From girls to women. From boys to men. As parents, we do everything in our power to ensure our daughters and sons grow up relatively unscathed. It can sometimes feel like a losing battle.
In 2011 I attended my first Blissdom Canada conference. In the flurry of activity, perhaps one of the most standout moments was the screening of the movie, Miss Representation. Perhaps you’ve seen it? Or heard of it? You can actually catch it now on Netflix Canada. It’s a must for you and your tween-teen.
Miss Representation is a wake-up call to those of us turning a blind eye to the epidemic that is body shaming. As women, we bear witness to the flood of beauty and diet and exercise tips day in and day out. (Hey, even I have a Health Guru Pinterest board.) And while we may think we are being awesome at shielding our young daughters from this, the fact remains, we are not. How could we possibly?
Every word, no matter how carefully thought-out, how meticulously crafted, that comes out of our mouths, betrays us. Every action gives us away. While we may not walk around talking about how fat we think we are, they catch us counting calories. And while we tell them we are exercising to stay fit, they see us scrutinizing the number on the bathroom scale. And that’s just at home. What about the pressure to stay thin simply because her peers happen to have a slighter build? Or look a certain way because the magazines, TV and movies deem it so? And what about the internet? Even without a social media account, there’s the bottomless wormhole that is Google.
Think about it. When is the last time you got together with your girlfriends and did not talk about how you “need to lose 10 (or 15 or 40) pounds”? Or how you just couldn’t possibly eat a cookie or slice of dessert because you “didn’t get in a workout today” or you “won’t be able to eat for the rest of the day LOL” or you’ll “have to work out twice as hard”? Why are we so goddamned hard on ourselves?
It’s a vicious cycle; a trickle-down effect.
And not just for our girls. What of our boys? Our boys are asked to process very different messages. The media, even now, mostly portrays men as strong and muscular, fighters, detached, not showing emotion — the veritable tough guy persona, masculine.
Teen sitcoms and dramas feature kids that look like they are in their 20s. Animated, gun-toting superheroes on TV and video games resonate with young, impressionable boys. My 6-year old son has declared that shows like Dora and Diego are ‘for babies’. These are the images they have to look up to from very early on and they are powerful and influential.
The creators of Miss Representation had something to say about that and have launched a new initiative with The Mask You Live In.
Stop crying. Be a man.
Don’t be such a wimp. Be a man.
Show some balls. Be a man.
Don’t act like a baby. Be a man.
At some point, we are all guilty of this and no doubt our sons will hear this and much worse on the playground and on the streets. But what are we doing to change this stereotype at home? Can the damage of these three words be undone? As a mother to both daughters and sons, I look forward to seeing this movie in its entirety as soon as it is available; however, in my opinion, if we want to initiate a change in thinking, we need to begin by redefining what it means to be a man.
So, to my sons:
Embrace someone’s differences. Be a man.
Use your manners. Be a man.
Speak politely and thoughtfully. Be a man.
Be empathetic. Be a man.
Show love and let your heart shine. Be a man.
And you? To your sons? How would you redefine what it means to be a man?