My 13 year old daughter, Sophia, is infatuated with fashion. It's my fault. Last July, I was pining over a Burberry coat I found online, showed her the image, and that was it. Ever since, she's been moving rapidly towards wanting to be editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine.
Sophia is very serious about her desire to work for Vogue. She has learned names of top designers and has lightly studied the history of style trends. She has watched the documentary film, The September Issue, more than a dozen times. Her fantasies of meeting the boys in the band Big Time Rush have been replaced with fantasies of meeting Anna Wintour, the current editor-in-chief of American Vogue.
|Sophia with Randy and a $10,000 gown.|
Dialogue is key. Sophia and I talk about images depicted in her monthly deliveries of Teen Vogue. Our conversations usually consists of me asking, “Do you think this is trashy or artful?”
She replies, “Trashy. The girls look too made up and the short skirts serve no purpose. I mean, it's like the purpose is to show their legs and not to show the trendy skirts”
I say, “I agree. It’s oversexualized. I don’t think it’s necessary for the image to be sexy. It ruins the beauty of the skirts.”
When I disagree with her deduction of a photo, I not only tell her why, I point out my reasoning for having an opposing opinion. This can be tricky. For example, she found this photo of Dakota Fanning posing for a Marc Jacobs fragrance ad to be artful.
|Dakota Fanning (photo credit)|
Hopefully you can see my issues with this one. It’s obviously oversexualized and inappropriate. The juxtaposition of Dakota Fanning's young innocent look and the phallic-looking perfume bottle is downright disturbing to me. But I wasn't sure if she was aware of it's inappropriateness. I mean, what kind of former knowledge does she need to have in order to view this photo as inappropriate? I hopefully thought, “Maybe colors make this photo appealing to her. Maybe it’s the vintage look. She likes vintage clothing.”
I proceeded with caution when discussing the young woman with the phallic fragrance bottle between her legs because my opinions were strong and I did not want to squash her willingness to share her thoughts and opinions with me. Too much passion on my part could cut off all conversation. I also didn't want to delve too deeply into a conversation about under age girls in pornography and the many things that could be considered phallic symbols.
These tricky conversations happen frequently. Hopefully, they are helping her to become more skilled as a critical thinker when it comes to viewing images exhibited in her field of passion, fashion. But, I ask, are our conversations enough to combat the multifaceted, underlying negativity in these images? I am only one person who has one conversation with her approximately three times a week. I mean, really. I have a lot to cover—homework, time management, chores, respect and manners--and feel like I stand no chance at competing with the multitude of images that come her way every day.
Last Monday night, as I was tucking her into bed, I asked her about how she spent her free time at her dad’s over the weekend. She told me she watched three episodes of America’s Next Top Model and explained she liked the show because of its clips of photo shoots and not because of the clips of drama between the aspiring models. That was good, I guess. I understand the appeal (I’ve been known to spend the weekend on the couch viewing trashy reality TV). She proceeded to ask me about the winner of Cycle 14, Krista White.
|Krista White (photo credit)|
She said, “Do you think she is too thin? I mean I was comparing her collar bones to Tyra’s and hers stuck out like a whole lot more.”
Collar bones? My girl is observant.
The conversation turned into a passionate lecture given by me which included my opinion of how wrong it was for Tyra to pick someone so thin as the winner. "I mean Tyra Banks has to know these young women are role models to aspiring models at home watching on TV!" Well, it was more of a rant. And it was lengthy.
I did calm down enough to ask her what she thought of Tyra’s body.
She replied, “Tyra is beautiful. She’s normal looking.”
Tyra Banks is anything but normal looking. She is gorgeous. However, I was relieved that it sounded as if Sophia had a trace of a healthy perspective of body image. But I was still worried. Did my rant sound as if I was putting down an industry that has lit her fire of enthusiasm and has inspired her to dream?
Dreaming. Fashion is fantasy.
This post, this topic, has no end in site. It is one that continues on a daily basis as I navigate my way through mothering a fashionista daughter in our media saturated world. It's interesting because I am finding my own opinions of the images I see of women have changed over time. For instance, I used to see Angelina Jolie as the epitome of beauty. Today, I see her as an example of a person who needs to be treated for anorexia nervosa, and whose disease is ignored because our ideals of beauty have become sickly skewed. And it makes me mad. Nevertheless, I hope to not crush any of Sophia’s dreams of being a fashion editor. Heaven forbid I become known to her as, “My mother the dream crusher.”
There’s a balance. I don't know if I will find it. But I won’t give up. The information and connections to others available via the Web make giving up on any parenting issue an act of inexcusable fear.
To be continued. . .
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. For more information visit NEDA.