Disgusted, Worried, Inspired

Last night I was watching “Toddlers and Tiaras”, a reality show on TLC where Moms put their young girls in beauty pageants. The girls ranged in age from 3 (THREE!) to 10 in this episode, and each girl was outfitted with some or all of the following: makeup, fake hair, fake teeth, contact lenses, costumes, fake eyelashes. They had to parade around the stage, waving and blowing kisses. Several of the kids complained to their Moms that they didn’t want this or that but their Moms made them, emphasizing that they’d never win without the teeth, contacts, etc.

I watched it with the fascination and disgust that one watches a car accident on the side of the highway. With each moment that passed, each little girl whose beautiful, natural features were made over, covered, altered, my heart felt heavier and heavier. I was near tears and it wasn’t from the growing feeling of nausea in my stomach.

What were they doing? What is the world doing? Three years old with a wig and fake eyelashes? A beautiful 10 year old girl told to wear green contacts because her brown eyes weren’t good enough? Not pretty enough? For once I am struggling to articulate exactly how I feel about this because I am so shocked that I can hardly form coherent thoughts.

It would be easy to pretend that this is all on TV, all separate from us, or even, something only “Americans” would do. But really we know the difference, don’t we? Look around at the girls you see walking down the street. Look how they carry themselves, what they’re wearing, how they talk. Three year olds want to be 15. Fifteen year olds want to be 22. And it isn’t with the innocence that we all tried on our Mommies high heels and lipstick when we were little girls. It is a genuine belief that they aren’t good enough the way they are.

A few years ago I was substitute teaching at a school and a girl in Grade 5 told me her Mom had to use two whole boxes of hair dye on her because one wasn’t enough. In case you aren’t sure, in Grade 5 a child is no more than 11 years old. I told her I had never dyed my hair and her reply was, “Wow, That must be hard”. I told her that I thought each of us was born with the colour hair that looks most beautiful on us. She had no reply, but the look on her face clearly told me that such a statement had never been said to her before. Her own mother thought her 11 year old daughter would look prettier as a brunette. What message is that sending?

I am not a skinny woman. I have hips, boobs, a full hour-glass figure. I’m a curvy Mama. Do I sometimes wish to be thinner? Yes, to be honest, I do. But I have absolutely no desire to be so drastically different from what I am now that I look different altogether.  That’s just not me. Never has been, never will be, and I’ve made peace with that. I am a teacher and last year I taught 9 and 10 year olds. We had a deep mutual affection for each other and a beautiful, healthy teacher/student relationship, particularly the girls and I. As a teacher, I feel that it is my job to be who I am and look the way I do to show those girls that you can be smart, beautiful, funny, loving, successful, and happy however you look, whatever you weigh, and whatever your dress size. I made a point to explicitly tell them as much any chance I had. Most of their mothers didn’t tell them, so if I didn’t I wondered who would. Maybe no one. Ever.

I feel so passionately about this.

As teachers, Aunts, sisters, neighbours, friends, cousins, Moms and as WOMEN, we have a job to do.

So stop facebooking about your weight, your weight-loss, your diet. Stop losing sleep over the boston cream donut you indulged in with your Timmies this morning. Don’t eat differently in front of your new date to seem feminine and dainty. Be healthy, be happy, be yourself. Make peace with your huge hips, or lack of boobs, your big nose or your small feet. Love yourself the way you are today. Wear what fits and what is comfortable – tear out the tags if you have to. Look in the mirror and smile. (When was the last time you did that?) Love yourself. Love yourself harder than you ever have before. Then spread that love, that healthy self-esteem, that appreciation and respect for yourself to every girl and women you know.

And if they don’t get this message? Then what?
They need it.
And so do you.