Updated: Jan 14, 2019
Lessons We Teach Our Daughters
~ A Boudoir-Adjacent Discussion on Female Body Image ~
I have something to say today — something that is part rant, part soap-box speech, and part desperate plea. It’s not strictly about boudoir photography, but it is most certainly relevant, as boudoir photography has the potential to bring up a lot of feelings, both good and bad, related to a woman’s self-esteem and body image.
But first, a little background on what got me thinking about this subject: A colleague and I were out and about in the world a few weeks ago, discussing the business of boudoir photography with a bunch of Apple store employees, when one of them (a woman, by the way) asked, “Do you ever get any clients who really SHOULDN’T be naked?” It’s not the first time I’ve gotten that question. My answer, with a calm demeanor and a smile, always goes something like this: “Everyone should be naked. Everyone has beauty, and it’s our job to make them see it, and to capture it for them.”
And now, for what I initially came here to say, from the perspective of a boudoir photographer, a mother, and a woman who has been everything from obese to bulimic…from out of control binge-eating to starving and compulsively over-exercising…from diet-pill addicted to post-partum depressed and glued to the couch for months on end…and of course, everything in between… Here it is… Where body-image is concerned, the most important thing we can do for our daughters (or, the next generation of young women, if you don’t happen to be a parent) is to never let them hear us say a bad thing about our own bodies… or anyone else’s either.
Let me be very clear about what I am saying here: No, it’s not cute or funny or acceptable, no matter how much you dislike someone (or, ahem, envy someone), to put her down (to her face OR behind her back) based on her body shape or size…or anything related to her physical appearance for that matter. Even if you think a woman is fair game because she is a celebrity, if your daughter hears you putting another woman down because of her weight, size, shape, nose, chin, acne, WHATEVER, she gets a whole mess of negative messages:
Women in our society are all too often valued for (or de-valued for) their appearance, above all else. Therefore, we get the message that our appearance is where we should focus all our attention, even to the detriment of developing our minds and hearts and moral character. People will talk about you cruelly if you’re anything less than physically perfect (whatever the hell THAT is). All that stuff Mommy tells you about not judging a book by its cover and how it’s what’s on the inside that counts? Well, that’s BS. Mommy is a liar and a hypocrite. When you put down that other woman in front of your daughter, you are telling her, ”This is what I (and everyone else) really think of YOU.” (This is the worst one of all, if your daughter somehow, secretly or otherwise, identifies with the person you just cut down …yes, even if it’s YOU…with whom she probably identifies the MOST).
While we’re on the subject, a woman being exceptionally fit, or exceptionally thin, or exceptionally beautiful does not make HER fair game for body-shaming either. I know we “average” or curvier girls find it really easy to say things like “REAL women have curves” (Um, I’m pretty sure ALL women are REAL women.) or “Only a dog likes a bone” (Let me tell you, I’ve talked to a lot of men about this – Some like skinny, some like curvy, some like short, some like tall. There truly IS a lid for every pot.) or “Too many muscles. She looks like a man.” (This is ridiculous. Muscle is healthy and makes us strong, and men do not have a monopoly on health and strength.) or “Somebody get that girl a cookie.” (OK, I confess, this one doesn’t bother me as much, because who wouldn’t like a cookie at any given moment?) My point is, when we say these things, we are only reinforcing the idea that there are “good” and “bad” bodies. We are sending mixed messages to our daughters. We are going against everything we say we want, like female empowerment and mutual support, stronger female friendships, and a positive body image for every little girl (and every grown woman).
We have no way of knowing all the details of a person’s life experience, body image issues, mental/emotional health status, metabolic disorders. We don’t know the battles she fights every day. But we do know what’s nice and what’s not. We do know what sets a positive example and sends a positive message. And hopefully, we all can take a moment right now to realize and remember that every single moment we live, every single word we speak, in the presence of a child, is teaching that child. We must choose those lessons carefully.
So, the next time you think about calling your annoying co-worker a “fat-ass”, or snarking about a celebrity’s weight gain, or saying “THAT woman reeeeeeaalllllllllly shouldn’t be in a bikini”…think to yourself, “If my daughter (or niece, or any impressionable young girl) overheard me saying this, what message would she get from it? If you can’t answer that question with “a positive one”, then consider keeping your yap shut.
Seriously, Cut. It. Out.
And now, I leave you with a visual celebration of feminine beauty, which, as you can see, comes in all ages, shapes, sizes, and skin tones. You’re welcome.