My 8-year-old thinks she's ugly. She told me about her uneven eyes (which she actually measured as I watched in horror), the weird looks she gets from the kids in her class, and how her missing-tooth smile is "creepy." And it broke my heart. I couldn't imagine how this big bundle of adorableness began to feel this way about herself—and felt like we had failed her somehow.
And it became quickly apparent how we had. "When we get home," she said, "I want us to look at the pictures in the catalogs and magazines." Bingo.
After working in the media for so many years, I take it for granted that people know that any final image they see in an ad or on a magazine cover has been extensively manipulated. I've seen first hand how a lovely model is given hours' worth of professional hair and makeup, and photographed under ideal lighting conditions by top professionals—and it's still not enough. The final image is tweaked even more, to remove every errant hair and unwanted freckle, slim down already svelte waistlines and arms—and even do amazing things like take the head out of one shot and seamlessly add it onto the body from another shot. But I had forgotten to really make sure that my daughter understood that. And so I started showing her some of those amazing Photoshop transformation videos out there, starting with Dove's amazing Evolution advertisement. I showed her images from magazines I worked on, and explained what my colleague had done to each and every one, including the fabulous teeth whitening, dark circle removing and slimming he did for me in my editor's letter. Girls should know that in today's media, they should expect that the images are manipulated—so that they won't be manipulated by them.
Related: Talking to Kids About Body Image
It was a lightbulb moment for her, and for me. It's a hard battle to help girls maintain a positive self image, especially when we often struggle with it ourselves. We try to teach them that inner beauty is much more important (and lasting) than outer beauty. That maintaining a proper weight is more about strengthening your body and eating healthier than losing the "thunder thighs" and getting back to our pre-baby dress size. That no one—not even the real-life model who's in the photograph—looks as amazing as the magazines make them look. And that we all need to accentuate the positive, be kinder to ourselves, and not measure our self worth by a number on the scale or an unachievable beauty standard.