It's A Guy Thing: Raising Confident Daughters
Posted by Guest in Getting Real,Loving Our Bodies
Charlie's daughter strikes a pose as a "sailor boy"

If I may say so, my four-year-old daughter is a well-rounded kid. She loves trains (courtesy of my love for them), cars, tools (the toy ones), and squirt guns. (Unlike a lot of parents, we’re not anti-water gun, we just make sure she understands that there exists a world of difference between water and bullets.) While she loves foam pirate swords, the hard plastic variety hold no interest because they can actually hurt someone. Tori also adores old cars, mostly because she loves Ruby, my 1972 Ford Maverick (yes, it’s got a child safety seat aboard) and can’t wait till she’s old enough to sit up front.

When it comes to toys, games, and activities, we try to balance the passive (TV watching and online games) with the active (swimming, biking, hiking, and climbing) and imaginative (pretending, role-playing, reading, and puzzle-solving). We’ve limited the overtly commercial franchises where possible, but the “princess phase” is perhaps unavoidable in little girls, and suppressing it seems as gender-biased as forcing it. Disney’s prices have done a great job of keeping our supply of DVDs to a minimum, but even the casual observer will find that Tori likes magic wands, Hello Kitty, and Tinkerbell. Again, telling her this stuff is too passive or girly seems just as silly as strapping boxing gloves on her, so we let her enjoy it.

My only reservation about her ideas on gender roles lies in some of the “rules” she recites once in awhile. She’s fond of saying “girls like pink and boys don’t” or “boys can’t have long hair.” We’re quick in every case to point out clear examples in her life where these rules don’t apply. She knows several boys with long curly hair and others who like pink better than blue. I’m not sure if she’s getting these stereotypes from school or TV, but they don’t go unchallenged around here. In fact, at age 4, Tori’s already been to a gay pride parade so she could meet some “princesses” (i.e., full-on drag queens) first-hand, which was more a shock to them than to her.

My most deeply held dreams for my daughter have little to do with gender-based ideals or roles, however.

Be fierce. Be strong, Be compassionate. Be curious.

These are the things I want for my daughter. Other fathers likely have similar lists. Like many dads, I wonder how I’ll handle the various milestones in my daughter's life: her first date, her first time driving solo, the day she sets out on her own. Then there’s all the body image issues that begin early and seem to challenge a woman’s self-image throughout her lifetime: How do I protect her from the shame and self-loathing so common among women in our society? Can I? Should I?

Above all, I want Tori to have a strong sense of self, a trust for her own gut instinct, and enough confidence to resist measuring herself against someone else’s yardstick. But the power of the media is strong: fashion magazines, diet plan come-ons, and “reality” programming are tough to avoid. I’ve always believed that the fashion industry is one of the biggest cons ever perpetrated upon humanity, and while many disagree, I’m not afraid to say so. My motto: dress comfortably, wear what makes you happy, and screw what others think or say. Of course, regardless of what I think, people do measure each other by fashion. But I want Tori to know a few things when she makes her fashion choices:

1. Barbie is NOT a rational beauty standard,

2. All those photos in fashion magazines and on billboards are Photoshopped,

3. Every culture views physical beauty differently,

4. Your peers are just as frightened and confused as you are, and

5. You may not always be proud of everything you’ve done, but never be ashamed of who you are.

As for internal beauty, she doesn’t need any help from me. She is a warrior princess with enough self-confidence to scare a bear. She knows she is beautiful, and I hope that she can carry that feeling with her forever.

Without a doubt, my daughter’s best guide to a future of self-acceptance and self-confidence is her mother. In her, Tori has a living example of what it means to be active and confident at any size—to be equally at home hiking a mountain, canoeing a river, or biking along a beach-side trail. She is learning that being a bigger woman does not mean being passive or unhealthy. She is learning that what matters in your life is what you do, not how others see you. Of course, I am a realist and I know there will be times of insecurity and self-doubt. Everyone experiences them. But as my dad used to say, “It’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them.”

I hope through all of this that Tori will grow to see life in terms of choices rather than limitations, and that neither her gender nor her body size should be a barrier to her desires, whether in personal style, career, recreation, or choice of friends or partners.