On Body Image

We were in Old Navy the other day.  Alicia and Andreya were trying on clothes, looking at dresses, shirts, skirts, pants and more.  It was our normal Old Navy trip.  Take a bunch of clothes.  Pile into the dressing room area.  And then prepare for the girls to come out one by one like they are walking the the world’s top fashion runways.  Each time in the past, time and time again, I could give an ooh or an ahh at the little girl outfits.  Each time in the past, time and time again, I loved seeing the smiles on their faces as they did the twirl in front of the mirror.  Each time in the past, we’d grab the clothes head for the register, and head out the door.  Only this time was different.  And it will never be the same again.

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Alicia is seven years old.  She is bright, tall, strong, and beautiful.  She is also becoming increasingly aware of the world around her no matter how much her mom and I sometimes try to shield her.  On this day, Alicia came out of the dressing room and did the twirl.  But there was no smile.  On this day, there was no ooh and ahh from dad right away.  On this day, Alicia looked in the mirror and said with a pout, “This dress makes me look F-A-T”.  She didn’t say the word, she just quietly spelled it out as she stared in the mirror.  “F-A-T” she said.  It became obvious to me in that moment, that Alicia would never again look in the mirror without weighing her body image staring in the mirror back at her.
On this day, she and I talked about why the dress didn’t fit as nicely as she wanted.  We talked about wearing a belt around her waist, and the Old Navy dressing room clerk who had witnessed this exchange, offered to go get us a couple of belts to try on with the clothes.  Alicia’s mom picked out a few new outfits with her and they tried on several more in the dressing room.  In the end, Alicia found a couple she liked, super-cute dresses like the ones you’d expect an adorable little 7 year old to be wearing.

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But the trip marked so much more than some silly dress at Old Navy.  Seven years of instilling in her that she’s beautiful inside and out, no matter what other folks will ever say or think, may have taken a major hit in one dressing room mirror on one Saturday for one little girl.   With the steady bombardment of TV images, magazines, music videos, unattainable shapes, and at least one parent who has always struggled with his weight, it’s no wonder, and I guess no surprise, that one little girl finally started taking notice of hers.
But it doesn’t make it right.


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  1. Anne Kimball says

    Oh, Pete, I loved this. You aptly captured the sadness that can accompany this moment. How very right you are that no matter how much we instill in them that they are beautiful, and how little emphasis we place on society’s view of what is attractive, it finds them.

    However, as the Mom to three teen girls, I must advise you: pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and get ready to steel yourself for the next stage, which will be that your dtrs will want to wear things you are not ready for them to wear. Shorts too short, tops too tight, v-necks too plunging. I’ve always dressed them very conservatively, our school has a commendable dress-code, we watch what they are exposed to, media-wise. And yet… that desire to look sexy grabs hold of them too early. Now instead of saying ooh and ahhh in the dressing room, I hear myself saying an awful lot of “No”.

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  2. Ellen says

    Ugh – this made me so sad. I remember when this happened to me and as I was reading this I was looking at my perfect little girl and I knew that one day she wouldn’t be able to see how perfect she is.

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  3. Rebecca Schorr says

    It is amazing how our kids soak up all the messages from media even when we’ve done our best to counteract them with our love, reassurance, and positive talk.

    Just keep doing what you’ve been doing…

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  4. Betsee says

    And this is why you find SOMETHING outside for them to be involved in. Whatever it is. Our daughter plays ice hockey on an all girls team. She also did basketball this year. You just have to find one thing she loves to do. I’ve also told my daughter that just as much as she looks in the mirror and sees whatever flaw she sees, that the most popular girl in her class looks in the mirror and sees her own flaws too. I’ve not shielded her particularly; in fact, I’m quite blunt. She’s in 6th grade and I told her last year that middle school was going to be hard. Just keep your head down, do your schoolwork, and play hockey. High school is soooooo much better. You gotta raise ‘em up strong so they can kick the world’s a$$!!

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  5. Denise says

    So sad. I have boys and my 13 year old still doesn’t give a rats rump what he looks like, so long as I can find pants that aren’t tight and shirts with funny images. He’d wear the same clothes for a week if I didn’t remind him to change.

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  6. Amber says

    Ugh. I’m dreading this day. No matter how hard you try, society is bound to catch up with them eventually. But as long as you keep telling her she’s beautiful, she’ll be okay.

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  7. Guerrilla Mom says

    Oh God. This breaks my heart. I feel like we can do a lot for young women by teaching them early that the images they see on TV and in print- are not real. There are a ton of youtube videos that show the effects of photoshop- you should show her some of those.

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