One of my favorite memories growing up is of our monthly household-wide Period Party. That’s right, a party devoted to the menstrual happenings of all the women in the house. My mother was a community health nurse who took care of the pregnant teens at whatever school it was to which they sent the girls who, I assumed at the time, had a serious misunderstanding of menstruation. My father was kind of a hippie. (Side note: The day I got home from my first gynecological appointment, my father greeted me at the door, gave me a big hug and said, “So how was it?” And he really wanted an answer.) And my one brother – bless his heart – was pretty much raised as a girl thanks to the estrogenic influences of being bracketed by sisters. So while the monthly bleeding was never “fun” it certainly was occasion for celebration.
My mom, the alpha female of the house and usually the first one of us know to what was coming, initiated the ritual by giving my sister and I $20, the car keys and instructions to come back with something involving chocolate and Brad Pitt. Often, we stopped to pick up some friends along the way until we arrived home with a bag of candy, a couple of movies and entire entourage of ovulating females. It didn’t even occur to me at the time to be embarrassed – I was raised in a household where I got pamphlets of the female reproductive system handed to me over dinners during which we discussed the grossest thing my mom had seen come through the ER at her hospital job – and even now I look back on those times with fondness and amusement. This memory was the first thing that came to mind as I was reading Dara Chadwick’s new book “You’d Be So Pretty If…” about the relationship between mothers and daughters and body image.
Let me start out by saying that if my mother had written this, it would have been a different book entirely. Likewise, if I had written it. And yet every girl out there has a mother. Or is a mother. Or will be a mother. (Okay, now I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which someone would fit none of the above categories. It’s making me very sad.) And that relationship between mothers and daughters is critical to how girls grow into women and learn to love themselves and their bodies. So the topic is one that bears discussion.
Dara – a sometimes commenter on this site and several others in the fitosphere – uses her experience as being the Shape magazine weight loss diarist for a year as a platform to discuss how her dieting and weight loss impacted her newly minted teenage daughter, Faith. Her writing ranges from the poignant (the book’s subtitle is “teaching our daughters to love their bodies – even when we don’t love our own”) to the educational (the book is chock-full of useful stats and resources) to the cringe-worthy (like when she calls her daughter out a family dinner for wanting another roll).
I loved Dara’s willingness to open up about her own body image issues and her roller coaster weight gain/weight loss and prior eating disorder experiences that so many of us can relate to. I also deeply empathized with her desire to not pass on her woes to her child. Here’s my confession: I’ve always been a teeny bit relieved that I have sons. While I know that boys can and do get eating disorders and are still vulnerable to body image problems, it seems that it is far more pervasive in girls. And when you have as many issues as I do… well, sometimes I just think it’s a blessing that I’ve got boys.
She also gives a lot of good tips on how to mitigate the influence of the media, written from the perspective of someone on the inside. For instance, her weight loss goal during her Shape tenure was to reach 125 pounds. By December she was down to 121 – a fact still reported on Shape’s website – but the magazine failed to say that she had just been hospitalized for 3 days with salmonella poisoning, eating nothing but IV fluids. She uses this opportunity to point out not just to Faith, but to all of us, that magazines are not always what they seem.
Dara’s real credibility in the book however comes not from her Shape mag experience but from the fact that she is a mother. A mother who deeply loves her daughter and wants her to succeed and be happy with herself and yet is still trying to figure out those things for herself. In other words, a mother just like the rest of us.
I have to say that I’m curious as to what her daughter Faith thinks of the book. She was just 13 at the time the book was written but sounds like she was already a beautiful, grounded, smart girl. A lot of the book is based around Dara’s interactions with Faith and trying to help her overcome the hurdles of emerging womanhood. Take, for instance, the classic Swimsuit Dilemma. At one point in the book, Faith orders a swimsuit that has boy shorts. She thinks it’s adorable because that’s what her friends wear. Dara, however, has her reservations. Faith has a build, according to her mother, that is fuller through the hips and thighs (“vaulter’s thighs” anyone?) and therefore not well suited for boy shorts. Dara’s motherly instincts are born out when the package arrives and Faith locks herself in the bedroom in tears. Thankfully the moment is saved as Dara takes Faith shopping and helps her find a suit more suited to her figure than her friends’. The incident got me thinking – several teenage girls and even older women are quoted throughout the book, yet Faith’s voice is strangely missing. Perhaps someday she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps and write her own book?
Whether or not you agree with all of her conclusions, I think this is a great book for generating discussion and for examining the relationships we have with our own mothers and daughters and our responsibility for creating a better body-image legacy for the next generation. I think it would be particularly powerful if read by a mother and a daughter together.
So, do you have a particular image that comes to mind when you think about your mother and body image? Anyone else have period parties??
If you’re interested in reading Dara’s book yourself, I’ve got a copy to give away. Just leave me a comment!