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!

Boys Deal With Body Image Issues Too

Most of what we read about body image issues focuses on girls who are trying to be model thin, or are obsessed with showing off their…curves.  But boys are not immune to our culture’s unhealthy focus on appearance.   A new study discussed in an online article by ANI News shows that boys who are of a healthy weight, but think they are too heavy or too thin, are more likely to be depressed.  Those who think they are “very underweight,” are the most depressed.  Boys who do not exhibit the bulging muscles of their peers, or of media celebrities, and experience bullying, are also more likely to use steroids, according to the article.  Giving our boys a healthy sense of self, whether they are muscular and toned, or of a leaner or huskier build, is as important as making sure girls know they don’t have to look like an airbrushed sunken-cheeked model.

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.

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!