This past spring, fourteen year old Julia Bluhm successfully petitioned Seventeen Magazine to stop photoshopping their models. It’s hard enough for teens to live up to the images they see on television and in magazines, but worse to know that they are trying to live up to images that have been digitally altered to be even thinner.
The issue of healthy body image is a very complicated one when parenting a daughter. You want them to be a healthy weight, have good eating habits and to get exercise, but you know that the “pressure to be super thin” is pervasive in our society. Many of the fashion styles these days feature extremely short skirts or belly-baring shirts. It’s hard for a girl who isn’t stick-thin to feel good when wearing the clothing that their friends are wearing, so the pressure increases.
In the olden days, being plump was a sign of affluence. If you had some meat on your bones, it meant you had plenty to eat and didn’t have to do physical labor. In the mid-twentieth century the pin-up girls and sex symbols, most notably Marilyn Monroe, were curvy girls. What has happened?
When I was younger, I remember watching Tracey Gold on the television show Growing Pains. The Seaver family had traveled to Hawaii or somewhere tropical and Tracey’s character, Carol, was in a bikini. Tracey stood there with her arm across her belly, shielding it from view and I thought, “That’s me!”
I spent years strategically placing my arms and hands and anything I could find to hide my body in a bathing suit. Of course, the sad part of this story is that Tracey was truly uncomfortable and had an eating disorder that has haunted her for her entire life.
I loved that Hillary Duff, as Lizzie McGuire and in the first Cheaper by the Dozen movie had some flesh on her. She looked like a normal kid. Then Hollywood got to her and she was “movie star gaunt” in the second Cheaper by the Dozen. Hillary was much cuter before she got too skinny.
Julia Roberts’ character in the movie Notting Hill claims she’d been hungry for 12 years since she started acting. Why is this necessary?
Adele is not thin and has achieved superstardom for her stellar voice. But I would argue that being heavy and making it in the recording industry is like being 5’6” and a professional basketball player—only the best one or two in the world get to do that, the rest better fit the physical requirements.
As my daughter was growing up, no matter how often I looked in the mirror and was disappointed, I was always careful not to use the words, “I feel fat”--no matter how often I thought it! I didn’t want her to think I was even worried about it, knowing there’d be plenty of time for her to develop her own concerns.
Now there is the additional pressure of Facebook, where it seems the big prize for teens is using a shot of yourself rocking a bikini for your profile pic.
How can we convince our children that you don’t have to be super-skinny to be beautiful? I love that Julia Bluhm started that petition and got over 84,000 people to sign it, with another petition going around aimed at Teen Vogue.
Kit Collins, now a sophomore at Tufts University, started the blog The Shape of Sexy when she was in high school.
Kit says she “started noticing more and more so-called "thinspiration" on the internet -- text or photos glorifying unhealthful thinness and the disordered eating and exercise habits required to attain such a state.” She wanted to counterbalance that information with a site that she says was “supportive of all body types, of eating for true health and enjoyment, and of self-respect and love.” Clearly there are people, and particularly teens, who aren’t buying into skinny as the only sign of beauty.
According to the website, Weighing the Facts, eight out of 10 women look in the mirror and are unhappy with their bodies. Most people will never attain “model-thin.” Their bodies just weren’t made to do that. Kudos to Julia Bluhm, Kit Collins and the other teens that realize that it’s okay to have curves, that it’s probably more normal to look like that than the women in the magazines.
Yes, there's more to life than someone's looks and women are respected for their intellect, athletic ability, humor and other non-surface things. Unfortunately, much emphasis in our society is placed on looks. As they grow up, we need our daughters to know that their value is not based on their jeans’ size and that stick thin is not the only way to be beautiful--there are many shapes of sexy.