Dear Grandparenting: My granddaughter is 14 and tied up in knots about the way she looks, or doesn’t look and wants to look, or thinks other people must look. She has pictures and posters of beautiful young girls everywhere in her bedroom. She says it’s for “inspiration” but I say torture is more like it, because she’s never going to look that way in a million years.
I’d guess that 99 percent of her anguish is because of the way other girls tease her about her figure. She has a pretty face but takes after me. I told her I was a chubby child who was baking excellent chocolate cakes when I was nine because I wanted to eat them every day. They used to call me fat too, but I called them something worse right back. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re just asking for it.
My granddaughter says there’s no escape because they tease her at school and on the Internet “where the whole world sees it.” She is obsessed with nonsense, like cellulite, stretch marks, love handles, thunder thighs, diets, bulimia and plastic surgery. That’s right, plastic surgery! Don’t try to tell me these are normal concerns at that age. How do I get her to snap out of it and come join the living? Ginger Peterson, Everett, Washington
Dear Ginger: It’s no easy trick to be young and comfortable in one’s own skin in America today. Thanks to the Internet and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, grandchildren inhabit an image-heavy culture where the visual rules over the printed word. Their days are parades of pictures of males and females from all walks of life, and it brings out the critic in many.
Compared to ideals of beauty in some other countries, thinner is generally better in America. Fat is the word that dare not speak its name — we have plus size for females and big and tall for males. But fatter we are — since the early 1990s, the average American has put on 15 pounds without getting any taller, according to federal government statistics statistics. “An awful lot of us hate fat people,” observed one cynic, “and the fatter we become, paradoxically, the more we hate them (us).”
Body shaming is the operative term for making nasty comments about looks, and no one dishes out or receives more of it than social networks of adolescent and teenage granddaughters, pressured to conform to group norms of physical appearance.
Thinking of yourself in terms of how you look to other people is not an easy ride. Such perceptions can affect self-esteem, eating and exercise routines and relationships with others. Of course, it’s subjective, too — a 20-year-old model can be worried to death about her looks, while a 65-year-old grandmother is perfectly happy with how she’s held up. But that kind of acceptance doesn’t come easy for adolescents. Try listening instead of lecturing. Above all else, your granddaughter could probably use a good friend right about now.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Chase Baez from The Villages, Florida, considers himself lucky. “I have six blessings. They all call me grandfather.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.