Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hey, There, Pretty Brown Eyes

The opening chords of Cody Simpson's newest song came on Radio Disney, and before I could lift my hand to change the station, my daughter piped up from the back seat: "Don't change it, Mom! I like this song!"

Apparently my daughter and her friend had heard this song waaaay before I had the chance to, because I could hear their little voices crooning along with Cody:

Hey, There, Pretty Brown Eyes
Whatcha doin' later tonight?
Would you mind if I spent a minute with you?
It's no different from any other tween love song, but the chorus isn't what caught my attention. It was this:
This girl she came round the corner
Looking like a model
Magazine figure
She was shaped like a bottle
Long straight hair...
What does it even mean to be "shaped like a bottle"?
These lyrics were being played straight through my car radio speakers and into the ears of my impressionable passengers, who were singing along with all their little hearts could muster. And I was angry. True, these lyrics are similar to almost every other Justin Bieber or JT song out there--it's all about looks and sexual attraction--so I don't know why this particular song did it for me, but it seems so very blatant. Here this kid from Australia, who is handsome in his own right, is singing a song directed at 10-16 year old girls about how they look. In my estimation, he's making his fortune (and his fame) by preying on the emotions of 12-year-old girls. Sickening. Many girls at this age are already swimming in a sea of self-doubt and body-image issues, and these lyrics only confirm the fear that drove them there in the first place: You MUST look like a model to be pretty. Period. So these beautiful little girls set themselves up for failure over and over again as they set out to do the impossible: look like a model, while they try to catch the eye of the boy down the street.
The thing is, some of those girls will never figure out that the models on the pages of the magazine that Cody Simpson so blithely refers to aren't even real. They are air-brushed. They are made-up. They have all the right lighting, all the right make-up, and all the right photographers. It's an illusion that we women believe is real, and some of us strive our entire lives, using plastic surgery, make-up and any other cosmetic device we can get our hands on trying to get there. And to perpetuate that image is as destructive to our girls as it is to our own souls.
So, I asked myself, am I going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
And if I'm going to be part of the solution, what does that even look like? How do I make my voice rise up louder than the voices of the millions who embrace and propagate this message? How do I convince my daughter that she is beautiful regardless of what Cody Simpson has to say on the matter? And it doesn't only affect the girls that I know. How do I teach my son to respect girls and to not accept or dismiss them based solely on how they look?
I can ban all songs from my car, sure, but that's just a temporary (and unreliable, with iPhones, iPods and iPads in the hands of young people) solution. I can talk to her about real-life expectation versus fantasy, which is what most of pop culture is, but I'm not sure that she hears me. She knows that I think she's beautiful, she knows I always will, but that doesn't stop her from watching the world around her and wanting what it proliferates as "good" and "fun".
In the midst of the angst of it all, I came to this conclusion: It starts at home, and it starts with me.
The message from my mouth has to match the message from my actions, otherwise it's just lip service as far as my kids are concerned. It starts with the understanding that I can no longer criticize myself when I look in the mirror, but accept myself for who I am. Beautiful in my own right, and not constantly striving to be what I'm not. STOP the constant dieting, the constant wishing I could lose this extra twenty pounds for good, the constant talking about it, the constant focus on appearance and weight and being tan and being perfect and being upset when I don't look like I think I should.
Just stop.
And accept me for me. Shout from the top of my lungs I am me and I am HAPPY!
Our daughters and sons are watching closely, taking their cues and signs from us. And in order to be louder than the world at large, we need to speak louder. And more often. And be in their face about it.
They won't always show it, but what we do and say is sinking in.
They are listening. They are watching. And it's up to us as parents and role-models to be that positive force, to help them muddle through those mixed-up messages they hear.

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