By Lisa Barr
The media can hurt -- especially our girls and young women. The message Out There is hammered in over and over: You are not pretty enough. Not skinny enough. Not Enough of Enough.
Turn the page, but NOT THE MESSAGE ... and there she is Lady Gaga ... 25 pounds heavier. She made good on a promise that gaining weight would NOT bring her down. I know she and Madonna have been fighting over songs and originality -- and the funny thing is, like everyone else, you end up fighting with the person in your family who is most like you. But I love them both -- and for the same reason. They are who they are -- they do things their way --- screw everyone else, and their preconceived notions of what is "normal."
Gaga in a recent tweet, thanked "my fans who love me no matter what, and know the meaning of real beauty & compassion." She also shared the Marilyn Monroe quote:
"To all the girls who think you're ugly because you're not a size 0, you're the beautiful one. It's society who's ugly."
She goes on to say that she has had to be on a strict diet constantly, and she is now trying to find a new balance.
Yeah, Lady Gaga has Freak Flag -- the outfits, the hair, the shoes -- but oh, the message ...
Which brings me to you, and the messages You, Me, and the Girl Next Door give to our kids, particularly our daughters -- who, no surprise, are hugely affected by media/magazines/celebrities/trends -- and judge themselves by what is "supposed" to be beautiful, and fall short in measuring up.
I, mean really, who among us can compete with Air-Brushing?
When my 13 year old was in kindergarten, the kids made posters about their families and told a few things about their parents. I will never forget this one poster (to this day I wonder how the teacher could put it up there for all to see -- and on Parent Night yet ...).
It read -- and this is from the mouth of a five year old: 'My Mom is Pretty. My Mom exercises a lot. My Mom only eats salad. My Mom yells too much.'
Yes, a HUGE OY. And I knew this Mom -- who actually seemed to be a really nice person. She read the poster and was mortified ... but more so, she had been "outed" by her kid, and the truth hurt. Even at a young age, kids see everything, and call it like it is.
I have a friend -- a very attractive woman -- whose teenage daughter told her: "Mom, if I have to see you in yoga pants one more day -- I'm going to scream. Yes, we know you exercise, but can you just wear real clothes for once?"
Women -- especially in the 'burbs -- really, really take care of themselves. But is there a point, that it is just too much?
We talk so much about eating disorders, and so much less about Exercise Bulimia (EB) -- which is so prevalent, but not as obvious. It is defined as compulsive exercise (control) to "purge or compensate for eating binges or just regular eating." Unlike other eating disorders, EB is hard to diagnose because of the universal admiration for exercise. Some of the symptoms include: 1. Becoming seriously depressed if you can't get a workout in 2. Working out with an injury or while sick 3. Working out for hours at a time each day 4. Missing important appointments/events in order to workout.
And there are those of us who may be on the borderline ... I'm not a therapist but I do know so many Moms, as I'm sure you do, who are up at 5 -- at the club -- and literally slide into home base just before the kids leave for school (and that's just the FIRST part of their daily exercise routine). Other Moms, who speed-walk excessively. Others, who are always "in training." Others who are in every yoga class offered around town.
Working out is great -- but working out-of-control isn't. It seems stressful, and not joyful.
I think what Gaga is saying, is what I am striving for (work-in-progress) on a daily basis, is Balance. Ask yourself: Do you balance? Do your kids see YOU balancing? Are you always in some type of workout garb -- and do your children read this as:
My Mom ALWAYS exercises. That's what she does. Subliminally: Maybe she thinks SHE is NOT good enough/thin enough -- what does that make ME?
What about my body? I'm well, going through puberty, and nothing looks right, feels right ...
I, too, like to look good. I, too, enjoy exercising and its results (mind and body), but much differently than I did in my youth (note the word ENJOY). I no longer exercise crazy, no longer on an every-day basis, and I only do what I like to do (read: no more five million stairs up that StairMaster to Nowhere.) If it's gorgeous out -- you will never catch me in a health club.
I'm especially aware of my daughters -- and the way they may look at me, and compare themselves to me. ALL Moms and daughters have this intricate connection -- it's what WE do with it. We have a BIG JOB showing our kids that we like ourselves, and do not want to PUNISH ourselves if say, we happen to over-do it the night before on desserts.
What you say and do; how you respond to food and exercise -- especially if you have daughters -- is crucial. Read: They ARE taking notes.
If you are an avid exerciser -- or an OVER-avid exerciser -- be aware that THEY are watching and comparing. If your life is always trying to find a way to get away from your kids, and to get to the health club or to a particular class -- if your happiness is riding on this -- be aware that too much, may well be, too much.
And perhaps the message you may be sending your daughters is no different than all the crap the beauty and teen magazines are trying to shove down their throats. Only YOU are in real-time.
Do what works for you. Every case is individual. My advice, no matter the situation: Talk to your girls. Tell them how important balance is -- and that you don't expect them to be exercising as much as you do. That although they may always see you in yoga pants or in a tennis skirt or gym shorts -- you LOVE dressing up, a worn-in pair of jeans, a stroll near the lake, a good book, you love a great meal, and that they should always do what makes THEM feel good -- mind, body and soul.
Emphasize that exercising makes you feel good, but so does hanging out with girlfriends, spending time with their Dad, being outside with nature, and most of all -- being with them. Your kids should never feel that the health club is where you'd rather be (as in NOT with them). Your kids should see you enjoying REAL food other than salad. And especially parttake in the joys of chocolate -- and other delicacies -- and don't say, 'Now, I'm going to have to DOUBLE my workout tomorrow" after downing a delicious piece of lava cake. This takes the joy right out of the sweetness -- and throws the veil of guilt over a yummy moment. They WILL "take notes" and do the same.
MODERATION, in my book, is THE Message to send to your children. Eat, exercise, and enjoy. But don't teach them to 'exercise ' -- SO you can eat and enjoy.
Lady Gaga knows that her celebrity is power. I love how she is using it. She stands up against Bullying. Stands up for Homosexual Rights. Stands up for Girls-cum-Women and all the Body Image Bashing that they (and US too) have had to endure from the time that we could read ...
We should all be born THAT way.
Lisa Barr is the editor of GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom's Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle (www.girlillawarfare.com) and author of Fugitive Colors (Amazon).