The average American woman is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, yet the average American model is 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs 117 pounds.
-- National Eating Disorders Association
The day that I decided to fight back started just like any other day. As the summer was winding down two years ago, I went back-to-school shopping with my younger daughter, Katie, then 7 years old. The annual shopping extravaganza is always a shock, both to our checking account and to me, when I see how much my kids have grown since the year before. But that summer, the back-to-school shopping experience took on a whole new meaning.
We were browsing through the store when we passed by the women's department. Since I wanted to try on a pair of jeans, I said it was OK for Katie to try on some "women"-sized shirts she liked. I could do my shopping, and she could try on some grown-up clothes. The shock came when several of the name-brand women's T-shirts fit her -- a 7-year-old who weighed 48 pounds, dripping wet -- like a glove.
Before this shopping trip, I knew that the fashion industry made clothing that was a little on the "skinny" side, but until that day, I hadn't realized how twisted and upside-down things had gotten.
We wring our hands and wonder why girls feel so bad about their bodies, but it's kind of hard to pump up your girls about body image when a grown woman's shirt is made for a second grader. The realization of just how distorted society's expectations are became even more disturbing when I witnessed how they've changed my daughters' perceptions of women.
I've noticed that when watching TV with both girls -- now 9 and 13 -- they comment on how a certain actress or model is "chubby." Recently, the American Idol singer Kelly Clarkson had to defend her weight on TV. She sings like an angel, has a successful career, awards, albums -- but the media tells her she's fat. And my daughters, looking at pictures of the star, agreed that she is "overweight."
It makes me afraid for my girls. They look at famous people who are not stick thin and immediately call them "fat." The tidal wave of publicity for "thin" is overwhelming.
I've had enough. I know that, as a mom, I cannot just stand by and watch while people I do not know define for my daughters what it means to have a beautiful body. We tell our daughters that they are beautiful just as they are, but are words enough?
I don't know how other moms combat this issue, but I've begun trying to do more at home to keep my daughters' perspectives healthy and not skewed toward the goal of being skeletally thin. I blog about the subject, I write letters, and, most of all, I make sure I tell my girls and their friends how twisted the modern perception of body image is.
Little by little, I see some progress being made. Back in front of the TV last week, we watched a story about one of the Hollywood starlets du jour. This time, it was one of my daughters, not me, who made the observation that the young woman looked very thin and even sick-looking. Both of the girls agreed that, despite her baubles and fashionable clothes, the starlet looked pretty bad.
One step at a time. It's a hard road ahead, but I think we can make a difference for our daughters if we just take it one step at a time.