I was doing a workshop a few months ago for teen girls. As my partner, makeup artist Melissa McNamara, and I were talking to the girls, the topic of “thigh gaps” came up. The thigh gap is that space between the thighs and the “gap” is what’s desired. Apparently, the bigger the gap the better. The girls we spoke with (and they were all girls, ranging in ages from 12 to 14) shared with us that many of the girls at their school were obsessed with thigh gaps, risking proper health so they could be skinny enough for that perfect “gap.”
In a recent blog for The Huffington Post, Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of children and teens, had this to say: “One needs only to look at various websites to see that this is a far-reaching concern. Apparently, this started trending after the Victoria Secret fashion show in December. The teen girls just don’t want their thighs to touch. This odd obsession is certainly being fueled by social media like many other teen trends both positive and negative.”
I feel as though there is a kind of tug of war in consciousness going on between what we, as adult women and mothers want our young girls and daughters to emulate, and what the media wants our young girls and daughters to emulate. But it goes deeper than that.
I am a mother of a 15-year-old girl and I want my daughter to see that her beauty comes from within. I teach her that what makes her unique is what makes her beautiful. I nurture her talents and stress healthy body image as opposed to “Hollywood” body image. Being a good role model is very important. Our daughters mirror us.
This means that we need to be vigilant about how we talk about ourselves—because if we tell our daughters that they are perfect just as they are and then talk about ourselves in a negative way, what sort of a message are we sending them? Our own low self-esteem influences our daughters more than we know.
Have you ever tried on a dress and looked in the mirror and said, “God I look fat?” Or perhaps not wanted to go to the pool because you don’t want to get into a bathing suit? Or looked at a piece of pizza, saying, “I can’t eat that, I’m just too fat.” How about looking at your daughter as she becomes a young woman and comparing your body to hers? It could be as innocuous as, “You can wear clothes like that. You’re young.” What are these seemingly innocent statements saying to our daughters?
Our daughters look up to us. We are their role models. When they are very young, we are their world. If we denigrate ourselves to them, we are calling into question all that they see as real.
As my daughter continues to separate and individuate from me, I try every day to encourage her and support her. Because we live in a culture that perpetuates the idea that our beauty matters most (and yet the beauty that the media promotes is by and large unattainable and manipulated), I stress to her that beauty comes from the inside—that she can express herself through her way of dressing, her interests, her sense of humor, her intelligence, or her compassion. She is not defined by her looks. Beauty is so much more.
And, as I’m telling her these things, I am checking myself at every turn. I look at my behavior, because I know she is watching me. Children are experts at weeding out the truth. They can sense what is false.
I want more than anything to empower my daughter as she becomes a woman. I want her to be strong, and fearless, with a sense of self that is unwavering. Therefore, I must change my world as well and mirror that back to her within myself. I must learn and acknowledge that aging is beautiful. I must learn that I can still wear a bathing suit and not be embarrassed by my 57-year-old body. I must appreciate that I can eat and be healthy, giving up the “thin is better” mentality for “food is good for me and I enjoy it.”
It is our responsibility to show our daughters the way: that there is a difference between a “thigh gap” and a healthy sense of self. That they are beautiful just as they are—just like their moms.
This article was originally published on Holly’s SpeakingOfBeauty.tv.