The other night I watched America the Beautiful by Darryl Roberts and it tells the story of a common concern these days, females and body image. One of the girls they track over about 5 years is a young model who is on her way to becoming the world’s youngest supermodel at the ripe age of 12. Of course she fits into size 2 at 6 feet tall! Of course she has a tight body with flawless skin! She’s 12!!!! The irony is that her mother is the one pushing her out there to get noticed at a young age, allowing her to party with the big girls. Everyone is worried about what all of this exposure will do to her self image and by the end of the movie, sure enough… well you should just watch it.
My daughter is still so young and innocent so I havne’t thought much about her teenage years or her adult life and the abundant badgering she will receive in the form of advertising, telling her that her looks might be ok but could really use some enhancing. I consider myself pretty well adjusted in my body’s self evaluation but I certainly have moments of weakness and I can easily begin to compare or see my body as my enemy while it ages and my tush moves south, hoping to one day join forces with my mid thigh.
This is actually not as big of a fear for me as I am embellishing in my writing. I have a plan, see! A lot of experts say that we should limit our children’s exposure to media, advertising images and the amount of garbage that they see and hear while growing up. Mothers (and fathers) are not to defame or devalue their own bodies and talents especially in front of their children for obvious reasons. I know too many mothers who, even at this age (mid thirties) verbally deject their bodies in front of their children. Many girls remember their mothers as being on a perpetual diet. “Mom just needs to go on a diet, sweetie. Why? Well, her thighs are too big.” Or worse, telling a teenage daughter that her butt is getting too big and “you don’t want her to end up like your fat mamma, do you?”. Easy ladies! To our children we are perfect and flawless. We are also their introduction into how they should view themselves (and for our sons it’s how they will view other women).
I want my plan to go further than just avoiding the problem. I believe that what we expose our kids to really does have a lasting effect but I think there is something missing as we simply try to cut out media and it’s negative influence. My goal is to not only cut the exposure out but to add other elements. I’m not so concerned with what is out there as I am with what is missing. Where is the exposure to real beauty, art, poetry and nature? I think if we expose our children to the good life in it’s lovely and awesome forms they are less likely to feel the void and run towards what is available only on the surface.
Rather than follow the Pied Piper into the sea of bodily insecurities why not raise smart, confident and strong men and women who know how to live within the story? Who write the music or the books that everyone wants to read or who create the art that we want to see; who imagine and create a world with better working gadgets and inventions and who love, help and serve others? We can expose them to the good life without being so afraid of them falling prey to the deadly abyss of bodily insecurities, greed and immorality. Too many youth groups out there are primarily focused on keeping our kids from sleeping together when they should also be telling the stories of young men and women who succeed and draw deep from life. It will give them something to reach for. Another great quote: “If you want to teach people how to build better boats, don’t run them through an exhaustive course on boat making. Tell them stories of far away places”. -unknown author
We never get rid of wrong thinking by trying to pretend the Matrix doesn’t exist. Put another way, we can’t rise above if we’re still focused on the problem, we have to replace the problem with something better and higher, more magnificent. Instead of keeping our kids from bad media why don’t we just expose them to real art and poetry? Read to them from the time they are young. Take them outside to play instead of letting them watch crap with tons of commercials. Let them get bored and learn to create, draw or escape into their imaginations instead of feeding the boredom on a minute by minute basis. Expose them to more amazing possibilities rather than protecting them from the ‘polluted world’.
I realize I may be stepping on toes and touching on parenting practices but these are challenges I am laying down for myself as I raise my little people. I also know this issue is a bit more complex but I’m trying to live counter culture and often our culture’s way of dealing with problems and statistics is to cut out the cause of the problem rather than reaching for something lovely outside of the realm of possibilities. Personally I think this is how God deals with us. God brings more beauty and richness in front of us, shows us the mansion so we will get outside of the shack, and this lets us see what we’ve been missing rather than focusing on wrong thinking or wrong behavior. CS Lewis says, “We’re busy playing with mud pies because we don’t know that a holiday at sea awaits us. We’re far too easily satisfied” (a paraphrase of his quote). Focusing on my junk never gets rid of it anyway, it usually keeps me chained to it. Ironic, eh?
So this is my plan for my kids: I think I’m going to chose to believe there is still a lot of real beauty out there and I’m going to try and expose my kids to it rather than living in fear of what they might be seeing. We’ll still leave the TV unplugged in the basement mainly because we can’t find much to watch that is decent anyway but we’ll show them the DVD of Star Wars because it’s awesome and creative and they need to know that people are capable of creating amazing things when they have the space and courage to create. That’s just one example. Here’s to raising amazing children!