How does one raise strong, healthy, emotionally-secure young girls who can resist the raunchy images they are bombarded with in the media? My 13-year-old daughter already wants to wear only super skimpy clothes and expensive make-up. Worse, she refuses to eat properly and is constantly worried that she will become fat. She is so focused on her looks and popularity that all other issues seem irrelevant.
What you’ve written about is a common problem. So you have the cold comfort of knowing you are not alone. Thirteen-year-olds used to have healthy, huge appetites, and one of their avenues of fun was to go out to eat street food, burgers, ice creams, or a great mom-cooked meal at a friend’s house. Today, a lot of young girls are denying themselves food, even basic nutrition, in the name of dieting. Abhijit Manjrekar, father of a thin-as-a-rake, skimpily dressed 14-year-old, jokes darkly: “We are an upper-income family, but my daughter lives below the poverty line. However, if you look at her dressing table overflowing with cosmetics, three different hair dryers and tongs, you’ll know where all our disposable income is going.”
When it comes to the teeny-tiny tops, the precariously positioned jeans, and the flamboyant make-up, of course you will have to have rules, but you’ll have to give some ground too, because a blanket ban just will not work. After all, your daughter can’t become a total misfit, however much you may believe that this form of ‘fitting in’ is really quite abhorrent. Sit down with your daughter one day (when everyone’s in a reasonable mood, and not in the middle of a shouting match) and try and come to some understanding about: a) what the absolute bottom line is on skin show and loud make-up; b) where and when she can wear the skimpy clothes and make-up. Here you will have to go into the issues of dressing appropriately for occasions and places, taking into account the need for both decorum and safety. The world can debate endlessly about women’s right to wear what they like, where they like, but it is plain stupid to wear bare-dare clothes in places where you will surely get ogled at, pinched and worse. You could also negotiate with your daughter, like some mothers have managed, to agree that on her way to a movie or a party she should wear a ‘cover-up’ top, like an over-shirt or denim jacket or whatever the current fashion allows, over her itsy-bitsy outfit.
You can perhaps even learn to laugh off the dressing and make-up, and hope for the phase to pass in about three years, but the self-starvation is no joke. Eating disorders among young urban girls are rampant and rising.
A simple rule that has got to be put in place is that however much your daughter protests and claims that she does eat enough, you (or any other adult) have to actually see her eating two meals a day—one being the staple diet of your household/community, and the other, preferably, a healthy breakfast. If she insists on being on some kind of diet, the only thing you could agree on is no-sugar. But as for dumping entire food groups (like carbohydrates), simply do not agree to it.
If the adults in the household need to lose a few pounds, just go ahead and do it quietly; stop talking about weight, weight loss, calories, etc. in your daughter’s presence.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org