Grandparents are wasted on the young. If my Grandma were alive today, the first thing I’d ask her was whether or not I inherited her bottom. My bottom, you see, is curvaceous. It is not my mum’s bottom, nor my sister’s. It arrived on the scene well after my Grandma was in her prime, and I have no means of comparison.
After a futile decade-long search women’s magazines for women who share my round bottom – and after my own efforts in breeding – I know my bottom must come from somewhere further up the family tree. Our bodies come from our families – from genetics – but our understanding of bodies, and of beauty, is not just limited to family. It is influenced by society.
Yesterday on The Today Show I heard Ita Buttrose speak about body image problems in young girls. She told the story of a young girl (around 8 years old) who believed she was fat. Ita had replied, “You’re not fat, you’re perfect.” She argued that it wasn’t women’s magazines that compromise young girl’s self esteem: this is something they learn from their mothers. I agree with Ita to an extent. But where do their mothers learn to hate – or at least see fault in – their own bodies? When compared to a media manufactured image, the common woman doesn’t measure up.
Furthermore, these magazines line the coffee tables of family homes all over the Western world. Young girls are fed a diet of cleaned up, sanitised images of women’s bodies in print media, television, film and the internet. These images lead them to believe that they can obtain the beauty contained within those images, when really, they will probably grow to look like their mum, their dad, their aunt, their grandpa or their brother, depending on their genetic make up.
My mum has always believed she was overweight, and often dieted. In the same breath that sighed over her own weight, she would turn and tell me how much I looked like her. Same height. Same nose. Same shape. I guess that’s why at age 7 I spent an afternoon cutting diets out of Women’s Day. And at age 10 trying to wake up early enough to catch Aerobics Oz Style on Channel 10. And at 14 spending an entire Summer in a cable knit jumper in a vain attempt to hide my curvy body from the world.
I never bought Dolly or Girlfriend as I teen, I preferred Rolling Stone: it was full of people who lived in the world, rather than holding their breath … and their salad dressing. And if I ever have a daughter, I hope she will make similar choices out of an intuitive sense of self worth.
Most women’s magazines speak to the outer shell of who we are. Even if they dare speak to our inner ambitions or intellect in their writing, they immediately negate this rhetoric by their heavy reliance on advertising for fashion and beauty products.
We need to be careful that the glory box we hand down to our young girls is full of pride and strength, not apologies. For the people they become are the same flawed people we are, as their mothers, their aunties, their grandmothers.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: behold your own beauty, and your daughters will learn to see it in themselves.
Did your mother revel in her beauty? How do you think this influenced your own self image?