For many parents, one of the most intimidating aspects of raising a teenage girl is trying to guide her through the complex and confusing world of dealing with her own body image. I recall the awkward self-consciousness my girlfriends and I experienced throughout adolescence, and as I watch my own tween daughter become more lovely and intelligent by the day, I dread the thought of her one day picking herself apart in the mirror the way my peers and I did.
As any mother would, I hope life goes easy on her in the coming years, and I hope I will always know the right things to say if and when she has moments of self-doubt. I think most of us occasionally worry we’ll screw it up somehow and inadvertently cause our kids to obsess over some imaginary flaw or, in the alternative, display a marked disdain for basic grooming and personal hygiene.
All parents hope to say exactly the right words to our daughters (and sons!) so it all makes sense. On the one hand you want to assure them all that really matters is who they are on the inside, including their compassion and respect for themselves and others. And on so many levels that’s absolutely true.
But on the other hand, you kind of want to warn them of the very practical reality that on another level, many of the people around them will always judge them based on the way they look, and in particular the way they choose to present themselves. Like most of us, there’s also a good chance their own perception of their appearance will contribute to the way they feel about themselves for much of their lives.
I hope my beautiful daughter will only ever evaluate herself with kindness and compassion, but of course I remember the harsh scrutiny of my own adolescence. For me it was a raging obsession with my freckles. I’m Irish with blue eyes and strawberry blond hair; there’s no way I was getting through life without freckles.
All I ever really dealt with was a light sprinkle across the nose and cheeks, and while I’m a lot more careful with the sunscreen in adulthood, I barely even notice the freckles anymore. Who cares, really? But I remember being 11, when the vast brown splotches smeared across my skin seemed like the most unsightly things in the world and I was desperate to erase them. I ordered strange creams from mail order catalogues, tried to gently “buff” them off with sandpaper, and even attempted to make a “gentle” homemade acid peel. Unfortunately, I’m not joking.
So I guess I really should have rolled my eyes a little less when I saw the stories all over the Internet last week about some apparent new online trend called the “Kylie Jenner Challenge.” Assuming this is really a “thing” and not yet another inflammatory e-hoax, teenage girls across the country have apparently been violently sucking on cups and glass bottles for extended periods of time in a sadly misguided attempt to give their lips an extreme swollen appearance, allegedly resembling the plump lips of some young person on TV the “olds” like me have never heard of.
At first it just sounds really weird and sort of dumb but the disturbing part is that a lot of the kids are hurting themselves by causing irregular swelling and serious bruising (because of physics and biology) and proudly posting photographs of their poor, beat-up faces all over the Internet.
I guess it’s not quite as dangerous as sanding off one’s own flesh but it’s still pretty ridiculous. I couldn’t help shaking my head when I stumbled upon the lip abuse article last week, and since I knew I wanted to mention it in my column, I kept the webpage minimized on my desktop all week so I could revisit it as soon as I had time to write.
I’ve noticed the article lurking at the bottom of my screen all week, occasionally wondering if my daughter would ever attempt to deform her lips. It doesn’t really sound like her style but, heck, half the dumb things kids do are from pure curiosity. You never really know.
Just as I’d convinced myself I didn’t have to worry about such antics anytime soon as she caught me by surprise one evening as we were riding in the car alone by informing me we needed to have a serious conversation about “something known as the Kylie Jenner Challenge.” My heart sank ever so slightly and I groaned and braced myself as I asked her if she’d actually tried it.
“Oh my god, mom!” she shrieked. “Really?! I would never do that, but I’ve been really worried about you. Sometimes I borrow your laptop when you’re not around — I know, sorry! JEEZ!!! — and I noticed there has been a creepy article about swollen lips open on your computer all week. Do you read that every single day? That’s so sad, mom. Your lips are fine. I’m worried you’re thinking about taking this ‘challenge’ and you need to understand it will only make you look like an idiot.”
Well that was awkward. And highly encouraging! I finally managed to convince her I wasn’t seriously considering assembling my own homemade lip-plumping kit, nor was I planning on scheduling one of those new-fangled head transplants she also kept reading about on my laptop (different story for a different day).
Sounds like the young lady has things pretty well figured out for now. Of course by the time she’s my age she’ll have all sorts of new problems to worry about as her body begins to age more rapidly. That’s OK though, ladies. Let those bodies sag as they may. Head transplants are totally a thing now! I heard you can even do it from home!
You go first!