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.
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.
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. 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. 3

    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. 4

    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. 5

    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. 6

    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. 7

    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. 8

    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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  8. 12

    Carolyn says

    What a powerful post. It made the reader feel like they were there with you, watching an adorable 7 year old gaze at herself in the mirror and question how beautiful she is. Although this moment of watching my children question their image is still in my future, this post is a good reminder to me to watch what I say about my body. Thank you.

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  9. 13

    Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom says

    She’s got you, Dad, and you will always love her and fight for her and remind her that she’s beautiful inside and out. And that will count for so much more in the long run than ads and marketing. If only all little girls could grow up so loved and accepted and encouraged.

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  10. 14

    Stephanie says

    This kills me. I SO BADLY want to shield my daughter from all of this, but I know I am going to have a very difficult time. Doesn’t help, either, that the first comment made of any little girl is, “She’s so pretty!” I’m lobbying for “You look so smart today!”

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    • 15

      Susan @ Mommy Mind Trip says

      Agreed, Stephanie! My 2 year old daughter already announces “I pretty” to unassuming passerby. I use a myriad of descriptors when I talk to her: “smart” “kind” “persistent” “determined”. I hate that people default to “pretty”.

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  11. 16

    Shannon says

    I have two daughters, ages 7 and 11. The youngest has always been one to walk to the beat of her own drum and when the day comes and she faces these body image issues (and we know the day WILL come), I really hope it doesn’t alter her outlook. Alas, it probably will. {sigh}

    Great post.

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  12. 17

    Em Rohrer says

    Breaks my heart! I remember going through that when I was younger…and I’m about 2 weeks away from having my own little girl appear into this world, trying to shield her from the world’s view on beauty and weight is impossible and something I know we’ll struggle with as she grows up.

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  13. 18

    Kelly says

    It’s a tragedy. I’ve spent my entire life pinching and twisting and snarling at any excess fat. It’s such a waste of time but yet it develops so much into our sense of being it seems impossible to stop.
    My girl is now 12 and she’s started to throw her arms around her belly and hunch over if she thinks anyone around her is paying attention. My heart breaks everytime she does it.

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  14. 19

    Tragic Sandwich says

    I hope to stave off this moment with Baguette for as long as possible. But I think you handled it well, focusing on how to make the dress fit the way she wants it to.

    But I also think that it’s important to point out to her that she saw it in the right way: it was the dress, not her. Not all garments are flattering. Some of them do make us look fat. And if she can look in the mirror and feel that she looks great, but the dress isn’t right, then that’s just fine.

    Because we all have moments of insecurity. But we don’t all have to live there.

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  15. 20

    Steph @ DairyFreeOmnivore says

    Such a big issue for parents of girls. I have 3 girls, my oldest is 8. My oldest two are on the smaller side for their age groups, but even still the oldest is already showing some insecurities about her appearance. She told her Nana one day that she didn’t want ice cream because it would make her fat. We quickly jumped on that comment and explained to her that sweets are ok, especially the small amount we eat. We’ve since banned Disney and Nick tv shows because we noticed that those were really impacting her self image and sending the wrong message to girls. All 3 of my girls are beautiful and strong. The oldest is a budding athlete. It’s going to be a struggle though from here on to make sure they all see themselves as we do. And to ban to F word from our house.

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  16. 21

    Joyce says

    My zumba instructor has mom and me classes, but she also welcomes kids as young as 10 to come to her regular classes. About two weeks ago, an adorable 5th grader came with her mom and wanted to try it out. She is holding a little extra weight, and is probably one to think the F word about herself. Well, she got in there and just did her best! At first her mom was just going to stay and watch because she runs in the mornings, but her heart for her daughter got the best of her, she joined in from that very day. “Janie” (not her real name) can’t get all the steps just right but it really doesn’t matter in zumba. She dances for the whole hour and has a blast. Yesterday our instructor started selling the little skirts with the coins all over them, and she bought a pink one. I danced behind her and she had those coins rocking! Afterwards I told her how good she was doing and that if she keeps it up she’s going to be in better shape than any of her friends… and I told her “girl, that skirt is perfect for you…. I love watching you shake it!” Her mom later told me thanks, that she has taken some teasing and that she doesn’t stick with physical things very long, and she has tried everything to help her stay in shape. She is just cute as a bug and we will encourage her to stay with us! Maybe this will help her. I’m 60 and a retired high school teacher. It’s true that there are a lot more overweight kids now than ever before, but most that I see do not eat or rest right, let alone exercise. Yet I have also never seen so much obsession with looks amongst kids, especially girls. It’s very sad and there are many who are in good shape but always think they are “fat” and do things like skip breakfast and lunch. And you’re right…. the message from magazines, TV, movies… none of it is good. My own ten year old grandson is growing like his daddy did. He is pretty hefty right now but when his dad was that age, he was the same way until he grew 7 inches taller in one year and all that belly fat just spread out all over, and he was lean. He got teased a lot in elementary school and I fear it’s the same for my grandson. He won’t even get in the pool anymore without a shirt on. All we can do is support them the best we can, as you do, and encourage good eating and exercise habits. I just don’t know what we can do to assure them of their beauty from the inside out. Of course the old “pretty is as pretty does,” helps a bit but kids these days have a lot of other influences making it harder and harder to shelter them from some pretty ugly stuff. Good luck and keep up that great daddying that you are doing

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