Today we went to the grocery store, the kids and I. And at the check out the Boy and the Girl scattered as usual in the direction of the movie displays nearby. They came running to me as I walked out of the store yelling, “Mom, come and look it’s The Diamond Castle.” With princess Barbie as the main character no less.
So I used my standard evasion and said, “Not today. It’s time to go.”
And as we walked home from the store the Girl went on and on about how she wants me to buy her that show someday so that she can watch it. I don’t know what it was today, if I was feeling particularly testy, or rushed or distracted but I chose this moment to completely dash her hopes.
“I won’t ever buy you that show. I don’t want you to watch shows like that. I don’t think they are good for little girls to watch.”
And then there was much sorrow, and loud crying, and also many questions. They all sounded like, “BUT WHY MOMMY? WHY CAN’T I? WHY DON’T YOU WANT ME TO WATCH THAT SHOW.”
And since I had already stuck my foot in it, I decided that I may as well explain it all to them. So I told them about Barbie, how she looks kind of like a grownup woman with her breasts and hips, but how no real grownup woman can really look like her. I told them about airbrushed magazine pictures and little girls who grow up expecting to look like the images they see when they become woman, and learning to hate their bodies and themselves because they don’t look “right”. And I told them about little boys who grow up expecting grown up women to look that way and adding to the way that grown up girls learn to hate their bodies with their expectations.
And then I told them about the girls who hate their bodies so much that they stop eating to try and get their bodies to look more like they think it should. And I told them that some of those girls die because they go too long without eating and their bodies eventually just stop.
The tears had stopped by now.
And then I told the Girl that I never wanted her to feel like being pretty was the only thing that she had of any value. I told her that, while I think she is very pretty, I think it’s more important that she is kind, and smart, and helpful, and chooses to do the right thing most of the time; that she is loving, and funny, and a great person to be around. I told her that I wanted her to watch shows that would help her develop those parts of her self more than I wanted her to watch shows that would make her wish she was pretty in the same way the Barbie is pretty.
Now there were smiles, and some giggles as I mentioned all the things about her that I like.
We went a few more blocks and she asked, “Can I watch that show when I’m a grownup?”
I answered, “I don’t think you will still want to when you are a grownup. But when you are a grownup you will be able to make all your own choices and I won’t tell you what to do anymore. So you could watch it if you want.”
“Yeah,” she said, very seriously, “because when I’m a grownup I will know better and when I see it when I’m a grownup I will choose to live.”
And then she kept saying it all the way home like a mantra, “When I’m a grownup I will choose to live.”
And I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. I hope she does.