Being a writer, kids around me are accustomed to me soliciting feedback, in this case, about a new children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy,” which “explains plastic surgery to kids.”
Not exactly Good Night Moon or the Berenstain Bears…But stay with me for a sec.
On the way home from school today I floated the trial balloon of ‘what ifs’ about getting breast implants and cosmetic surgery to a car full of preteens and watched closely in the rearview mirror for reactions.
After the smirking ‘yougaddabekidding me’ look from my daughter, who didn’t miss a beat with, ‘So what story are you working on NOW, mom?’ and her friend’s more provocative response, dripping with irony, ‘At your age? But that’s for younger people!’ we got into quite a lengthy, enlightening body image conversation…
For starters, none of this surprises me in our appearance-based culture that brings us social media ‘games’ like the infamous Miss Bimbo, sexualized slogans and innuendo, tween thongs and provocative panties.
I keep hoping this big-breasted, buxom, billboard, ‘babe-licious/Hooters girl’ absurdity will simply become passé and go out of style. Fat chance, as long as the media-moguls are hawkin’ the ‘must haves,’ and plastic surgery statistics/procedural trends look like this despite dangers and FDA reports on mishaps and complications.
No question body image is a massive concern trashing teenager’s psyches but take a mild exhale knowing the book buzz appears to be more of a sensationalist attempt for Oprah-fication rather than ‘best-seller’ material, since a deeper dig shows Newsweek is fanning the flames in a ‘web exclusive’ to get people in a kerfluffle.
In actuality the book is apparently self-published so it isn’t exactly Doubleday, Bantam, Penguin material. Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s comments are sublime in this thread.
Check this out from Nielsen Hayden of the Making Light blog:
“Big Tent Books (not to be confused with Big Tent Entertainment) is a vanity press and marketing and fulfillment operation. It pretends it’s separate from another company called Dragonpencil–in theory, Big Tent is a marketing and distribution firm, and Dragonpencil is a publisher–but they’re really a single organization run by Jerry and Samantha Setzer. The two companies have the same address and phone number. Big Tent’s award-winning books get all their awards from Dragonpencil. Dragonpencil’s deluxe publishing package includes marketing and distribution by Big Tent. And if you poke around their sites long enough, you can find the page where they admit it.”
Now there’s some decent connect the dots reporting!
Still, in larger context, one quick Google search shows a proliferation of “mommy makeovers” at ever-increasing young ages, as a new generation of parents reared on beauty ideals ‘want their body back’ fast…so this is still worth discussing, book focus or not.
For those of you predicting a judgmental rant-fest on the normalization of nip-n-tuck procedures and objectification…
Guess what? Fooled you!
Body image and plastic surgery IS an ‘issue’ that needs explored, because to me, ANY personal choices adults make once they’re parents land on kids in a ‘monkey see monkey do’ manner. (whether you’re tipsy at a party or self-critically assessing yourself in the mirror, you’re their role model, as Alice Aspen March reminds us, “pay attention!”)
Everyone has their own spin on the slice-n-dice topic, but there’s a need to put ALL body image content/adult analysis into a child-like, ‘in their shoes’ perspective to see where it’s landing on kids it would seem…
Much like religious fights devolve into a ‘my god is better than your god’ tug of war, plastic surgery debates end up distilled into a pro and con personal choice debate, rather than framing solutions and lines of demarcation to handle the topic proactively and shift the context to a child’s point of view if you’re even remotely considering elective surgical procedures.
Their biggest fear? The inherent danger of losing you.
What if the doc had used the book as an education tool about plastic surgery instead of a marketing one? (e.g. car crash scars, hair-lips, laser tattoo removal or any other aesthetic alteration that was a personal ‘choice’ but not tweaked into some faux ‘ideal?’)
To me, this is where this book totally missed their opportunity for a hall-pass.
In My Beautiful Mommy (sorry, but they lost me on the title alone) their shallow perpetuation of a damaging beauty myth trumps what could have been a potentially insightful dialog about overall body image, self-perception, and personal agency.
“Mom explains she’s going to have operations on her nose and tummy and may have to take it easy for a week or so. The girl asks if the operations will hurt, and mom replies, “Maybe a little,” warning she’ll look different after the bandages come off.
The girl asks: “Why are you going to look different?”
Mom responds: “Not just different, my dear – prettier!”
Can you GET much more toxic than that in distorted ideals of societal expectation and self-absorption?
Gosh, they could’ve gone the ‘neutral’ approach, applying the concept of plastic surgery to everything from a dog bite to a child’s face (yup, been there, done that too) or burn victims, acne/dermabrasion, preventive skin cancer peel, deviated septum, droopy eyelids… all are ‘corrective/elective cosmetic procedures.’
The Newsweek article quoted child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of “Raising Kids With Character,” as saying,
“…Then there are the body image issues raised by cosmetic surgery–especially for daughters. Berger worries that kids will think their own body parts must need “fixing” too. The surgery on a nose, for example, may “convey to the child that the child’s nose, which always seemed OK, might be perceived by Mommy or by somebody as unacceptable,” she says.”
Gee, ya think? The media and marketing machine cue kids how to look, dress, smell, groom and behave as they look to their parents for grounding…What happens when the grounding is quicksand? Squishy stuff, folks.
Mind you, if you’re in the self-righteous camp of anti-beauty enhancement universally, you’d better be able to answer the inquisitive toddler who wants to discern what’s different about putting on makeup, shaving your legs, mani-pedi nail polish primping, because frankly, that’s all based on aesthetic perceptions of a beauty ideal too…
When’s the last time you had your eyebrows plucked, bikini line waxed, or found yourself asking ‘do these jeans make me look fat?’
It’s all quite similar; kids are absorbing the body image cues like a sponge.
“No, no,” you protest, “that’s WAY different than going under the knife…the hospital, scariness, and bandages thing.’
Okay, then how does that differ from cosmetic mole removal, laser birthmark treatments, stitches and scar repair, etc.?
There’s a substantial difference between self-empowerment and conformist body shame. One’s a teaching moment, one’s a toxic one. Playing devil’s advocate here, but you see my point.
To a young child, (book is evidently written for age 4-7) all they know is you ‘look hurt’ or ‘bruised’ or whatever and they’re worried. (again, all depends on the ages, but you get my drift)
When I first read the blurb about taking the fear and trauma out of children’s reactions to bandages and hospital settings, I nodded along, ‘ok, I truly DO get that part.’
After all, my daughter STILL has a deep-seated fear of raccoons* and complete toddler recall of me slinging her on my hip and toting her to my mandatory prophylactic rabies shot series at Stanford.
I was offered a plastic surgeon consult to look at the slash/scar on my leg…which has since faded, but her memories have not…even at age two, seeing me in a hospital repeatedly subjected to shots, pain, bandages and such, even though it became ‘routine’ to me…So a book that answers ‘will mom be ok?’ could be comforting reassurance if executed well.
Alas, this book is clearly marketing Barbie-ism and unobtainable ideals that perpetuates the objectification of women, and men (check out the muscle-bound Doctor Michael in the book’s visual gallery at Newsweek; dysmorphia and steroid use boys? Oh, and the ‘dream bubble’ of the buffed boy avatar placing the beauty queen crown on the moms’ head, complete with flashy house & car)
I’m so VERY thankful to have a pro like Dr. Robyn Silverman join our team as Shaping Youth’s body image expert, to address some of these core issues with solution-based tips, and a parental ‘heads ups’…
Dr. Robyn will join us tomorrow with an introductory post on body image and kids…Clearly, not a moment too soon!
We welcome her with open arms, helpful content swaps and vital contributions to our ongoing projects here, where she’ll be serving as an ongoing Shaping Youth Correspondent and official National Advisory Board member.
More on Dr. Robyn’s body image resource blog, Kiss My Assets tomorrow. (which you can always access from our sidebar blogroll)
Then we’ll hear from the teen girls at New Moon Girls Media and hear what THEY have to say on all of this…from body image to ‘America’s Top Model’ and more…Stay tuned!
(*Raccoon story footnote: I used to volunteer in a wildlife shelter so when I had a run-in with a raccoon family chasing my golden retriever I was amazed to see that all my interventions/training to make loud noises and such didn’t work on the masked beasties; they cornered me in the garage looking for food, because my neighbor was evidently ‘feeding’ them like pets, so they lost their fear of humans! I wrote a piece called “Keep them wild for the sake of your child” detailing my experience if any of you ever need to leave it at the door of someone who’s being clueless about cute critters. I adore ’em too…but they’re not pets! I shudder to think about my two-year old (at the time) getting cuffed instead of me.)
Mona Lisa in USA ‘veryfunnypics.com’
Raccoon photo: The Reference Frame (a Czech physicist blog; love these internet finds; fascinating!)
Hat tip to my dear pal Betsy Brill at HandUp Congo for alerting me to this blog fodder. Now go visit her inspiring blog and see why “A hand up is better than a handout.” She’s amazing.