“She looks like Malibu Barbie and sounds equally as dumb. Like she is the role model I want for my girls.”
I sat and listened to two women talk at a long, crowded Starbucks table as their young daughters played on an iPad. I tried to focus on my laptop screen, but considering our elbows were practically touching, it was difficult.
“She’s just wretched. And definitely not smart. A total media whore. I’m not sure how she got to where she is today, but I have a feeling it wasn’t always her brains. He probably just hired her because he thought she was pretty.”
I cringed and looked over to the young girls, one intently viewing the screen, the other quietly focused on the two women talking. I knew the discussion centered around Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, a woman I didn’t particularly care for either, but I felt increasingly uncomfortable with just how much centered on the successful woman’s hair color as opposed to her policy viewpoints.
I am a frequent visitor to coffee shops around my town. Most of my work is done alone in front of a computer screen, so I like to get out of the house sometimes and work remotely. If a latte comes with that, so be it.
My satellite office visits are often spent side by side with others working silently on their computers, but sometimes you just can’t help honing in on other’s conversations.
Like the time when two women with their children playing nicely at their feet called Hillary Clinton a hag and that they hoped she used her free time and all her money from speaking engagements to get a face lift.
Or the time a group of young women waiting in line to order their drinks discussed a female co-worker in their office who they were convinced was sleeping her way to the top. I was in line behind them, and two young teenage girls in Catholic school uniforms and knee socks stood directly in front of them.
Or the time a few years back when I sat at a round table with some girlfriends, and there was a lengthy, uncomfortable discussion about a mom at our school who decided to get a boob job, although it did not turn out well.
“I think she did it because that’s all she has. She’s not very smart, so she has to keep the looks up. And I don’t think she wants to go back to work, so it probably makes her husband happy.”
“Ixnay on the oobnay talk,” I remarked as our kids came downstairs to grab some snacks.
“Whatever,” our host replied. “It’s not like she doesn’t deserve it prancing around the way she does.”
The notion that women are caddy and petty to each other is nothing new, but I believe it has moved up a notch the last few months. In the past decade, women have advanced economically and educationally, seen improvements in sexual freedoms and access to health care, experienced political triumphs and increased business success; yet we still criticize individuals looks with such animosity.
And we do so in front of our girls.
We can blame the media for the disproportionate body commodification that occurs.
We can blame men who often respond to attractive women differently than those not fitting the beauty standard.
We can blame it on marketers who focus on appearances or a judicial system that favors males or a history when women were trophies and properties of men.
But really, we only have ourselves to blame. Because we talk about women in this way in front of our girls.
This does not mean that I think appearances are not important. If it interests us, we should care about fitness, beauty, and sexual appeal. These can enhance our being and life in general.
However, when a woman focuses on her appearance, we should not immediately discount her intelligence, her value, her worth. For women that do not care as much about fashion or glamor, we should not assume they are cold, unhappy or mean.
And we should never associate their appearance with the ability to get a job, be successful, or be taken seriously.
We live in a culture where appearances are important. This mere fact pits woman against woman. Most times, a good looking female is the poster child for a better life. Anything she receives –a promotion at work, securing a loan, an invitation to an exclusive event – is all done under suspicion it was because of her looks.
But in today’s world, we know that beauty does not always equate to happiness. There are gorgeous women stuck in abusive relationships, constant victims of sexual harassment or passed over because they are not taken seriously.
These are the real problems; these are the crimes against women – all women. We are still pioneers in a perceived world of gender equality. We are fighting for scraps left over by those already in power: sometimes in our jobs, sometimes in social settings, and sometimes even in our marriages.
Until we realize that our looks are an expression of ourselves instead of an indicator of our intelligence or abilities, we will continue to cannibalize ourselves, continue to hinder our success.
I like to imagine a future for my three daughters where there are so many women in power that we treat each other better and feel less threatened by their success. A world where we help each other more and talk about each other less. A world where we no longer question why a woman advanced to a certain position and instead celebrate that another sister achieved greatness.
But it starts here and now, with us. Because when women talk about women in front of our girls, the cycle continues.
And if we can’t lift each other up, perhaps we can disparage each other a little less.
I watched Colbie Calliat’s amazing new video Try over the weekend. It literally brought me to tears. I immediately showed it to my three daughters, followed by this video from last year which shows an average-sized woman getting photo-shopped into a model. It was time to teach them about the real world.
They thought it was interesting, but I’m not sure if it hit home for them yet. They don’t look through a lot of fashion magazines, don’t watch much beyond the Disney channel, and right now their idols are more like Abby Wambach (a U.S. soccer play) and Taylor Swift than Gisele Bundchen or Miley Cyrus. For now.
But I’m not going to take any chances when it comes to my girls’ body images. According to a study announced in February of this year from the National Institute on Media and the Family, about 40 percent of girls ages nine and 10 have tried to lose weight.
Calliat looking beautiful without make up.
Seriously? Four out of 10 girls.
It gets worse. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders suggests that eating disorders typically start in the teen years, but may begin as early as age eight. Eight years old.
My youngest is eight. Her older sisters are 9 and a half. I don’t have much time.
I don’t have much time to convince them that they are beautiful regardless of their weight. I don’t have much time to show them that they are more than the clothes that they wear and that make up should enhance their looks, not conceal them. I don’t have much time to hope they understand they don’t have to try so hard to fit an image or a beauty mold. And I don’t have much time to protect them from judgement, from peer pressure, from the media, from their “friends.”
So, because I don’t have much time, I will continue to try and show them. I will show them that their mother is comfortable in her own skin and that their father loves her no matter what her size. I will encourage them to love food, but more importantly, understand it — how it fuels the body, how it makes your skin glow, how good food tastes. And I will demonstrate Photoshop, talk about pictures in magazines, and avoid stores that don’t sell to “real” girls.
And we all say we will do these things, be that mom, live that life; but yet it is so hard. So, so hard to be the example I want to be for my girls.
Earlier this week when I received a compliment from my good friend about how I looked, I responded with: “Ugh. Thanks but I feel awful. I haven’t been working out and I’ve been eating like crap.”
My friend responded in kind when I told her how healthy she looked after changing her diet: “Blech. I’ve just gained three to four pounds.I know I’ll lose it but I just feel blah.”
Between us we have five beautiful daughters, are successful in our jobs, have great marriages and are just plain happy. And neither one of us could just say thanks after receiving a compliment about our bodies, although both of us live healthy lifestyles.
So why can’t we admit it to anyone else? Why is it so hard, especially as women and more importantly, as young girls, to like ourselves, to not care what others think, to not try so hard just to focus on our looks.
Colbie Calliat’s lyrics say so much. “When you’re all alone by yourself do you like you?”
Maybe that’s where I will start. For me — and my girls.
Recently I went to the DMV to get my new Illinois license. The man behind the counter was extremely chatty for a state worker, and we exchanged pleasantries and conversation while he processed my paperwork. He told me about his wife and his plans to move to Colorado soon, I shared a story about my kids and our recent move from Pittsburgh.
We were simpatico. Until he asked me what my weight was, and I lied right to his face.
Now, I know I’m not the first woman to fudge my numbers a bit, but I have taken great pride in the fact of having a (reasonably) positive body image. I know that I am at a healthy weight, and although I think I could stand to lose a few pounds, I believe I look not-so-bad. So what’s up with the fibbing?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot since last week. I’m not normally a good liar. I portray the classic tell-tale signs when I have to tell a fib for whatever reason: no eye contact, shaky voice, stuttering, etc. But I didn’t do that this time. I looked this nice man right in the eyes and said — well, I’m not going to share what I said, but let’s just say it was about five pounds off of what the scale read that morning.
A study published in Marie Claire’s UK edition back in 2012 said that women claim they weigh an average of 9 pounds less than they actually do. And they don’t just do it on their driver’s licenses. They lie to their closest friends and spouses in order to boost their confidence.
This gave me something to chew on. I started thinking that I NEVER weigh myself in front of my husband or even my kids. In fact, I avoid it at all costs. Did I really think that any of them would love me any less because of those five pounds that I can’t seem to get rid of for, like, forever? Was my quest to be a positive role model for body image for my daughters just a pipe dream?
The answers to both questions are obviously no. So why did I do it?
Well, I have been feeling a little frustrated lately. My kids have been sick all winter, so I have not been able to go to the gym as often as I like. Being stuck in the house all day has been testing my will power, and I may or may not have recently had four brownies and a glass of Chardonnay for dinner one night. And despite my best efforts I recently became a year older, and the evidence of that seems to be appearing daily.
Did telling that lie make me feel better? Not really. Would telling my real weight feel worse. I think the answer is probably.
Fortunately, I don’t think I will be facing eternal damnation for this white lie. But in my constant struggle to love myself just as I am, I will try to stop shaving the numbers, because to be honest, I don’t really think the guy at the DMV cared. And I don’t think my husband or kids would either. And I probably don’t need to tell my doctors every time I get on the scale that my own scale had just said I weighed a few pounds less or that I was retaining water. I don’t really think they care either. I think the only person that sometimes doesn’t love me for me is, well, me.
The good news is since that day I’ve dropped a few pounds, and I am very close to being that weight that my license says I am. Hopefully the DMV will forgive me for my moment of weakness, because I am going to forgive myself.
And while I’m not quite ready to post my weight yet, if you ask me, I’ll try to be honest. If it looks like I’m having a bad day, just subtract five.
Here’s to loving yourself today. When have you ever lied about your weight?