Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Image problems: who is to blame?

I've become a loyal reader of Single Dad Laughing, a blog written by (obviously) a single dad, who has a preschool-aged son. He writes plenty of funny posts, but his "famous" posts are all written about very serious subjects--bullying, self-image, and mean or negligent parenting. If you haven't checked him out, you should.

Today's post also talked about a serious subject--the major self-image problem that runs rampant among women of all ages. He makes a list of outrageously hurtful statement about women, statements that women themselves have said. He calls upon men to shoulder the blame for this, saying that even if men say nice things to the women in their lives, men perpetuate the idea that "perfect" women in magazines and the "perfect" women that walk by and catch their eye are really what men are after.

Single Dad Laughing does an excellent job of presenting this rather sensitive topic, and he issues a call to action for all men to appreciate the women in their lives, and maybe to avoid staring at the girl who is half the age of his wife and wearing half the clothing.

What he leaves out is that there is enough blame to go around. In previous posts, such as the one about bullying, he says that ANYONE can stop the vicious cycle and take a stand. In this post, he pins it all on men to do the work, and mostly for their wives and girlfriends and female friends. It's a little inconsistent, and we would do well to follow the advice that he usually gives, which is that everyone should feel empowered to make change.

Women are notorious for overestimating the thought processes of men. Sorry guys, but I'm on to you, and you're really not that complicated. If a man says that he isn't mad about something, then he probably isn't. If he says that he wants to eat this instead of that for dinner, that's probably what he's going for. Women, on the other hand, will say "no, I'm not mad" and be seething in the meantime, and then get more angry when their significant others don't just KNOW that they're still angry. Not only that, but that their significant others should KNOW how to make it up to them. Women assume that men think that way, and I'm just not buying it. They're not either--men are pretty face-value with their thoughts and emotions.

So if a man says that he looks at certain pictures in certain magazines but is also attracted to his wife, and that there is a clear delineation between the two, believe him. He doesn't really have a reason to lie, and more importantly, he doesn't have the imagination.

Some women have fantasies too. They can dream about a man who is excellent with the children, doesn't blanch at changing a diaper, does almost all the dishes, takes out the trash, loves to sing, and looks pretty darned good for a guy in his mid-thirties. Oh wait--that's my husband. Sorry, girls.

Whether a man reads certain magazines or watches certain movies, and how his female partner feels about that, is definitely up to them. Some women are fine with whatever their husbands/boyfriends choose to read and look at; others prefer that men limit themselves.

Of course, the issue of magazines and movies and websites is just scratching the surface. Single Dad Laughing also talks about men happening to catch a glimpse of something that they like on a woman other than the one with whom they are spending their time. Gentlemen, that's just ridiculous. Don't get caught. Ladies, too--I get that we're married and not dead, and thus can appreciate the scenery, but be sensitive to your companion.

Back to the original question, though: are men entirely to blame for the fact that women feel so insecure and don't love themselves as they should? We can extend the blame to another group of men, in addition to the husbands and boyfriends, and that is the fathers. Single Dad Laughing talks about how important it is for fathers to make their children feel worthwhile and loved. A woman who grows up with a dad who is always criticizing, or a dad who is absent and in her mind doesn't even love her enough to stick around, will likely gravitate toward that kind of man. So she can then be made to feel inadequate just like she was when she was growing up. So, gentlemen, parents of daughters and sons, if you'd like to improve women's collective self-image, start by treating your daughters right. And show your sons how to respect their mothers, because you do.

Mothers are certainly not without blame in this vicious cycle. Women who are constantly dieting and always watching what they eat to the point where they just don't enjoy meals or food-related celebrations anymore are teaching their daughters that women don't deserve to enjoy food. Women have to work so hard to be thin and perfect because otherwise, they're worthless. And yes, ladies, you're teaching that to your sons and daughters.

That's not to say that there is no place for watching what you eat, knowing what's in your food, and eating sensible portions. The best way to teach your children how to eat well and have a healthy attitude about food is to cook for them and with them. Serve them good, REAL, healthy food. Let them know what one serving is supposed to look like, and let them eat that first. Then, if they want more, and their bodies need more food, they'll eat more healthy food. Keep good healthy food in the house and take your kids grocery shopping to pick out their favorite fruits and veggies. But every now and then, get that container of ice cream and serve it for dessert. Go out for a meal from time to time and order the pie when you're done. Go to a party and try a little bit of everything. Single Dad Laughing has a post about this subject too--he said to throw out your scale and eat what you enjoy, when you're hungry, and exercise when you need it, and break the vicious cycle of getting depressed over a number.

Mothers, and fathers: help your children. Encourage them, be there for them, and help them correct mistakes. A bad grade does not indicate that the child is bad.

Women: get out of your own way and get out of your head. If you constantly feel like you're not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, don't clean the house well enough, don't sing well enough...maybe you need to reconsider the people with whom you spend your time. Yes, that includes your husband or boyfriend. Yes, that includes your parents. Yes, that includes your best girlfriend who was always just a little bit thinner and just a little bit prettier, in your mind, and she knows it too (in case you're wondering, no, I don't have such a character in my life). You can help break the cycle.

Men: if you really think that you can get the girl on the cover of Maxim magazine or anyone like her, then I guess your name is Derek Jeter.

What? It isn't? Oh well, I guess you'll have to come back down to reality and accept that if we have to put up with your muffin-top love handles and your hairy back (and no, my husband doesn't have a muffin-top or a hairy back, but plenty of men do), then you can love us for who we are. In turn, we can love ourselves for who WE are and project the image to YOU that we're worth it. There's a better cycle to perpetuate.

I applaud Single Dad Laughing for taking on the absurdity that is the media image of the perfect woman. He really gets deep into this topic of men and the potential for out-of-this-world expectations of women. There was a great running theme on Scrubs (never a bad time for a Scrubs reference) regarding some of the women on the show and, as they enter into relationships, their discovery of when it becomes acceptable to let the crazy out. Because, you see, even the most confident and put-together woman will always have doubts, always have guilt, always be hyper-critical. But when she is with a man who loves her as she is, and is okay with her letting a little crazy out from time to time, she can get past the crazy and not let it rule her life. A man who criticizes, a man who thinks that there's something wrong with her just because she doesn't clean enough or doesn't put out enough or pays too much attention to the kids or whatever else, that's a man who is perpetuating the shame cycle for her.

The bottom line is that we all need to take better care of each other in order for everyone (in this case women but men can fall prey to this as well) to feel valued. It starts with parents letting their children know that they are worthwhile. It doesn't mean constant cheerleading; it means making some time for them, listening to them, finding out what interests them, going to their recitals and bringing the whole family for support, giving them space as they need it, and helping them decide what to do with their lives. It continues with girls not falling into the traps of eating nothing but celery for a week because the other girls are doing it to lose weight before the big dance. And boys getting to know girls as people, and treating them well because that's what they see at home. And then, men and women (or men and men, women and women, but I always got the feeling that there was a little more candor in same-sex relationships) entering into relationships honestly and not feeling like they have to hide everything about themselves.

I will close this with a quote from Gandhi. A little pretentious, sure, but very appropriate: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Don't just wait for other people to improve the ways in which they relate to each other and to you. Start now. Love yourself, and love others without stipulation.

1 comment:

Sarah R said...

Wonderful, wonderful post!

I grew up with an abusive father (who was both verbally and physically abusive) and he told us we were ugly and fat and he said the same things to my mom. Over the years, I started to believe it.

Thank goodness I am above that now, but it was really hard for me to accept myself for who I am and not try and be perfect, because really, what is perfect?

I recently also talked to my husband about how it makes me feel better when he says nice things and we had a major heart-to-heart, so I think we are good on that front now. I was just lacking the emotional part of our relationship, and while he doesn't "need" that, I do. I also consider myself incredibly lucky to have a husband just like yours, minus the singing part. ;) Well, he can sing, but definitely not professionally!