Don’t Let the TV Define Beauty for your Daughter

My teenage self shopping in Beverly Hills.

My teenage self shopping in Beverly Hills.

I recently told a friend’s teenage daughter I was glad she wasn’t mine. Whoops. That came out wrong. What I meant to say is that I think in some ways it must be more difficult to parent daughters than sons. I remember being an incredibly sassy, strong-willed, thought-I-knew-everything kind of teenager. But of course boys and girls can be equally obnoxious. Teen girls haven’t cornered the market on moody outbursts or pompous condescension toward their parents. No. Something else seems more challenging about raising daughters, clothes shopping.

My friend and her daughter seem to be having an ongoing debate over what constitutes appropriate apparel for a young girl, or maybe even women in general. I get it. The pressure on young people to conform is enormous. And girls who want to fit in often have to squeeze their bodies into outfits that are not only inappropriate, but also often downright unfortunate. And all for what? To distract people from the enormity of their intelligence? I think not.

If I had a daughter, here are a few things I might say to her on the subject.

First, popular culture would have women of all ages believe that sexy and pretty are synonymous. They are not. To dress sexy, or “hot” as the kids like to say these days, is to be suggestive, to arouse desire and tell the world, this body is ready to rock and roll. This may be the case for Hollywood entertainers and many Wal-Mart shoppers, but it’s probably not the right message for my teenage daughter to be sending to the world. It is possible to be feminine, attractive and stylish without dressing for school as if you’re competing for the mirror ball trophy on Dancing With the Stars.

Also, if dressing in short shorts and low-cut tops garners attention–and you like the attention–then you may have been mislead into believing attention equals affection or admiration. It does not. And for every boy whose attention you’re hoping to grab, there are most likely countless creeps who are also enjoying the show.

Now I’m no prude and believe the human body can be a truly beautiful thing. But haven’t women evolved enough to understand the true nature of their own beauty? Or maybe it’s darker yet, maybe girls use sensuality to compete against other girls, winner take all in an adolescent game of physical prowess and one-upsmanship. The female version of boys flexing their muscles to display dominance in front of other guys. Gross.

If I had a daughter, hopefully she’d heed some of my wisdom on this topic. But if she didn’t, as a parent, I’d still bear responsibility for clothes purchased and clothes worn. I would need to set certain standards about modesty and be willing to go to the mat to protect my daughter from culturally distorted messages about beauty and body image. So, as I stated earlier, I’m glad she’s not my daughter.

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May God Bless Your Obedience and other “Whacky” Sentiments

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This July, the hubs and I celebrate 19 years married. Not to brag since many have logged more years than us. But as the daughter of divorced parents and granddaughter of divorced grandparents, it’s kind of a big deal to me. I have no disrespect for divorced people, especially those who’ve suffered through abuse, addiction or adultery. For them, divorce can be a most welcome salve to their wounded spirit. But if I had any tip for staying married under what some might call more ideal circumstances, it would be this–the needs of the marriage must trump the wants of the self.

To illustrate, let me share a story from my first year of marriage. The hubs and I had packed up and moved west for kicks and giggles. We told folks, if we loved it, we’d stay and if we hated it, we’d leave. Trouble was, we had no plan for if one of us loved it and the other didn’t. We purchased a house in a suburb outside Seattle and spent our evenings after work going for walks around our new neighborhood. We talked about the future, promotions we hoped to attain, money we hoped to make and the number of children we planned to have. One of the hubs’ recurring dreams was returning to the Midwest. “The Twin Cities are great,” he’d say. “You’d really like it there.”

I’d roll my eyes and nod my head. Being a Michigander who’d always dreamed of living west, I had no intention of ever doing winter again. I’d joke in response, “Fine but you’ll have to get a promotion and a relocation package, help selling our house, and I’ll need a winter clothing allowance.”

Two years into our west coast adventure, I’d snagged a great promotion and was excited for more travel, more responsibility and more money. Three months after that, the hubs was also offered a promotion and a relocation package to guess where?? That’s right, the Twin Cities.

His news disappointed me to say the least. But I recalled another component of our evening walks, discussions of starting a family. I wanted a career but I also wanted to someday parent our future kiddos full-time. I’d seen enough jet-set executives to know I couldn’t do both. That meant, gulp, that his promotion meant more to our future family in the long term. I resolved to move to Minnesota and find another job.

I broke into tears when telling a friend my tale of woe. She responded by saying, “God will bless your obedience.”

My tears may have sucked back up into their ducts as I stifled a laugh. Only a religious nutcase would say such a thing, or so I believed at the time.

But 19 years later, I’ll admit that getting to raise our kids in Minnesota is one of the many blessings I’ve experienced since letting go of what I thought I wanted in favor of what my marriage needed.

Growing up with a single mother taught me self-preservation. Submission was not modeled in my mother’s home. Like her, I refuse to be anybody’s doormat. Even the term submission may stir up a feminist rant complete with finger snaps, head bobs and curse words. And yet, year after year, regular practice of submission, putting my individual wants second to the needs of others, particularly my spouse–being obedient to what I know in my heart is right–has brought me blessing. Truth!

I blow a kiss across the plains to my religious nutcase friend whose wisdom once sounded whacky to me. And if you’re trying to cobble together some good years with someone in marriage or even in friendship, consider which small sacrifices each person in the relationship could make for the good of the whole. And may God bless your obedience.

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