Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Apparently it's "Daughter's Week"

Seriously, this has to be an American creation. A day for everyone - it's the occasion market's dream. And why not? Surely we are all worth celebrating in our own unique way.

But that's precisely the point. These "weeks" and "days" have very little to do with celebrating individuality, especially not "Daughter's Week".

Currently doing the rounds on Facebook, from "Thinking Out Loud"

Recently I wrote about Goldieblox, the new engineering toy focussed on girls in America and how I abhor the dunning down of girls and the genderisation of toys. The issue has gathered pace and many have now joined to support the excellent work of the "Pink Stinks" and "Let Toys be Toys" campaigns. Rather than repeat myself I encourage you to read my piece, and visit those campaign pages - and not because this week is "Daughter's Week" but because last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

I am not naive enough to think that encouraging pink and pretty causes Eating Disorders - and actually for the vast majority of sufferers neither does the beauty industry. What they do is legitimise behaviours which become entrenched and dangerous. Coupled with the often insidious world of Social Media - as I discussed here - anyone precariously balancing on the precipice is far more likely to descend into the depths of Anorexia or Bulimia. I should know - I've been there.

For me, Anorexia had nothing whatsoever to do with looks, beauty or even weight. Yes, really. For me it was a response to gastrointestinal issues (which may or may not have been similar to those my children have since developed) and most importantly, a means of exerting control in a world I felt I had little say in.

By losing weight, a girl loses her femininity. She androgenises herself. It is a deep and fundamental rejection of what is female and feminine, embracing the asexual and often masculine whether intentional or not. Female hormones are no longer produced as body fat is depleted and curves vanish. Menstruation stops and the figure remains or returns to looking boyish. (This is explored in the novel "A girl called Tim") What is also extremely interesting is that there is considerable evidence of women deliberating doing this in history, (Female "anchorites" in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period) using self starvation as a means of gaining a foothold in a male-dominated world. Their views and opinions were given a level of credence otherwise denied to women at the time.

I believe there is an element of gender in Eating Disorders - Anorexia in particular today. Certainly for female sufferers arresting female development is exerting control over one's body and for many teenagers, whilst this might have little to do with their personal views on their femininity it feels the only part of their lives they have any control over. It is also something which is constantly focussed on, commented on and highlighted by the media.

[There is also considerable credence given to the theory that girls with Anorexia often have Asperger Syndrome, which is more commonly associated with boys. Feeling out of control over their environment, struggling with sensory information they cannot process they attempt to exert control over their bodies instead. ]

The importance of image is everywhere today. And we start them young. Pink princesses, genderising toys and focussing on being "pretty" from the word go. My just-turned-eight year old already bothers about how she looks and one friend at school even watches what she eats. Later on there are the ubiquitous celebrity magazines which photoshop images, run headlines about losing weight, make up, plastic surgery, how to be more beautiful  - as if it is as achievable and desirable as gaining a degree, a new job or learning a new skill. It is not. This focus legitimises the feelings a vulnerable girl might have, reinforced by friends who are all on the same conveyor belt of life.

I believe that by introducing this focus on looks and linking them with positive reinforcement we are setting our own daughters on that conveyor belt. We are telling them that being beautiful matters - and that it matters more than all the other wonderful skills, gifts, achievements and interests they have. Such a superficial focus is not only narrow, but destructive and not only warps girls' thinking but limits their horizons.

My daughter, with a dog she designed and made herself. 
And yes, she's wearing pink. *sigh*

But what does "beautiful" have to do with success and achievement, happiness and identity? I am proud to say I have a talented, artistic, creative, feisty, generous and kind daughter. She is beautiful in my eyes - your opinion is only valued if it is on her abilities and achievements.

So this "Daughter's Week" compliment your daughter on her efforts and abilities, something she has a degree of control over and can healthily indulge in. DON'T make looks a focus. Goodness knows we have little control over how we look - and one day even the most "beautiful" person will fall prey to old age. "Beauty" is subjective, transient and meaningless.


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33 comments:

  1. I don't have a daughter so I am not sure I have any right to comment here. I did have an eating disorder when I was younger, and it was all about control, in a situation where I felt I had none, where I was severely depressed and where I felt like wanting to disappear.
    It was long ago, but when things get too much in my life I can still feel the pull of the not-eating. It is not something that ever disappear completely I think.
    It is something I hope no other person, boy or girl, will go through. Your post resonated with me, and I think it touches on such an important subject in a wonderful way.

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    1. Thank you Orli - of course you have a right to comment! Thank you for your kind words. x

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  2. I agree with most of what you say. I too don't believe that the beauty industry causes eating disorders, but it does send the message that these behaviors are normal. I can by the way relate to the cause of your eaitng disorder. I don't know if by the issues your kids are having you mean ASD, but there is so em evidence that anorexia is more comon in people with autism than in the general population.

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    1. I do have one child diagnosed with Aspergers and two on the spectrum but undiagnosed Astrid - but they also have an inflammatory gut disease which I was referring to :)

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  3. I didn't know that it was eating disorder week last week. This is a subject that is personally close to my heart. I have suffered with both anorexia and bulemia since I was 15. Since I met my husband nearly 4 years ago they have not returned. I find I go, or did go, through periods when I'd be ok but as soon as things went bad the disorders would kick in. At my lowest weight I went down to 5 stone. Now I have a daughter who has just turned 2 and I pray that she never goes through that. I have sworn that she will always feel beautiful and that I will never let her feel as I felt about myself. Thank you for sharing this x

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  4. This is a great post and such an important subject. After having two boys I now have a daughter and I am becoming aware of the minefield I will have to tread through with her. I'm an engineer (although SAHM at present) so I hope that I will provide her with a good role model. I actually wrote about the 'pink is for girls' thing recently. The issues surrounding body image are difficult, I certainly have my own issues, although they are fairly minor so again I hope that I will be a positive influence. We're doing an important job,raising secure happy individuals (I think that a lot of the issues around body image etc apply to our boys too) but a level of awareness of the issues must stand us in good stead. #LetKidsBeKids

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  5. I don't have kids yet but will make sure (if I had ones) to be the best influence I can in their lives ;-)

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  6. I don't have a daughter yet. But I do detest kids being gender typecast and pressurised to look a certain way. And all because some corporate giant wants to make money out of it.

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  7. Good post. I have twin daughters who will be 4 this week. They both are starting to get fussy about what they wear, they like things that look 'pretty'. I am trying to remain neutral to it, as I think they need to find there own way. It is a difficult world to live in and navigate, as parents we need to guide our children, be a good role model and let them be children while they still can.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

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  8. I have a 17 year old daughter, and am sad to say that despite my best efforts, I can see the effect that pressures exerted by media sources have on her. It isn't always a contributing factor to eating disorders, but even for those like my daughter who are fortunate enough not to suffer from those, it does effect her view of her self and increase the pressure to conform and fit in. As for the pink shit- I am the most un-pink person ever, yet when she was small, mine was drawn to pink like a moth to a flame, and I didnt hugely mind her having some pink bits and bobs, but I do feel that they shouldnt be marketed that way, thus leaving them free to be naturally drawn to what takes their fancy, as opposed to by pictures on boxes. My two and a half year old son already says pink is for girls- and those words have NEVER been uttered in his presence by his family- I guess he picks it up at playschool etc. I try to counterbalance by giving him some pink toys....will it make any difference- doubt it! What a ramble, but am sure you will know what I mean!

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  9. Couldn't agree more with everything you say. Unless there is a good cause behind these days, I don't understand the point and I HATE the stuff all over facebook saying "Share if you love your daughter!" why? Of course we do, why do we need to look at your cringey photo to prove that? And why do we need to prove it to others except our actual children? Ugh.

    And totally agree about the toys - only I'm on the other side, my little boy loves things that are "supposed" or rather marketed to be for girls and has long hair. He gets it into his little head that he can't do XY and Z because they're only for girls and gets upset that he can't look after dolls or pretend to cook. None of this is from me or his dad btw, we tell him he can whatever he wants to do. But from this marketing and PINK PINK PINK, he sees a Playmobil set, that's just a little toy kitchen and loves it, but then gets confused as to why there's a photo on the box of a girl playing with it and the box is pink. It's so messed up and so, so sad.

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  10. I'd not heard of daughter's week. But yes, I do compliment my daughter on her abilities and praise her for the things she does. It's a worry that so much pressure is placed on girls from such a young age, and as my daughter starts school in September, I worry that different influences may make it an issue. But I'll be here, reminding her of her talents and abilities, albeit she'll be no doubt wearing pink - she loves it! Great post x

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  11. My eldest daughter is 20 and although she isn't too bothered by her weight, she is bothered about her skin. She has picked up the family trait of moles and has a couple of large ones on her face that she is desperate to get removed but the doctors won't do it. I know it affects her confidence and I do know that all the airbrushed images in magazines don't help

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  12. The media is sending dangerous messages I believe, but it's not just to girls. I keep meaning to write a post on it, as I did my dissertation on it.

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  13. What a great way to celebrate Daughter's week and spread an important message. I have two daughters and while they are too young to care at the moment, it is never too early to lay the foundation for the years ahead.

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  14. I believe if media would change their message... just a little bit... we would have much more healthy kids, especially girls...
    Just turn the TV on and try to spot full size girl... there is hardly any... I am not suggesting that we should be big and overweight but what is wrong with being just a normal, healthy size...10-12 instead of 6-8?

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  15. I'm going through a bit of a tough time with my girls at the moment because they're feeling pressure to look a certain way, dress in fashionable clothes and wear make-up. They're 6 and 8 for goodness sake and they tell me they can't wear a skirt without tights because they're not allowed to shave their legs and they don't want anyone to see them hairy. I thought I had a few more years before I had to face issues like these with them.

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    1. WOW Michelle - that is deeply concerning, that 8 year olds know about and expect to shave their legs? :( Hope you find a way through, these issues are creeping younger and younger.

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  16. This is such a great post. I am a big fan of letting girls and boys dress in any colour and play with any toy. you'd be shocked to see how many parents buy into the gender colour stereotypes. I always try to compliment my friends girls by addressing an ability or their creativity. It is such a shame we are setting up our children to be dragged into the media's idea of beauty x

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  17. Thank you for this post - if only more parents would stand up against the stereotyping of both boys and girls. Did you see that the girl who was in the Lego advert from the 70's (wearing blue dungarees, a T-shirt and old trainers I think and showing off her multicoloured ego creation with not a drop of pink in sight) has been fighting back with regard to the pink and purple Lego Friends range that is now produced. I can't find the article but this one pretty much sums up what she was saying http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/lucy-tobin-forget-pink-lego-for-girls--just-let-toys-be-toys-9128078.html

    #Letkidsbekids

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    1. Yes I saw she was- shortly after I had written my piece on the new Goldie Blox toys. Thanks for commenting. It's such an important message but still genderisation continues unabated

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  18. I have a boy so no doubt it'll be sons week around the corner. An interesting read thank you.
    #PoCoLo xx

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  19. What a great post. I am constantly telling Grace she is beautiful and clever and I really hope this helps her in the power of the media that no doubt she will soon see. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

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  20. I must admit I always tell Kitty she's clever, doing 'good reading', practicing swimming well and so on, praising efforts but I don't think I ever mention her looks. She's really not my 'little princess' - I look at mine as children and not as boys and girls :) x

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  21. Kate, you say "The importance of image is everywhere today." I say, the importance of image has been around since almost forever. I say almost because I cannot speak to the days of prehistoric times. But as soon as people were concerned with clothes, there was body image; so to say that it is more prevalent now, is in my opinion not true. I've been raising my daughter to understand that men and women are different at the very core first, and then as individuals. As they grow, they are affected by everything they see and hear on a daily basis in the home or outside the home. This affects their psyche. If it's one thing I've learned as a mother of 3, two sons, now 30 and 27, and a daughter 22, it is that whatever you teach them as they are growing up, gets packed up and stored away while they are teenagers. I've always said to young parents, "When your children are young, you are physically tired from all the running around you do for them. However, when they are teenagers, you are PHYSICALLY tired from bringing them to all their games, MENTALLY challenged from trying to keep one step ahead of them, and EMOTIONALLY drained from thinking "How can this young person who I bore, and cared for, speak to me in this manner and say these things to me?" There is a quote by anonymous, which had an impact on me. "The two hardest time in a person's life is when they are a teenager and a parent of one." No truer words could have ever been spoken. Since a lot of the comments are about genderizing whether it be clothes or toys, perhaps we should go back to the days of Roman/Greek styled clothing or Middle Eastern. The clothes are/were either robes or tunic like…minimal distinction there, well at least not like there is now. You put pants on boys and girls, but you don’t put dresses on your sons, why? What colors do you buy for your children? Even in the animal kingdom, the male birds tend to be more colorful than the female birds. I think that when we start thinking about what humans are like, we need to look at the animal kingdom, because at the very core that is truly what we are. I am proud to say that I am a woman, I like to dress like a woman, but I like to wear sweatshirts and jeans and get dirty. As for my man, I want a man, a man that can stand up to my woman.

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    1. I don't think body image is 100% new and uber modern, but I DO think it's become drastically distorted and the ideal has moved so far from "normal". There have always been trends and extremes as long as we have had clothes, but we are definitely feeding the more recent over-emphasis on pink and princess, pretty and beautiful. There is no longer the concept of "children's clothes" it's boys or girls. Unisex is virtually extinct in the children's fashion world with a few companies like Polarn O'Pyret still trying to bridge the gender gap. Trying to buy non-pink clothes for a girl today is extremely difficult.

      The importance of image IS everywhere today, more than in the past - mainly thanks to social media and the internet. The fashion world is no longer primarily the prerequisite of the rich or the famous. (And yes, I know about teenagers ;) I have one and one who at 12 is harder work than the 16 year old ;) )

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  22. I was recently surprised at how young body image is actually recognised in children. A child in my daughters Nursery was called fat on 2 separate occasions by 2 different children - it's shocking to think that children aged 3 know the difference. I know the parents of this child and it really upset her and caused her to ask why she was different to her friends.

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  23. Well, that's basically my story, though I was only borderline anorexic, and that was in my late 20s. Since I was already thin, and suffering from SLE, I think it may have had to do with trying to control the Lupus (speaking of feeling like you can't control much). Some studies on auto-immune disorders have shown that fasting sometimes puts things in remission. However, I think I have a touch of Autism--very sensitive to noise and various sensations. And, I've always identified more with my father than my mother. She was beautiful, a model, and impossible to please. I always had the sensation that she expected the worst from me. I've always preferred to wear my hair short. Interesting to try and tease these things out.

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    1. Interesting about AI diseases going into remission with starvation? Defintely when my second son was a low weight due mainly to his autism and sensory issues his AI diseases were pretty well managed. We have several in our family - and my Hashimoto's kicked in when I gained weight :S

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