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Friday, July 18, 2008

Mom's Pointing Fingers

"Part Two: The Mother-Daughter Dynamic: Notes From the Road"

As I've traveled the country over the last year and change, talking about my book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, I've been struck by how often mothers ask me about two things: 1) Barbies and 2) the media. I wrote about the first buxom blonde enemy last week; this week, I want to tackle the second catch-all monster.

First and foremost, can we talk about this word—media? What the hell does it even mean? I’m convinced it’s one of those terms, like patriarchy, that have been overused, misused, and downright abused until it means almost nothing at all. There isn’t a room full of old, white men rubbing their greedy hands together in a 24 karat gold board room saying, “How can we profit off of women’s insecurities this fiscal quarter?” But listening to some of the mothers’ questions following my talks, you might never know that:

What can we do about the media? Aren’t they the real enemies?

Are magazines just evil? Should I ban them from the house?

I get so angry looking at these stick thin models. How can I keep them from brainwashing my daughter?

For starters, your daughter is probably infinitely savvy about media already. She’s watched America’s Top Model. She knows about airbrushing and the fact that most models actually look a bit like giraffes. She’s probably even—if she’s in school—had a course or two on media literacy. God knows, if she’s made it to the age of 16, she’s seen a Jean Kilbourne movie. She knows the media sucks and she’s highly prepared to process that.
This is not to say that media doesn’t screw girls up, but it is just to argue that most mothers have a very simplistic view of the effects that it is having. The reality show ethos—that with enough willpower or money, any girl could look like Nicole Ritchie—is far more dangerous, in my humble opinion, than the skinny model on the runway.

Girls today are socialized—yes, by media, but also by well-intentioned you—that their bodies are infinitely malleable and that calories and weight, not wellbeing, are the most important measures of a life well lived. You don’t say it outright, of course. You’re an enlightened mom whose read Reviving Ophelia and The Beauty Myth. But next time you tell your daughter, “Honey, you’re perfect just the way you are,” and then turn to the mirror a few minutes later and sigh at the size of your thighs, consider the giant abyss between your words and your actions.

It’s that very intimate abyss, not the media, that is most influential for girls today. Even with the horrors of My Super Sweet Sixteen in the cultural ether.

Next week, no more finger pointing…some proactive tips for moms.

Courtney E. Martin is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, which comes out in paperback this September and a columnist for The American Prospect Online.

This essay is the second of a three part series she wrote for Hip Slope Mama called "The Mother-Daughter Dynamic: Notes From the Road" based on observations on the road about the daughter-mother relationship when it comes to body image issues. You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.