Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Self-Esteem and Seattle's Girls

"Does my butt look fat in these jeans?" She asks as she looks at herself in the mirrored closet doors. She turns her body to see as much of her backside as she can and is faced with an uneasy feeling of dread. She's proud of the fact that she can fit into these boot-cut, Gap, size 8's after giving birth to two children, but still, not good enough.

She takes the jeans off, lovingly folds them and places them on the highest shelf of her closet, vowing one day to lose enough weight to wear them comfortably and feel good about it.

In high school, I weighed no more than 110 pounds, at my heaviest. I am 5'6". I was so tiny that the small-waisted jeans with the zippers on the legs (come on, we all had them!) were way too short because, in theory, they were proportioned for a girl at least 4 inches shorter than me. Although at the time, you could have called me a "waif" and I would not have believed you. I would have pulled my International News sweatshirt lower to cover my "fat ass" and turned in the other direction, glancing at my Swatch watch, walking as fast as my unlaced Keds could take me.

Oh yes, I was that girl.

Not much has changed since then, besides my weight. I've gone up and I've gone down. I've rested comfortably in between. But never, ever have I ever looked in the mirror - even fitting into size 8's after squeezing a nearly 10 pound baby from my nether regions (what I would give to be there again!), and been happy with what I saw.


I've never had an identifiable eating disorder, although I've wished for one on many occasion. I even considered just how much weight I could lose if I did, wondering if you can catch an eating disorder from watching too much Project Runway or the new 90210 as I took another bite of Chunky Monkey. If I'm lucky enough to catch a stomach virus that my kids have brought home from school, my first thought is not "I hope I get over this soon," it is "I wonder how much weight I can lose from getting sick?"

Houston, we have a problem.

My story is typical. I am not unlike most of the female population in that I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable in my skin. The only moments when I praise my size are in retrospect, when I look at my image in photographs that are many years old and I wonder why it was that I thought I was so horribly overweight? I know this about myself and that is why I so desperately want to avoid passing this on to my children, especially my daughter.

Seattle-area girls are not immune to the national epidemic of not loving their bodies either. According to "Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem:"

  • Two thirds of girls (67%) in Seattle believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members

  • 62% of teen girls in Seattle reported engaging in negative activities, such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying,smoking, or drinking, when feeling badly about themselves
    The self-esteem tipping point happens during the transition to teenage years, resulting in loss of trust and communication with adults

  • Parents' words and actions play a pivotal role in fostering positive self-esteem in girls: The top wish among girls in Seattle is for their parents to communicate better with them, which includes more frequent and more open conversations, as well as discussions about what is happening in their own lives.
There you have it. Now, what do we do about it? For the past several years, I've seen the commercials, I've seen the ads in magazines, and read about the amazing, empowering and important work of the Dove Self-Esteem Project and The Campaign for Real Beauty. Thankfully, this group has been gaining momentum, doing outreach for girls all over the country and conducting self-esteem workshops for women nation wide (there is one coming up December 16th, in Seattle, click here for a link to more details).

They've released yet another eye-opening video about the state of our girls - remember the one about beauty? Take a peek:

We can't control the media, even though we can influence it if we try hard enough. We can control how we communicate with our daughters. We can be better role models and show them how to love themselves, their bodies, no matter what their size. We can encourage them to be healthy, strong and beautiful all at the same time. Educating ourselves, attending workshops, and communicating, with the help of companies like Dove, I really believe our daughters will be in a much better place than we ever were.

*Cross-posted at Seattle Mom Blogs

I'm giving away a brand new copy of the book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection Is Harming Young Women, by Courtney E. Martin.

If you'd like to have your very own copy of this book for yourself, or to give away as a gift (it makes a wonderful gift for anyone with daughters!) - just leave me a comment on this post by Friday, December 12th (that's 10 days from now).

I'll then pick the winner over the weekend and announce the results on Monday, December 15th.

Enter as many times as you like.

Buying me a latte will not increase your odds of winning, but buying me an Electrolux washer and dryer will guarantee a win.

The winner will have to trust me with their mailing address. I promise not to sell it to telemarketers or political campaigns. Pinky swear. Good luck!


Every Day Goddess said...

I worry about this subject every single day! So much more with a girl than a boy. I hope I don't pass down those negative feelings to her. I love the dove commercials, I support their products because of those commercials!

Chris O said...

Funny you should be blogging about this. I'm a Girl Scout Leader of ten 8th grade girls. We are starting the Uniquely Me program this week called Mirror Mirror. This program was developed for the Girl Scouts through the Dove Self Esteem Program. It's about inner beauty, overcoming the media's preceptions on beauty and being comfortable with yourself.

I'm a huge supporter of Girl Scouts and of Dove.

Jen said...

I just did a post on this very subject. I can't believe I ever thought that I was heavy when I was in High School. My weight now is probably still in the normal range but definitely at the upper end of the spectrum. I guess I just don't like the trend that I've been seeing now that I'm in my thirties. The number just keeps going up and my jeans just keep fitting tighter. It isn't that I think I'm huge, I just know that I'm not living a healthy lifestyle and now I'm seeing the consequences.

I hope to win this book because I really want to see what I more I can do to prevent the "never thin enough" syndrome from setting in with my daughter.

The Scott Family said...

Wow. What a great topic, and a tough subject for all of us. As a woman who struggles with my own image, mom to a girl and a 7th grade teacher, I am constantly trying to find ways to "break the cycle."

Thanks for sharing your own struggle and your words.

Liz said...

What an awesome video. Definately enter me. I'd love to read this book!

wyliekat said...

Oh gawd, do I think about this, all the time. As much as I adore what Dove is doing, there's a cynical part of me that thinks - sure, when are they going to go back to the "tried and true" Beauty Ads?

But I try and quell that, and fight the battle with whichever allies I have, even if that changes from time to time.

My mother is a psychologist, and has some very tidy ways of managing this. She was telling my stepdaughter how beautiful she is. And then, alluva sudden, she asked her "do you think people can tell that you're smart when they look at you?"

Such a nice way to make a girl think, without making her feel bad.

Auds said...

I can't even read this without bursting into tears.

I am on the other end of the spectrum and have been for the last 22 years. It's devastating. The worst part is, I have unwittingly -- because I don't want my own daughter to be obese and go through what I have gone through the last 22 years and more recently on a job I was working at -- caused both of my girls to watch everything they eat and question how attractive they are.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

You've tackled a big issue here. Good for you, and good job.

Cindy and Co. said...

I have a 15 yr old daughter that is struggling with self esteem issues. Unfortunatly so are all of her friends. I must have been odd in school, I never cared what people thought. Still don't...lol. Win or not I am going to look into this book. Thanks!

Maggie, Dammit said...

Yeah, it's definitely not just Seattle girls.

And I'm raising two of them.

And I'm terrified.

Momisodes said...

Such a poignant post. This is something that weighs in the back of my mind for my daughter...and she's only 3!

Thank you for bringing this subject to light.

Rachel said...

Wow. This is closer to home than I'd like to admit... And with 3 daughters of my own, I think that book may be a necessity, win or no win.

I've nominated you for an award on my blog. It's no Electrolux, but it can't hurt my chances, right? ;)

Julienne said...

As a woman who has struggled with her weight her entire life; I was fortunate to have a Mom who (though always thin herself) never made me feel lesser than. She figured I'd find my own way and was terrified of my turning to an eating disorder to "fix" myself. I ended up getting a second degree in Dietetics and am slowly losing weight (the healthy way).
One of my biggest fears is passing on any of my own poor behaviors with regards to food. I don't have children yet, but my husband and I have actually talked at length about this very issue.
I hope to bring our children up with a self-worth that helps them fight the negative images with which they are bombarded. Thank you for this post and the opportunity to win this wonderful book. :-)

Manic Mom said...

I try hard every day to show my kids how Special & Beautiful they are. As you know, my childhood was the opposite. I don't want them to be in their thirties trying to repair their self esteem.

monstergirlee said...

Good post - I am really trying to help my daughter grow up happy, have healthy attitudes towards eating, and know that she is a worthy and wonderful person. Well, same with my son but I do worry more about Herself.
Thanks for the post.

Christy said...

I think about this all too often, and can relate to never feeling good about myself except in retrospect. It's crazy...and we know it's crazy...and yet, we still fall into the same pattern of thinking.

This is such an important topic--thank you for writing about it. We all need to be concerned about this--for ourselves, our kids, and our communities.

painted maypole said...

but my daughter MUST be perfect, just like me!

just kidding.

but perhaps I could use the book. ;)

Angel said...

I'd love to read this book.

My daughter is 10 and I worry about this daily. I worry about some of my language and the effects it may/probably will have on her.

"I'm not going to buy any clothes at this size. I'm going to lose this baby weight."
Duh. Smacking myself after the fact.

Thanks for the opportunity. Great topic, great post.

monstergirlee said...

Entering again for the sake of my daughter.

Joleine said...

I would love to be entered, for my goddaughters... This book would be amazing for them, they're 7, 8 and 9 and have a new baby sister on the way. Thanks for the opportunity :)

Every Day Goddess said...

I thought I would try again, number 1 never wins!

Liz said...

Just re-read this post. It says we can enter as many times as we want. So umm....I'm entering one more time! It can't hurt, right? :)

Angel said...

Thanks for a great giveaway! I'm entering again.

Anonymous said...

I lost 13 lbs in only two weeks by obeying this one easy rule