Passing the Torch

Debbie says:

In the comments to our post “The Things We Can Control,” Pearl points to an interesting blog entry by Rachel Apanewicz-Delgado on her own body image as it relates to working with her daughter’s Girl Scout troup.

I’d love to have Laurie here to blog this with me, because it’s about parenting, which she has done and I have not. But here I am.

When I read, “‘My Mother doesn’t think she’s pretty,’ my daughter shared as we sat at the round table and discussed self-esteem at our last Girl Scout meeting,” my first reaction is what a huge disadvantage our children face, when so often the messages they need to hear are ones their parents, and teachers, and peers need to hear just as desperately. I find myself wanting those girls is to be in touch with adult women (and other adults) who aren’t sweating their own stuff, aren’t needing to use Girl Scout time and energy for their own issues, people who can convey and transmit self-esteem and love of one’s body with confidence and surety.

It’s not just a girls’ issue: boys need the same things. Nothing beats exposure to strong, confident role models.

But that’s just a first reaction, and not a complete one. Rachel’s struggles are endemic in the culture, and emphatically not her fault. As long as internal strength, confidence, and comfortable self-esteem are limited resources in the culture, Rachel is doing the best work that can be done. I’ve often heard Laurie say, “The truth is never bad for children.” I give Rachel a great deal of credit for admitting her troubles with body image and self-esteem to her daughter, and more credit for being willing to work with the Girl Scouts on an issue where she’s not comfortable herself. She could so easily pretend that she was teaching them something she knew about, and in all probability they would know (perhaps without knowing how they knew it) that this was just more bullshit. This way, they’re getting the genuine article, and learning something about honesty into the bargain.

5 thoughts on “Passing the Torch

  1. I’m commenting to the previous articles–when I said that the Cathy cartoon (a woman’s body is briefly “perfect”, and then she gets pregnant) showed an anti-biological attitude, I meant that if pregnancy causes such a decline in one’s value, then you could end up with no next generation. Can a whole species win a Darwin award?

    I wasn’t comfortable with Laurie’s theory that people are trying to exert more and more control over their bodies because they feel less and less control over their circumstances. Do people really feel less control now than they did during World War 2?

    Imho, part of what’s happening now is that we’re remarkably rich. This doesn’t mean we have to do extreme things, but does mean we’re better able to afford them than previous societies were. Neither bulimia nor body-building could be at all common if food weren’t so cheap.

    I think we’re in a self-amplifying process. Beauty has come to include an element of surprise–the beautiful person is amazingly thin or muscular–this keeps moving the idea of what’s beautiful toward standards of increasing artificiality.

    From Mary Whitehouse’s article in _Bone, Breath, and Gesture: Practices of Embodyment_ by Don Hanlon Johnson:

    In our time, there is a widespread repression of all physical emotion, that is, all bodily expression of joy, grief, anger, affection, fear, and an equally widespread fascination with the body’s appearance and function….The less the body is experienced, the more it becomes an appearance; the less reality it has, the more it must be undressed or dressed up; the less it is one’s own known body, the further it moves away from anything to do with one’s self.

    This feels right to me, and I’ll add that as the process of disembodiment exacerbates itself, people even lose track of how their appearance affects other people–frex, women who look ok or better to those around them, but who see themselves as ugly, or anorexics who are starving themselves to look right, but are horrifying everyone who sees them.

  2. Yes, yes, YES. While any given child — any given _person_ — may not be ready for some truths at some points in their lives, and while some truths have to be simplified until a certain level of mature understanding has been reached, lies are never good for them — not even the one about Santa Claus.

    We cannot help our children solve the problems we are bequeathing to them by pretending that we have already solved them.

    There are some problems each person has to solve for him/herself, though … (“Take this letter that I give you;/take it sonny, hold it high./You won’t understand a word that’s in it,/but you’ll write it all again before you die…” [Queen, “Father to Son”]) Identity is almost certainly one of them. Self-respect, probably that too.

    Ultimately, if we (whether male, female, gay, straight, fat, thin, pink, brown, tall, short, smart, dumb, or whatever) take our image of self, from “society,” we’ve already lost, no matter what role we have in that “society,” no matter what “society” we are privileged to inhabit. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous remark, that nobody has the right to make you feel you inferior without your permission, is really just the beginning — nobody has the right to define you in any way without your permission.

    Yet … we all necessarily define ourselves against “society.” Definitions require context, and the context for human beings is other human beings. (Who are you when you are totally alone, and what does that mean?)

    It’s early in my morning and I’m rambling, but this seems relevant, to me, to the central issue you’re discussing here. Or, rather, the issue I’m perceiving as central; the issue of how parents and other adult role-models can help or encourage kids to grow up with a decent sense of self.

    Debateable question: does a baby have a sense of self? Having observed two in great detail I’m not at all convinced that they do … or that they don’t. This is relevant because of how it bears on the parental role in defining the child’s sense of self. Much research still needs to be done here.

  3. There’s a lot to say here but I’m just back from a show and exhausted and jet lagged so this is a very quick and I hope coherent comment (probably filled with typos).

    Nancy and Dan’l

    “As our the world _seems_ to be slipping further and further out of our control”, was not intended to reflect reality but rather people’s perception of it. I agree with you about the realities.

    There’s a lot to comment on in both of your posts but I’ll have to wait til I have more brains

  4. I wanted to clarify some comments or observations about the post I made on my blog that was quoted here.

    It was a unit on “Loving Ourselves”–it’s a badge. We did exercises for this badge. Yes, I developed the exercises based on what I thought were the needs of the group. I was not wasting the time of the girls by having a group therapy session for my own benefit. If that was your initial perception, it probably stems from a lack of knowledge about the Girl Scout program.

    It was an exercise on self esteem. I was not about to lie and tell the girls that I have great self esteem. I want the girls to see that I am still growing as an individual–no one on this planet “has it all together” no matter what they may say, think, or write. We’re all growing, changing, and evolving, or at least we should be.

    However, I’m not a victim of society or society’s beliefs. We control our destiny, our perceptions. Not society. I choose to buy into the politics of beauty or not–it’s free will.

    I’m a women’s studies minor and quite well versed in the reading on the topic of body image.

    I also disagree with your statement that the girls should be in touch with women who aren’t “sweating their own stuff.” What is that supposed to mean, precisely? All of us have issues–all of us are human. It is my responsibility as a Girl Scout leader to address the concerns of my girls–self esteem is a huge issue for ten and eleven year old girls. My exercise had them think about what they consider beautiful and why–and not to let what others say about them change their self perceptions. I’m not perfect–does that mean I shouldn’t be in contact with the girls?

    You’re right–the girls can see through bs and would know if I stood there and said I didn’t have self esteem issues. It takes quite a bit of strength of character to admit a flaw to a group and to work with the girls on developing their own sense of self love.

    All of us have self esteem issues whether or not we’re willing to admit to them!

    I am a role model–flaws and all! I am a single Mother giving of her time showing the girls that women can have a career, can be well educated (I have a Master’s degree), can take care of themselves and can give back to society. I am precisely the type of woman you want standing in front of pre-teen girls. I am a survivor! I have more internal strength and strength of character than you can even fathom. Don’t judge these internal qualities because I wrote that I don’t find myself beautiful. They don’t equate.

    This isn’t theory, this is my life–and I am willing to share my life with the girls as a volunteer. Volunteers deserve credit for the willingness to give of themselves to others–no one is perfect and everyone has issues of one sort or the other. I don’t see too many of Maslow’s self actualized individuals running around this country…

    It’s not a perfect world. We can make it better by volunteering. If you have something to share with others and “have it all together,” then by all means go out, volunteer, and lead.

    I am proud of my work with Girl Scouts–and I am proud of who I am as a person, flaws and all. I don’t just write about change and making the world better–I try to do something about it, and I hope to grow in the process.

    I challenge you and your readers to do the same–just don’t sit and theorize about how we need to help kids get better self esteem. Go out there and help them help themselves!

    Thank you.

  5. Rachel,

    You do important work, which both of us respect.

    We agree with you about volunteering, and we both do volunteer community work.

    We regret that you found our comments deprecating; that was never our intent.

    Debbie and Laurie

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