to go back and check my work like you told me to.”

If I’m being honest, I was a little frustrated. Leaving a question blank is just silly, but then I remembered she is nine, and she proved she understood what she learned, so I backed off. Clearly we were both putting a little too much pressure on her regarding her grades.

I was shocked recently when I read that research has shown there is a clear correlation between grades and suicide risk. Sixteen-year-old students with the lowest grades are three times more likely to commit suicide than those at the top of the class.  This is not all surprising when we look at the combined pressures parents and the U.S. education system put on our kids.

While I believe working hard in school and trying to get good grades is important,  particularly in today’s competitive college admissions environment, it is imperative to communicate to our children that someone who gets more A’s is not more worthy than someone who gets B’s or God forbid, a C. Achieving good grades does not ensure a good life any more than one bad grade deems someone as a bad person. As parents, we cannot expect young minds to know the difference.

How do I want my girls to measure their worth?

I try to tell my girls to remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so work on building your brain and growing your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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