Too Fat to Fit In?

I recently learned of a brand of clothing that achieves exclusivity not through price, but through size. Brandy Melville offers almost all of its clothing in either size “small” or “one-size-fits-most” (as long as “most people” are small). The brand is one of the hottest lines of clothing for teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

It is not new for teens to try to build their identity and gain acceptance and a sense of belonging through their clothing choices. It is simply the brands and the looks that change. But while previous generations of teens were barred from the most exclusive looks by price (or were forced to spend far more than they could afford on designer labels or celebrity endorsed merchandise), Brandy Melville is relatively inexpensive. Instead, the brand has set the price of entry into its club at being very, very skinny. Now, instead of a teen blowing all her savings on a purse she really can’t afford, she is pressured to go to unhealthy measures in order to fit the same size pants as everyone else.

The immature part of my brain remembers being poor and skinny as a teen and thinks “Where was this when I was 16?!” But the mature part, the wiser woman in me, has learned that in life, the target for superficial popularity is always moving. Basing one’s identity on a look or a brand will never really satisfy the human need for security and belonging. But how do parents teach that to their children?

It was one thing for parents to refuse to purchase expensive clothing when the family couldn’t afford it. At least teens could blame their parents for being too poor or frugal. My fear is that teen girls will blame themselves for not fitting into Brandy Melville — and that their disappointment or anger will turn towards their bodies (even more so than it already does for young adults). Parents, especially those of girls who are too normal-sized to fit into the skinny brand, must help their children understand the dark side of marketing and branding. Companies like Brandy Melville prey on insecurities — they need us as consumers to feel inadequate without their product. But clothing is not our identity, and it can never create acceptance. Clothing is at its most basic level a tool to keep us protected from the environment. Yes, it can be used for self-expression, but if you are dissatisfied without the clothing, you will be dissatisfied with it.

Are your teens victims of marketing who strive to purchase only the “cool” brands? Consider:

  • Banning Brandy Melville on principle, even for your children who could fit into the clothing. Refuse to buy into the unhealthy standard that all girls should be shaped a particular way.
  • Check your own attitude about clothing and identity. Do you model an attitude that clothing does not define an individual?
  • Challenge your teen to develop his or her own style. For example, challenge them to only buy clothing from resale shops for the next 6 months.
  • Purge magazines from your home. Magazines are often glorified catalogues that feed the desire for particular looks and brands.
  • Encourage your teen to develop a more global awareness of what life is like for others who cannot afford to be obsessed with their looks. The popular Hunger Games movies and books are easy conversation starters: ask questions about the parallels between the image-obsessed residents of the Capitol and our culture’s obsession with brands like Brandy Melville.

Have more ideas? Share them in the comments section!

Ideas for Grandparents

This article builds off of the previous post, which can be read here.

My dad’s parents taught me to play card games and told stories about my Grandpa beating all the other soldiers at Cribbage. My mom’s mom taught me to bake — real, old-world baking with lots of butter, yeast, and white flour. And the stories she told about my mom’s dad taught me about farming and life in the American Midwest. We lived a plane flight away from both sides of the family, and still my grandparents had a profound impact on my life.

Today, grandparents often play an even bigger role in children’s lives. In general, their health is better and they live longer. As more families include two working parents, grandparents are picking up the slack with childcare. And for the grandparents who do live far away, technology like Skype and social media make it easier than ever to stay in touch. Last week we looked at the importance of children having a strong family identity. This week we’ll look at how grandparents specifically can connect with teens and help give them that sense of identity.

How can grandparents connect with their grandkids? There are several obvious disconnects between grandparents and teens. They are separated by not just one generation gap, but several. Their interests, abilities, and experiences are very different. They may not even live anywhere close to each other! Yet intentional steps taken by grandparents and parents can facilitate good connections, which hopefully a teen will quickly reciprocate. Here are some ideas, written as steps a grandparent could take:

  • Invite each grandchild to do something unique with you — just the two or three of you.
  • Teach your grandchildren a hobby or skill, such as fishing, cooking, woodworking, etc.
  • Attend their events, even the boring ones: recitals, baseball games, marching band parades.
  • Plan an event, outing or vacation for either all the men or all the women in the family. This is especially beneficial when teens hit 12 or 13 and are going through puberty.
  • Invite your grandchildren to events and social gatherings that are important to you, whether that’s church, the local VFW, or Rotary club. Let them meet your friends.
  • Ask your grandchildren to teach you a new skill, such as digital photography, or game, such as Minecraft.
  • Use texting and Skype to communicate, even if it feels difficult to learn.
  • If you speak a second language, teach your grandchildren some of it. Have a few words that can become part of the family vocabulary even if the kids don’t become fluent.
  • Talk about family traditions you enjoyed from your own childhood. If the tradition hasn’t continued, find a way to restart it.
  • Gather a few time honored recipes and teach them to your grandchildren.
  • Keep track of special events, or big games or tests, and call or text your grandchildren on those days.
  • Start a collection together (dolls, stamps, postcards) and build it, whether you are together or far apart.

Share this post with the grandparents you know. I hope there will be one or two new ideas for building family connectedness.

Sadly, I know there are many cases where family brokenness makes forming a strong family identity difficult. Next week, we’ll look at navigating the ups and downs in a family.

*Several ideas from this post were first shared in this article, which is a faith-focused article about passing on religious beliefs to grandchildren.

Telling Your Family’s Story

My parents, circa a long time ago.
My parents. We won’t talk about how much I might look like my mom.

A few months ago, my husband and I said good-bye to the last of our grandparents, my husband’s Grandma. For the last decade or more, every 4th of July, her children and their families would gather at a lake house — a group that grew by one or two (or five) each year. She lived to see 25 great-grandchildren born! Today, if you want to know what our family is about, you only have to stop by that lake house this July 4. I expect all of the traditions will continue, from shooting off our own fireworks, to building some new addition to the house, to taking the requisite family photo — more difficult as the family grows each year. The family is competitive, stubborn in its generosity, efficient as only engineers know efficiency, and completely devoted to each other.

As those 25 great-grandchildren age, their family identity will keep them grounded. Research backs this up. Family stories and a child’s ability to see herself as part of a bigger picture play an important role in helping children navigate challenges and stress. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“[Researchers] developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.

“Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

“Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families…. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

So how do you create a strong family identity? I offer some suggestions below, and then next week, we’ll continue the discussion by looking specifically at grandparents.

  • Family artifacts. Share stories about items that belonged to other family members or which have been passed down through generations. They don’t have to be valuable! My husband keeps a few of his Poppy’s books (some of which still have Poppy’s old business cards tucked in as bookmarks). I have a pair of my Grandma’s shoes — the ones she got in Germany as a refugee during WWII. When we visit my parents’ house, we use a tablecloth made by my Grandma and her sisters, and hear again how incredible it is that they crocheted the whole thing by hand.
  • Make and keep traditions. If you don’t have any traditions yet, it is never too late to start. You could look through old photos to get ideas of activities you want to repeat — family memories you may have already forgotten but want to rekindle. Or, decide as a family what would be really special to do, and to keep doing. My friend’s family picks up take-out Chinese for dinner every Christmas eve. Why? No one knows. But it has become tradition.
  • Share photos. This can mean looking at albums together, but it can also be an opportunity to leverage social media. Throwback Thursday is an internet tradition of posting pictures from way back when — why not start including some from WAY back. Scan family photos using one of these methods or at a local convenience store with photo services. Then they are ready to share — and you may be surprised at what your kids are willing to post on their social media. Grandpa bowling with a handlebar moustache? Awesome!
  • Family Core Values. Like a business, sit down together and identify what your family’s core values are. Let everyone contribute. Write them down. If you have younger children, write down values on popsicle sticks and use them to build a house together. Repeat these to each other. “Remember guys, we’re the Smiths. And Smiths stick together.”

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to explore the topic of family stories and how they can help us be better parents. In the comments section, share a way that you keep family traditions!


Boys and Eating Disorders

We’ve heard about boys turning to steroids to enhance their sports performance, or their muscular looks, but did you know that more boys use diet pills, powders or liquids than steroids?  The LA Times wrote about the increasing percentage of guys who now struggle with eating disorders, including in particular “purging” behavior like vomiting and using laxatives.  This seems to be an increasing problem in other areas as well, including Chicago, according to the article.  Why?  Experts point to the push in our society for men to attain to an athletic ideal…a lean, muscular body.

What might the signs of eating disorders in men be?  Here is a CBS video (from 2008 but just as relevant today) discussing what we know about men and eating disorders if you’d like to find out more.

When Showing Less is More

What an interesting concept:  Power in modesty!  Former Power Ranger actress, Jessica Rey, has a YouTube video discussing a variety of things that have to do with modesty, such as
the history of what we consider showing “too much” and (the most interesting part) research on the impact on the male brain of seeing scantily clad women.


A CNN report on the research revealing what happens when too much is revealed, shows that a part of a man’s brain lights up that has to do with “handling tools and the intention to perform actions,” rather than the part of the brain “associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.”  It seems that women who show too much can become, in the male brain (not consciously, mind you), an object, rather than a person.  Given that women can be, in fact, objectified when they dress immodestly, and are not valued for who they are (or even seen as a person), doesn’t it make sense that women would have MORE power if dressed modestly?  Jessica believes so, and even includes a few slides of her modest, yet fashionable, swimsuit line in her quest to bring vibrant, healthy modesty back into our culture.  This video is entertaining, and would prompt a great family conversation about our society, how standards of modesty have changed, and if it matters.

Thigh Gaps and Flat Tummies

The pressure never lets up it seems.  Just when my generation thought we’d freed ourselves from the girdles our mothers wore, now we find our daughters (and ourselves) squeezing back into uncomfortable and (according to an NBC report) potentially unhealthy “shapewear.”  The preoccupation with looks, and finding our self-worth in our attractiveness, is a plague on womanhood that marches on.  And now it’s not just constraining lumpy tummies and muffin tops, its also achieving the “thigh gap.”  Who knew?  Watch this report by NBC to find out more about this new obsession.

For heaven’s sake!  I haven’t seen the light of day between my thighs for at least 20 years.  And after trying shapewear, which my daughters insisted is a necessity (yes, I have a muffin top that threatens to overflow), I couldn’t wait to get out of it!  How I wish our daughters could know how little it matters if they are not the best-dressed, prettiest, or thinnest.  Moms and dads, let’s wage war on the warped message that their worth depends on externals.  TALK to your girls about what really matters. Build up her worth based on her character and her talents, not her conformity to our society’s standards of beauty.  And realize that females may be the ones putting more pressure on other girls than guys do. Dare I also ask you…moms…to examine the messages you are sending as well?  Does our example or our words also make our daughters feel like nothing if they don’t measure up physically?  If so, we need to change our own values first!

Teens Empowered

Move over Lady Gaga; hello Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber.  As reported on E! News From London, “According to the IOC, NBC’s ratings for the London Olympics among teenage girls is a whopping 89 percent higher than those for Fox’s smash hit Glee. ‘The younger demographic has come back,’ IOC marketing director Timo Lumme said in a press conference Tuesday. ‘Teenage girl viewership is up 54 percent.'”

In an age when media role models are appallingly scarce (at least good ones), it’s heartening to know that girls have athletes to look up to.  These are strong, fit, girls with character, who also have handled disappointment (in Jordyn’s case) with class and grace, and success (in Gaby’s case) with humility and thankfulness.  I’ll bet, behind each young woman or young man, is a mom and/or dad who encouraged and supported their child to dream, and to achieve.  Let’s remember that even if our son or daughter isn’t destined to be an all-star athlete, we can be their best cheerleaders as they move through adolescence into adulthood, becoming the people we know they can be.

Free showing of documentary, Miss Representation, May 8

A documentary has been getting a lot of buzz, and hits on some very important topics for parents to consider.  Miss Representation is an award-winning film (shown on the Oprah Network last October) that looks at the portrayal of females in media, and how it affects not just girls and women, but boys and men as well.  This important documentary is being shown free to the public at Glenbard West High School Tuesday, May 8 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., followed by a discussion with the film’s director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom.  The film’s website says, “In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. ”  Click HERE to see an 8-minute trailer for the movie, or HERE for a shorter one.  WARNING:  There are some graphic images of partially clad women in these trailers in sexual situations.  If you try to keep your eyes from these kinds of images, you should perhaps NOT watch the trailers or the  movie.   The message in the movie is mixed in with a particular political stance that you may or may not agree with, but the focus on media and its portrayal of women is undeniably powerful and important…and could lead to some good discussion.  I would consider especially taking daughters to this movie.

Prom Insanity

USA Today, in an article out last month, reports that teens (or is it parents) are now spending between $1000 and $2000 on going to the prom.  Am I alone in thinking this is insane?  OK, so I’m someone who has never had a professional manicure or pedicure, has never set foot in a spa, and got my wedding dress off the clearance rack.  I am probably more shocked by prom-gone-wild than the average parent.  But I wonder, are these expectations reasonable in this economic environment?  And are we setting up our teens to expect all the luxuries they want throughout life without consideration for the costs?  Worse, if a young man (or young woman I suppose) is spending so much for one night, is he going to expect to “cash in” with a romp at the hotel?  Just today I heard the story of a woman who recounted the first time she had sex.  Junior Prom.  It was the price she had to pay to get her older boyfriend, who didn’t want to hang out with high schoolers, to go.  She called it “prostituting” herself, but used rougher words  So sad.

Parents, it’s time to have a sober talk about expectations for prom.  It can be fun, focus on friendships, and leave no regrets.  Or…it can be quite different. Let’s ratchet down the expectations.  This is not their wedding night, and it’s not the pinnacle of life from which everything from here on out goes downhill.

Lesser Known Eating Disorders to Watch For

Anorexia and Bulimia.  That’s it, right?  I remember when we first started talking about these disorders.  It was when I was in college.  Two girls came to me (a senior in the dorm) and told me their concern that their roommate had bulimia (she did).  Fast forward to today and we find that there are many people (still mostly young women) who don’t fit the old categories of bulimia and anorexia, but still have a distorted relationship with food, and a poor body image.   These disorders are described in a Today (MSNBC) article, and include such things as an addiction to exercise, binge eating, and even an obsession with health or “righteous” eating which can actually lead to malnourishment.  We need to know how to help our children when they get sucked into an unhealthy eating pattern, but first we need to be able to see the truth of what our teen is dealing with.  Being aware of these other eating disorders is a start.