Beautiful

What is beauty?  The definition of beauty has changed through the ages and continues to do so even in the present day.  In our society women have become fixated on trying to achieve the image of beauty that has been pushed upon us by fashion models, movie stars, and magazine covers.  We must be lean and thin with only a slight hourglass shape to our silhouette.  We must have flawless skin with no blemishes or stretch marks from head to toe.  Our hair must be glorious shining waves that float around our head in a perfect halo.    We spend hours at the gym each week and then countless more hours plucking, scrubbing, waxing, moisturizing, curling, and who knows what else, in our attempts to be beautiful.  Well at least some of us do.  Those of us (myself included) who do not spend our valuable time obsessively trying to achieve the impossible are looked down upon, and even ridiculed for the misconception that we just don’t care how we look.

In recent years there has been a move towards dispelling the myth of the perfectly beautiful fashion model or movie star.  Revelations on just how much the photos used in magazines are airbrushed and the use of different lighting and lenses for filming movies have begun to get women to accept reality.  There is no such thing as perfect beauty, and the relentless pursuit of that ideal is futile.  It is slow going, and most women still do not see themselves as anywhere near beautiful.  We still compare ourselves to other women and most of us fall way short of beautiful in our own eyes.  I don’t personally know anyone who is completely comfortable in their own skin, and I certainly do not think that I am beautiful, even on my best day.  I don’t think that I am a hideous troll that should be living under a bridge somewhere.  But beautiful? Nope, not me.

Why am I writing about this today?  A couple of days ago, a dear friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post that started me thinking about perceptions of beauty.  The post was a video put out by Dove as a part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty.”  The campaign is 10 years old now and aims to celebrate the physical variations of women and to inspire us to be comfortable with ourselves. This particular video is almost four minutes long and shows women from different parts of the world approaching the front entrance of a building.  There are two doors for these women to choose from; over one door is the word “average” and over the other door the word “beautiful.”  The vast majority of women shown chose to enter through the “average” door. The point of the campaign is to get women to choose to see themselves as beautiful.

As many of you know, my 22-month old daughter has a congenital heart defect.  She has already had two open heart surgeries, and she will need at least two more surgeries in her lifetime.  She has a “zipper” scar along with several scarsIMG_20141219_192237036 from drainage tubes on her chest and tummy area.  As she grows up, she will have to battle all of the normal insecurities that young girls go through regarding her appearance, but she will have the added insecurity over her scars to deal with.  The subject is something that my husband and I have talked about a couple of times already.  How can we help her to be proud of her scars instead of ashamed?  How can we guide her into loving her body, scars and all?  At this point in her young life, she is fearless and confident, and we do not want for her to ever lose those qualities.  While we still have time to figure it out, it is something that is on our minds already.  For us, her scars serve as a reminder of what she has fought against, and proof that she has won those fights.

Earlier this month a Facebook request from country singer Mark Gentle went viral.  His son, Carter, is 7-years old and has already had five open heart surgeries.  Carter expressed a fear that people would think he was ugly because of his scars, and Mark asked fans to comment on a picture to help his son feel better about himself.  The response was amazing, spreading well past Mark’s fan base and out into the larger world of the internet.  That photo received more than 200,000 likes the first day after it was posted, showing that there are so many kind people in this world.  Those people, and the countless others who have commented their support since that first day have done a lot to ease the fears of that frightened and sad little boy, and it warms my heart.

After my friend tagged me in that Facebook post, I began thinking about my own self-image.  More importantly, I began to question what impact my own lack of self-esteem will have on our beautiful girl as she grows up and begins to face her own insecurities regarding her body image.  Children learn everything about how to cope with life and the world at large by watching the people around them.  How my husband and I think and feel about ourselves will have some influence on how she views herself.  This realization is startling because, to me it isn’t a big deal that I don’t see a beautiful woman looking back at me from the mirror.  But to my daughter, it will make a huge difference.  So from this point on, it is my goal to choose beautiful.

I would welcome any thoughts on this subject.  Any suggestions on how to help not only my daughter, but myself as well.

Who is raising our children?

In the past week, I have read numerous news articles regarding the Meitiv family in Maryland.  Almost every article that I have read has focused on one question:  Are the Meitivs right or wrong in their choice to raise their children (ages 10 and 6) in what has been labeled the “free-range” style?  I have read arguments describing the world as a dangerous place, and these arguments make the absolute statement that all children should be under adult supervision every minute of every day.  I have also read the opposing arguments stating that children need to learn self-sufficiency and should be allowed the independence to explore the world on their own.  I have read how statistics show children are more likely to be abducted or abused by family members or family friends than by strangers on the street.  I have read the “what if (insert worst case scenario of choice)” arguments.  In the end, it seems to me that the national debate over the right and wrong of the Meitiv’s parenting choices is entirely the wrong debate.

It does not matter if you agree with the Meitiv’s decision to allow their 10-year old son and 6-year old daughter to walk unsupervised about a mile from their home to the park to play.  What does matter is how the situation in Silver Spring, Maryland was handled by the authorities.  After reading several different news articles describing the situation, the following timeline has emerged:

    • 5 PM – a police officer stopped the children while they were walking home from the park.  By Mrs. Meitiv’s account, the officer coerced the children into the back of his patrol car while promising to take them home.  Rather than keeping his promise, he took them first to the police station and then to a child protective services crisis center.  The children were left in the back of the patrol car for at least two hours before they were  turned over to child protective services.
    • 6 PM – the time the Meitivs expected the children to return home for dinner
    • 8 PM – the Meitivs are contacted by authorities, this is the first notification the parents received of the children’s whereabouts.
    • 10:30 PM – the Meitivs are finally allowed to see their children

I can only imagine the terror these parents felt for the two hours between 6 PM and 8 PM.  As a parent, I know that this is the thing of nightmares.  Can you imagine the fear these children experienced for five and a half hours?  Sitting in the back of a patrol car and then at a crisis center, with no dinner until well past bedtime on a school night had to be terrifying for them.  The Meitiv family went through something that no parent or child should ever have to face, especially at the hands of the local police and child protective services.    Yet the national debate is not focused on how the authorities acted inappropriately and caused tremendous stress and worry to this entire family.  The argument is that by letting the children go to the park unsupervised the Meitivs were placing them in potential danger of a predator kidnapping them and therefore are unfit parents.  By this reasoning, every time a parent straps their child into a car seat and drives down the road, they are potentially endangering that child because they may get into an accident and therefore they should be punished.  Ridiculous I know, but we cannot go down the path of punishing people for crimes that may happen in the future.

To put it in perspective I went searching for statistics and this is what I found:

    • According to the CDC, in 2011 there were 650 children ages 12 and under who died in car accidents, and 33% of those children were not in car seats or wearing seatbelts.
    • According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, each year there are an estimated 115 children abducted by strangers, and only 50 of those children are killed.

It goes against everything that we have been conditioned to believe, but let that sink in for a moment.  A child is thirteen times more likely to die in a car accident than at the hands of a stranger who has kidnapped them.

Another example, this time out of Port St Lucie, FL:  Nicole Gainey gave her 7-year old son a cell phone in a specially made case that hung around his neck so that he could keep in contact with her and then she allowed him to walk the half a mile to the park to play.  The police were called, picked him up from the park and drove him home.  After questioning Ms. Gainey, the officers arrested her for child neglect..  Before this incident, her son was a normal outgoing boy who loved to play outside.  Now he refuses to go outside, even into his own fenced in back yard, unless his mother is watching him because he fears that she will be arrested again if he is out of her sight.

The authorities in both cases were allowed to terrorize these children all in the name of “protecting” them from neglectful parents.  Where is the outcry over the psychological damage the authorities caused these families?  You do not have to agree with these parent’s choices, but you do need to acknowledge that the only harm done to these children came at the hands of the police and child protective services.  These children were playing outside.  They were not bullying other children.  They were not spraying graffiti on the sidewalks or the walls of local businesses.  They were not throwing rocks at passing cars.  They were not breaking any law.  How is it permissible for them to be terrorized by authorities?

When did we as a society allow our government, and by extension the police to start telling us how we can or cannot raise our children? According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway website, in “2008, an estimated 1,740 children died from abuse or neglect…”  My question is, shouldn’t police and child protective services focus on saving those children who are in greater danger?

Return to the keyboard

It’s been a few weeks since I have posted anything here, and for that I would like to apologize.  I won’t go into the details of why I haven’t been writing, but I do want to say that I am working on a couple of new posts for the upcoming week. So please don’t give up on me just yet, and know that I look forward to your comments!  Thank you for stopping by today.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a few items in the news that have left me feeling like my head was about to explode.  I will be doing a series of posts on these news stories, so please don’t give up on me just yet, and know that I look forward to your comments!  Thank you for stopping by today.