Yesterday I went to the gym.  Yessiree.  It had been a while, what with the sick kids and exhaustion that has overtaken my body, but I did it.  Charged iPod in hand, I entered the almost forgotten world of treadmills, ellipticals, stairmasters and free weights.  I chose my elliptical machine, spent about 20 minutes untangling my earphones (a sure sign of having spent too much time away from the gym), chose my invigorating playlist and started moving to the beat.  I usually just watch the mouths move on the muted TV in front of me as I work away, but yesterday, the notorious and addicting show, The Real Housewives of the OC, was on.  I’d never seen it, as much as I’d heard about it.  I watched for a few minutes in silence having no idea what was going on, and then caved.  I had to know.  I was full of Wonder.  Who/What/Why/When/Where…. I needed to know.

Within minutes, I was hooked.  I was annoyed during the commercials, aggravated when my phone rang.  And then it all came to a screeching halt when there was a scene that made me want to climb off the machine and cry.  I don’t want to go through a whole synopsis of the show (I’m sure there are plenty of other blogs for that) but what I will say is that the Housewives made me stop and think about the ins and outs of parenting girls.

One of the Housewives (Lynne) had a mother/daughter outing to the plastic surgeon with her daughter.  The daughter is 16.  She’s beautiful.  They entered the plastic surgeons office giddy with exciement. Lynne was there for a consultation for a facelift and her daughter for a nose job consult.  How cute.  What struck me was the way in which Lynne described her daughter’s self image, and her belief that this surgery will solve all of her daughter’s 16 year old problems.

What is debatable here is why she has the self image problem in the first place.  Here is this 16 year old stunning girl living in an environment where her mom is OBSESSED with her looks.  She works out constantly, dresses provocatively to flaunt the many surgeries she’s had, and has friends gathering in her home daily who also rank looks as their number one priority.  Lynne blames Orange County for this way of life.  Looks matter there she explains.  And if you don’t have the “right” look, you just don’t fit in.  (Shit am I glad I don’t live there).  Her daughter is paying the price.  She is not even being given the chance to feel confident with what she has.  I’m not even sure she was given the chance to DISLIKE her nose.  She’s been told, by her mom, by her society that she’s not good enough.  BUT, there’s an easy fix.  Just change what she was given.  Everyone else does.

There are examples that I have witnessed in my personal life where a person believes they have such a flaw in their appearance that they won’t allow themselves to “be”.  I had a friend whose bump on her nose prevented her from EVER feeling comfortable in her own skin.  Was it her parent’s job to continue telling her she is beautiful as she is and “it’s what is on the inside that counts”?  Or was it up to her parents to tell her she had an option.  A choice to have a surgery and “buy” the nose she’d be happier with.  Hand her a new opportunity to believe she is pretty.  My friend got the nose job and it honestly did WONDERS for her self esteem.  I remember suddenly noticing her smile.  I remember her stepping out from the shadows and living a life I guess she was afraid to live.  Because of her nose.

I’m not sure what happened behind closed doors with my friend.  If she held her moms hand for nights on end, crying that she was sad with how she looked and felt her moms arms wrapped around her telling her she was beautiful.  That she was strong and smart and loved by so many friends.  I know that’s what I’d do if Hannah came to me one day sad with any part of her existence.  I’d try to explain how small this ‘thing’ is in the scheme of life.  How her personality and brains are so much loftier.  I’d try to figure out what “really” was at the root of her insecurities.  I don’t know the extent of my friends conversations or how she ended up deciding to do the quick fix. Did her parents throw their hands up in the air and say, “fine, do what you want?” or did she convince them that really, this fix was all she needed to be happy?  In her case, it seemed it was.  It got her moving in the right direction.  It was the push she needed to see life the way she “should” have been seeing it all along.

I’m pretty sure Lynne’s daughter’s case is quite the contrary.  This nose job was most likely at the bottom of a pile of issues she was going to encounter.  Issues that were being handed to her by her mom.  The one that is supposed to be her biggest supporter and helping her choose the path down which she’ll walk.  But as a “support system” are parents supposed to accept and detract attention from their children’s flaws or help them find ways to change them?

I’m not ready to give my answer to this yet.  It’s just something I’m thinking about with my 5 year old daughter sleeping down the hall.  A daughter who all I can dream of, is having her feel self confident and proud of WHO and WHAT she is.  I will do everything in my power to ensure she is.  And I’ll do that by stressing what I think is important in this world.  And by not letting her see my insecurities I have in myself that probably shouldn’t matter.  And that’s what made me want to cry (well not really cry, but maybe scream) on the treadmill yesterday.  How unfair for Lynne’s daughter. It’s all she knows… this “don’t like it, then fix it” philosophy.  And she’s probably never even going to be given the chance to love herself for anything else.  Hopefully she’ll be happy.

At least she’ll have a cute button nose and a mom who looks like her sister to show for it.



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26 responses to “Flawed

  1. I haven’t seen that show, but I read about it also on BLW’s blog. I know how I’ve handled appearance issues with my daughter who’s now 10 1/2. Any time she used to come to me with any concerns that she looked funny or wasn’t the prettiest girl where ever, I told her that everything about her is exactly the way it’s supposed to be and was designed in perfection at the moment of conception: a little bit of mom and a little bit of dad, some of grandma and grandpa, but a master plan for her beauty, inside and out. Needless to say, we just haven’t had a problem since these discussions, except that now she believes everything about her is perfect and never wants to shave her legs!

    • I love what you tell your daughter and I absolutely will be keeping that in mind if/when issues arise with Hannah. A mixture of everyone… just the way she should be. Thank you.

  2. Just loved this post… coming from SITS. Random, but are you going to Bloggy Boot Camp in Baltimore?

  3. Nicki

    Becca – Self-image is a huge issue these days with all teenagers, not just girls. I use to watch RHOC all the time but have given it up. I don’t like the housewives that are there now.

    Kids, sometimes as young as elementary school but definitely by the time they reach middle school, are ruthless. They will pick away at someone. Parenting becomes a more difficult path as we want our children to know they may not be perfect but they are not bad. The problem is that youth thinks perfection is synonymous with good and imperfect is synonymous with bad. This is not true.

    • I am just petrified of the years to come. As bad as it was when I was little, I think it’s worse now. I just want to know that I’m setting my kids on the right track with their self confidence so that they MIGHT avoid some of the hurt.

  4. lz

    This makes me so sad. Having 2 girls, I worry so much about their self-image. Am I doing everything I can to make sure they have a healthy one?
    I have friends who constantly talk about dieting and clothes and makeup in front her their kids, and one of them now has a 7 year old who claims to need to lose weight. Not what I’m going for.
    If one of my girls hated her nose, or ears or something, I’m not sure what I’d do. How different is getting a nose job, compared to say, getting teeth straightened with braces? Sure, surgery is involved, but usually it’s mostly for cosmetic reasons. I’m just not sure about this one…

    • I agree… it’s so hard. And so sad. And so scary. I try to do EVERYTHING in my power to not say negative things about myself in front of Hannah and not make comments about other people in her presence but really, how much can we do as moms? How much comes from us? We do what we can and hope the rest comes from within them…

  5. This issue is so loaded for me. I almost can’t type, my brain is churning so hard.

    I don’t know the answer. But I want to kill that mother who brought her 16-year old to the surgeon.

    I try so hard to tell my girls that it’s the inside that matters most, but of course they are going to worry about their looks. I dread the day.

    But my best friend has ALWAYS hated her nose (it has a bump) and is getting it fixed this spring, at age 40. She is so excited, and I am happy for her. I think by the time you are 21, if you hate something about yourself and can fix it, maybe you should? Maybe?

    Ack! I don’t know!

    • I don’t know either. There is so much more I could have written from a personal perspective but I’m saving that for another day. I think those of us who had difficult experiences growing up whether in our homes or with out friends have a different perspective and maybe some different tactics to avoid some of the pain for our kids. Or maybe it will be that much harder for us if/when our kids go through it too. I don’t know. I dread the day…

  6. crnnoel

    I think 16 is so young to fix a problem… like tkw said, if at 21, that’s a different story… but still a teenager? Wow. So young.
    I don’t know. Maybe because I struggle with a few things in my outward appearance… but I’ve mostly accepted them and moved on.
    Such a big issue right now… and it honestly scares me more for Paige than for Fynn, because I know first hand how girls are, the mean ones anyway. Scary stuff.

    • I definitely think it’s harder for girls when it comes to LOOKS and I think things roll off of boys a little easier as they get older. Then again, kids are kids and they can be so MEAN whether they are picking on girls or boys. but I agree, I am more worried about hannah than luke.

  7. I can only watch that show sparsely because it fascinates me (in a rubbernecking sort of way), but also makes me so, so sad.

    In some minor ways I can relate, I suppose. When do I let my teenager wear makeup (already have started letting her) or highlight her hair, when do I teach her about plucking eyebrows or lightening facial hair? Where is the balance between looking your best and being overly concerned about looks and how am I supposed to TEACH me girls that? Surgery (unless there is a major deformity) is obviously way past the line for teenagehood, and hygiene issues are obviously important to teach. But what about those grayer areas?

    • Exactly. I try not to even let my 5 year old see me shaving my legs. And she doesn’t know that I get my eyebrows done. I just don’t want her thinking that it’s necessary to change any part of herself to be pretty. Of course she’s young and as she gets older I’ll explain and show her more and more but I’m not sure how I’ll go about it. How do you explain that it’s ok to enhance yourself but not ok to change yourself? It’s all so gray and subjective!

  8. Becca, such an intriguing and important question. How do we teach our daughters that they are beautiful, no matter what? That beauty really is only skin deep?

    It wasn’t until I got married that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Yet, I still have moments of not wanting to look in the mirror. I don’t want my daughter(s) to think that way.

    But, surgery? At 16? Wow. Too much.

    • I think so much of it comes from how our daughters see us viewing and talking about ourselves. The more we put ourselves down or the more we let them see us unhappy with ourselves, the more it harms their self image or the more they judge themselves. This is why I’m so careful with how I act in front of hannah. But who knows in the end, how much any of it helps in the end!

  9. Becca, you raise such complicated and important questions here. Self-esteem – especially at it applies to girls and beauty – is such a tricky concept for me and I wonder, as a mother and a teacher, what factors go into it. I’ve always thought of myself as fairly self-confident, but still spent a decent amount of my high school and college years measuring myself by the attention I got or didn’t get from boys. I had loving, supportive parents and still I internalized the message that looks matter. So where did I get that from? What were the sources?

    • I guess it proves that it’s society, not how you’re brought up that effects us the most in this area. BUT, I’m sure your parents laid a great framework for how your self confidence… just think where you would have been without their love and support through those formulative years? It is ingrained in our heads (from society) to compare ourselves to the unattainable or the unrealistic. I just hope to prevent as much of it as I can!

  10. Thanks, Becca. I am feeling lucky lucky lucky to have ALL BOYS right now. Just lucky.

    But if you want to talk about fixing my own flaws? I could use a little help in the boobs and stetch marks department. Seriously, whose body am I in?

    • You should! I think boys are probably at least a LITTLE bit easier in this area!

      And I hear ya… where did that wiggle under my arms come from when I blow dry my hair??

  11. As you (may) know, I do watch some of the housewives shows. And surely they are heavily edited, and they must also pluck rather interesting characters to start with, or those who can be encouraged to let it all hang out – quite publicly.

    All editing aside, watching the Lynne and Frank parenting situation with their teen girls is extremely painful. The preoccupation with appearance on the part of the mother(s), and the apparent esteem issues of the daughters.

    And yet one of the other mothers on the show (who just left the show – Jeanna) had what appeared to be a periodically difficult relationship with one teen son (pretty normal), a good one with the other, and a good relationship with her teen daughter with the usual ups and downs.

    She just this past season decided she had enough of the show, but interestingly, we see her now 17 (I believe) to 23 year old kids and the terrific relationship they seem to have.

    Seeing the 17 and 18 (I think?) year old daughters you mention is indeed painful. Parenting teens ain’t easy, and my impression is that parenting girls, in our culture, is much more difficult. I feel fortunate, especially as a single mom, to have had sons, but even they went through a period of feeling like they weren’t thin enough when they were tweens (I was stunned by that).

    As soon as they were growing taller (they’re both skinny now), it ceased to be an issue.

    Certainly the Heidi Montag cosmetic procedures do nothing to help our young girls feel okay about themselves. And the obsession in this country with an unachievable “perfection” in women (physically) is more than a little concerning.

  12. Concerning. Absolutely. I think the way girls view themselves and others is more than concerning in society today. It seems the problems are happening earlier and earlier. It seems girls have self esteem issues at crazy young ages. And it’s so scary. Kids pick up on Everything. Everything they see. Everything they hear. And they seem to take what they hear and see and internalize it in a negative way too often. I just want to do my little part in preventing some of it.

  13. As the mother of two tiny girls, I appreciate this post. And it alarms me. How are we supposed to know how to handle these things when the time comes? My gut is that we support our girls, remind them of their power and beauty, and help them grow into sensible adults who can make their own decisions? Maybe we should try to teach them that to be human is to be flawed, that flaws are what make us unique and that we should celebrate our uniqueness? Goodness, I have no idea. But thank you for making me think about this.

  14. I also have no answers regarding what may be right or wrong for an individual…but…I spent years and years around the Orange County crowd and I do know this: Orange County is huge, diverse, interesting place full of all kinds of people, cultures, choices, and gorgeous beaches. There are certainly lots of neighborhoods full of snotty, spoiled, rich housewives, but there are huge Cambodian, Indian, Chinese and Hispanic populations there too. According to the OC Almanac there are over a million whites there and a million Hispanics and a half a million Asians. http://www.ocalmanac.com/Population/po39.htm

    Although lots of teenage girls suffer from trying to reach some unatainable and random OC Barbie doll perfection, the fault lies entirely with their parents if you ask me. Los Angeles and Orange County are some of the greatest places in the world to learn about all the different ways you can be, and fit in.

    Its scary as hell, isn’t it? I am terrified about my girl being a teenager even if I feel confident she won’t be surrounded by people who expect her to look like Angelina Jolie. Its so, so good for us to talk about this, and think about it, and accept that we won’t be perfect. We will at least try to look at it head on and raise girls who can make solid choices. Thank you!

  15. It’s so easy to take the high road; to say that surgery is not the answer. But yet with your friend (and friends I’ve known in my own life) one small physical change is the first in a series of significant emotional steps. Who am I to say to these people that they should have to live with unhappiness? I still struggle with cosmetic surgery (and don’t even get me started on teenagers having it done…). But I’ve been blessed with a body that I’m at peace with. And shouldn’t others know the same peace?

  16. Liz

    I am totally taking an easy way out here, and an obnoxious one at that: I’m so glad I have boys. I am. I struggled so much with body issues growing up that I think the reason the Universe did not give me girls is because I would’ve driven everyone in the house crazy trying to ensure they felt good about themselves every second. It’s been such a hard road for me…figuring myself out, apreciating my body as is, appreciating what it can do in addition to what it looks like….I don’t want to have to teach that to daughters, because everyday I am still working on it myself. And as for surgery…I admit I was 100% against it. And then I had kids. And then I aged a bit. And then, well, let’s just say I’m only 90% against it now… I have no idea. Becca, you definitely made us think here.

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