ORIGINALLY WRITTEN SHELLEY PLETT
“It ain’t easy being green”
-Kermit the Frog
Are my eyes too far apart?”
It was a simple question that could have been as innocent as “should I wear a ponytail?” But on that particular day from that particular 6-year-old, it seemed so outrageous.
I’m sure I made too much of it, as she spent the next 15 minutes rolling those eyes as I told her how perfect they were and that they were made just for her face, which is also perfect. And why would you ask that? Where did you get the idea that they are too far apart? Did someone say that to you?
Her question, which I’m still going to assume was random and innocent, came at the same time as a television commercial from the Dove Company about self-esteem ideals in young girls. (Find it at www.campaignforrealbeauty.com)
It prompted me to log onto its Web site and see what Dove was “campaigning” for. One part of its self-awareness push was an international survey on beauty from the viewpoints of young girls and women.
Ninety percent polled said they would change their physical appearance if they could. Sixty-seven percent admitted avoiding certain activities because they felt inadequate about their looks.
After reading those numbers, I started to wonder how our own kids feel. What do the regular Janes, who play and learn alongside my daughters, think about it all?
So, I conducted my own mini-study. There are a couple of major differences between the Dove survey and mine. It polled 3,300 girls and women between ages 15 and 64. My first group was about 100 kids ages 9 to 13.
Another difference is that mine is the exact opposite of scientific and hasn’t been audited or verified by anyone other than my dog, who sniffed all the paper.
I was pessimistic about what I would learn. Initially, I believed some of the messages coming from movies, television and even toys, would contribute to low self-images in these kids.
Once again, it turns out I was the one with the issues. The kids? Not so much.
Eighty-four percent are happy with their bodies and more than 80 percent said they were happy with their weight. Those are pretty healthy numbers.
But no one-age, gender or race aside-can avoid the narrow ideals of beauty. They’re everywhere. Cosmo and People cover girls stare us down as we play grocery-counter Jenga with chips, M&Ms and Captain Crunch.
Even the mild mannered Woman’s Day probably air brushes its cover shots of picture-perfect living rooms, silently suggesting that my decorating efforts are futile and, even if I was willing to drop a couple of paychecks for it, their sofa would never look the same in my floor plan.
Not any more than Nicole Kidman’s Chanel dress will fit my elfin bohemian body. As much as I’d like it to, it just ain’t gonna happen.
Which leads me to my second group of survey victims. I decided that in order to have a well-rounded pool of opinions, I needed feelings not only from the kids’ minds, but also from the adults who are responsible for shaping them. So I sent another survey to a group of adult women ages 18 to 54.
Seventy-five percent said they don’t like their bodies and 100 percent would change something about it if they could.
Now is the time to say that even the most confident people must have moments of self-doubt. It’s no wonder I sometimes freak out a bit when I think about my role in raising daughters. Like other moms, I believe they have to realize how capable they are, there is no alternative. Even if we are blinded by their beauty and potential, we sure don’t seem to see much of that in ourselves.
The longer I mulled over the responses, the more I realized I had buried the most crucial question at the end of the surveys.
The first question “Do you like how your body looks?” isn’t nearly as critical as the 10th: “Do you have someone to talk to about your feelings?”
I think that’s the relevant one.
Ninety-three percent of the kids said they have someone they feel comfortable talking to about self-esteem and beauty issues. Just under half said their main confidante was their mom. (Friends came in a distant second.)
And every single adult respondent with school-age children said yes, they do talk to them about self-esteem and self-worth.
Those are the numbers that will make the difference. Kids are going to feel bad, ugly or inadequate at some point. Here’s hoping they have someone to remind them how good and valuable they are. Or in the very least, someone who can help them laugh about it.
The morning after the night I compiled these hopeful results came with no surprises. Another bad hair day, winter-pale skin in the dead of summer, faded makeup by noon and unshaven legs.
But it’s OK. I have ways around all that. Avoid mirrors. And walk into my baby-sitter’s house after work. My baby runs to me like I’m the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
There’s nothing prettier than that.