I went to a dinner party at a friend's home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.
Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, "Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"
But I didn't. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.
What's wrong with that? It's our culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.
Hold that thought for just a moment.
This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather winAmerica's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.
That's why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.
"Maya," I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, "very nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
"Hey, what are you reading?" I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I'm nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.
"I LOVE books," I said. "Do you?"
Most kids do.
"YES," she said. "And I can read them all by myself now!"
"Wow, amazing!" I said. And it is, for a five-year-old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.
"What's your favorite book?" I asked.
"I'll go get it! Can I read it to you?"
Purplicious was Maya's pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black. Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities. But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group. I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.
Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn.
I told her that I'd just written a book, and that I hoped she'd write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea. We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we'd read it and talk about it. Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.
So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya's perspective for at least that evening.
Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she's reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.
Here's to changing the world, one little girl at a time.
For many more tips on how keep yourself and your daughter smart, check out my new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, www.Think.tv.
LISA BLOOM, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, trial attorney, and the daughter of renowned women's rights attorney, Gloria Allred. A daily fixture on American television for the last decade, Bloom is currently the CBS News legal analyst, appearing frequently on The Early Show and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as the legal analyst for The Dr. Phil Show. Bloom has written for the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, the National Law Journal, CNN.com, the Daily Beast, and many more. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she runs her law firm, The Bloom Firm.
is updated Tuesdays and Thursdays. See my profile for more info. You can also follow me on Twitter.
Gallery of Gorgeous Women
I've included pictures below of the kind of women we need to idealize more in our society: women who are drop-dead gorgeous but don't look like they haven't eaten any carbs since puberty. I applaud these women for not only wearing their curves with pride, but also for not giving in to Hollywood pressure to become rail-thin and anorexic-looking. . .check back to see more gorgeous women we can feel good about admiring.
Last summer, Glamour magazine ran this photo of plus-size model Lizzi Miller sporting a real stomach and thighs, generating tons of praise for the magazine and making Miller a hero to women of all sizes. Click Lizzi's photo above for the whole story.
The first lady has brought the kind of youthful, exuberant style back to the White House that we haven't seen since the days of Jackie O. And she did it with a real body. Bravo, Michelle!
Amy Poehler stars in one of my favorite TV shows, PARKS AND RECREATION, and one thing I love about that show is how real most of the actors—including Poehler—look. Since having her first baby last year, Poehler has settled into a more normal weight, and I admire the heck out of her for not starving herself until her body looked exactly the same as it did pre-baby.
We all know that Williams has an incredibly buff body, but what I really love about her is that she shows it off in super feminine clothes even though she isn't model thin, proving yet again that curvy girls are beautiful too.
Hendricks, who plays the amazing Joan Holloway on MAD MEN, has done more to bring back curves than almost any other actor working today. Christina, I salute you!
I once heard GREY'S ANATOMY star Ramirez say that people are always surprised by how thin she is in real life, proving how obsessed we all are with body image. Good for Sara for knowing she looks good on TV and off.
American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson says she loves her body and rightly tells everyone else that they need to accept her the way she is. (Click on pic for full story.)
Shawkat, formerly of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, can now be seen in Drew Barrymore's WHIP IT, and Shawkat's sexy curves in that film are a refreshing counterpoint to Ellen Page's teeny little frame. Kudos to Barrymore for featuring two beautiful women with completely different bodies.
Not only does Arianna run one of the most influential websites in the world, she also does so while looking both gorgeous and real.
Beyonce . . . a happy medium
There is no limit to my admiration for Beyonce, a woman who is super curvy but who still feels comfortable wearing incredibly sexy clothes and singing about it in "Bootylicious." I see her as a crucial part of the movement away from worshipping underweight women.
Shauna Reid, a.k.a. Diet Girl
Reid is the author of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF DIET GIRL, a book based on her blog about losing half of her body weight. (Click on pic for her blog.) But what impresses me most about Shauna is that she stopped dieting when she got to a healthy weight (175 pounds for her 5'8" frame), rather than starving herself to become thinner than natural. And she looks amazing! Be sure to support her by buying her fabulous new book!
America Ferrera. . . The Original Real Woman with Curves
I have been a fan of America Ferrera ever since she starred in REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, a must-see for all women, no matter what their size. I'll never forget when she dropped trou in that movie and showed the whole world she was not ashamed of her REAL body.
Musician Andra Suchy
I saw Suchy when she performed with Garrison Keillor's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and immediately admired her confidence and natural beauty.
I was thrilled when Arquette began starring in MEDIUM and still looked like a real woman. How many TV stars (not sidekicks) can we say that about? And she's defended her real body too (click on pic for more info). You go, girl!
Taraji P. Henson at the Oscars
For my money, Taraji P. Henson was the best-dressed woman at the 2009 Oscars. And she can work it!
Kelly Osbourne . . . Wise beyond her years
Kelly Osbourne says she looks normal and doesn't want to lose weight. (Click pic for full article.) Give this girl a medal. At the tender of age of 24, she's wise enough to teach us all something.
Hayek never hides her curves or acts ashamed of her va-va-voom body. I love her for that.
Meryl Streep—curvy goddess!
I have always loved Meryl Streep and the fact that she openly admits she wears a size fourteen. (See! Size fourteens are beautiful too!) Also, she looks better and better all the time. Look at that bod!
J. Lo . . . duh.
This is the person who made big tushies popular. How can we not love her? The woman ought to have her own religion.
Movies every woman should see
Support actresses with real bodies and the directors who hire them by seeing these films. . .
Real Women Have Curves—the first movie (as far as I can remember) that celebrates curvy women. Let's give this one the credit it deserves.
Julie and Julia—As first chef Julia Child, Meryl Streep looked more like an average woman than she ever has before, but somehow she still managed to glow and be so appealing to her husband that he came home every day at lunch for a "nooner." Gotta love a movie that makes a real looking woman so sexy.
Whip It—The women in this inspiring girl empowerment story are all different sizes—Bliss is an adorable little pixie while BFF Pash is a lovely roller coaster of curves. The other girls sport imperfect stomachs, thighs, and arms without self-consciousness. I credit director Drew Barrymore with depicting them as both real and hot, making it easy for the audience to cheer because they look a lot more like us than most women we see in the movies.
Muriel's Wedding—If you haven't seen this one yet, rent it this weekend and laugh, laugh, laugh and cry a little too. I promise you'll love Toni Collette's breakout role and Muriel's very unconventional beauty by movie's end.
Bridget Jones' Diary—At first, Bridget wants to change everything about herself, but then Mark tells her that he likes her "just the way" she is. Mark Darcy: the man all men should model themselves on.
Penelope—Okay, this movie (which stars Christina Ricci and Reese Witherspoon) doesn't have a curvy body in sight, but still, it's about a young woman who is forced to accept herself the way she is—imperfections and all. In my dreams, that's what we'd all do.
Dreamgirls—Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé headline this emotional musical . . . need I say more?
Sideways—Sure, this was a movie about wine (not women), but the fact that the woman who captures the interest of the main character—Virginia Madsen—looks stunningly beautiful even though she isn't rail-thin or a traditional head-turner means that this film makes my list.
Shallow Hal—Admittedly this movie isn't high art, but the fact that it celebrates the idea of seeing the good in people rather than obsessing over their dress size makes it a must-size.
Mamma Mia!—In this movie, Meryl Streep danced her way into the hearts of three different men—played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard—despite that fact that her body was age appropriate. (Sure, Amanda Seifried was too skinny, but we'll let that go since she played a woman who was still growing up.)
It's Complicated—Yet again, we see another Meryl Streep movie that celebrates a woman with a real body. In this rom com, Streep's character looks both real and lovely, proving that women can age gracefully, while her ex, played by Alec Baldwin, sports a globe-like tummy.
Bend it Like Beckham—girl power RULES in this fun little film about a young woman who must fight for her right to play soccer. But the real reason it makes my list is because of the brutal scene in which the main character is forced to don shorts for the team and thus reveal a huge scar she's managed to keep hidden for years. She does that AND still gets the guy. You gotta love it.
How to lose weight without dieting
Many people have asked how I can lose weight without dieting, and I am slowly making my way through the different ways I am able to make that happen. So far I have outlined the first seven aspects of my non-dieting approach:
Also, you may want to read my manifesto and my post about how I define the word diet to get some understanding of what this blog is all about. You should know that though my approach will work in the long run, it is not about quick results as much as lasting ones.
I am a fiction and nonfiction writer, and my first book is a collection of stories called HOW TO SURVIVE GRADUATE SCHOOL & OTHER DISASTERS. I spend a good deal of my time teaching English and creative writing classes at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
I would describe my body as curvy, and I refuse to call myself fat or complain about my curves—I love them and so does my husband.
I have created this blog for a number of reasons—see the link to my manifesto above—but also more simply to document my weight while I try to lose weight without dieting.
For those of you interested in tracking my progress, I started at 203 glorious pounds.
READER'S TIP: This blog is updated on Tuesdays and Thursdays.