Monday, February 11, 2008

I Have A Treat For You!

Growing up. It's certainly not easy and in a society obsessed with beauty and an almost impossible standard of physical perfection, it can be deadly.

More and more young woman find their self worth in the world's feedback. Do you think I'm pretty? Do these jeans make me look fat?

I myself have been on a diet since I was 16 years old.

I have never had a day where I woke up, looked in the mirror and felt content with who was looking back at me.

It's been a constant struggle - this relationship between beauty and I. At almost 40, I think I am starting to care a little less... willing to like myself, not despite, but because of, all that I am. My body has given me the ability to love and connect and participate in the world - how could I love it less?

But, as mother to a young daughter, I worry. Am I instilling confidence in her? Am I teaching her that looks are secondary to character? Am I a healthy role model for her? What do I say if she comes to me asking for a boob job and blonde extensions?

We live in a society which thrives on the sexualization of young girls. Thongs are made in junior sizes and the jeans keep getting lower and lower. We revel in their teen pregnancies, obsess over their highly provocative lifestyles and open our email to photos of them flashing their girlie bits. Our idea of "normal" is barely recognizable to the generation before us.

Beauty is seen as the key to happiness. It unlocks all potential. If you're not pretty, as Heidi Klum might say, "you're out".

Self worth tied up with outer beauty.

But what is beauty? Sure, we can probably all agree that Beyonce is a beautiful woman. But what about America Ferrera? What about Tina Fey? What about Kat Von D? All beautiful as well. Does this me that we are opening up our parameters of beauty?

Sometimes, when I drive through town, I'll see all the high schoolers leaving for the day and these young girls, with their smooth skin and shiny hair and straight teeth are so gorgeous they take my breath away. I want to call out to them, "You are lovely. Don't listen to that jerk of a guy on the bus, or take the Cosmo quiz... you are so very lovely, right now."

But, they would probably call the cops on their way to the gym.

So, in this environment, how do we teach our daughter what we know to be true... that there are a million ways to be beautiful.

Enter Woody Winfree.

Her book, We Are More Than Beautiful is a collection of essays, all written by young women of every race and religion and background... together they celebrate their individuality. They get that true beauty comes from loving yourself... they are remarkable.

I can't tell you how much I loved this book and I want you to love it too so at the end of the interview you can enter and I will send you my very own copy (that's a lie, I will buy you one and send it because I won't part with mine).

Take the time to read through this interview... I guarantee you'll come away with a little better prepared to face the hair extension questions.

We Are More Than Beautiful

46 Real Teens Speak Out about Beauty, Happiness, Love and Life

by Woody Winfree

The new book, We Are More Than Beautiful for teen girls is the latest addition to the work of the I Am Beautiful Project, an initiative committed to producing creative and educational works that encourage personal growth and discovery for women and girls of all ages.
Author, Woody Winfree says the project’s mission is simple: to create a world in which every woman and girl can proudly proclaim, “I AM BEAUTIFUL!”

What is the I Am Beautiful Project all about?

It is about changing the definition of beauty in our culture – one girl at a time, one woman at a time. Quite dramatically, the mass media has chipped away at our sense of beauty and well-being by presenting a singular, narrow and distorted image of female beauty: super-thin bodies, topped by large, perky breasts, with flawless youthful faces surrounded by shiny bouncy hair –and of course, sparkly white, perfectly straight teeth! This suggestion of beauty is not only wrong, it is a LIE. In truth, only three percent of the U.S. female population has the genetic makeup to look like this ideal. That means 97% of us are spending billions of dollars, untold hours of our lives and huge amounts of happiness in an attempt to pursue this distorted ideal.
In sum, the I Am Beautiful Project is about books and films, and workshops and seminars -- and anything else I might think to create along the way – that help guide women and girls to change their perspective about the definition of beauty. Beauty is NOT the size of our waists, or the cascade of our hair. Rather, beauty is the sum of our talents, accomplishments, intellect, contribution to our families and communities, and every other measure of living a life that deeply matters.

Where did the idea of this project come from?

With the creation of my first book for women, I Am Beautiful – A Celebration of Women, the hope was to give our daughters – mine and yours and every other American girl --- a tangible work that they could hold onto. To expose them to images of women that are as real, interesting, diverse and beautiful as real women are. The success of this first book (that is now available in a gift edition), naturally led to creating a book just for girls: We Are More Than

The seed for this work, however, was planted some years before book ideas ever came into my head. When my now 23-year-old daughter was five someone asked me if she could model for a photo-shoot for a leather goods product ad. I thought this would be a fun experience, so off we went. At the time we were living in rural Connecticut. My daughter was a frog-chasing, tree-climbing nature girl almost completely free from the mass media – billboards, magazines, TV, etc. But the second the photographer bent down to take a few test shots, my little nature-girl struck a provocative pose of hip out, lips pouting and a come-hither stance, while her dumb-struck mother looked on! Where could she possibly have learned to do this? Why did she think that this is the natural relationship that a woman has with the camera? I came to believe that her weekly journey through the gauntlet of fashion magazines on the grocery check-out aisle is where she learned this “un-truth.”

Tell me about the new teen book. Who is in it? Where are they from? What stories do they tell – and how is this important to other girls who read the book?

The girls in the book are ages 12 to 19, from all walks of American life, facing and exploring all types of issues with self-acceptance and self-esteem. Each girl responded to my query – “Tell me why you are beautiful.” At once, every story is unique to the individual girl’s experience, but universal to the experience of American girls everywhere. Each girl is presented with her picture in an artistically graphic and colorful layout over two pages. This presentation is, not only contemporary and exciting to girls raised in the most visually stimulating culture ever but, affords the reader to enter fully into each girls’ “world” and experience her journey of claiming her beauty.
Bottom line, experiencing other girls’ stories is important because it supports, helps and guides the reader to learn how to ask and answer that question for herself. The book creates a classical “peer” environment for sharing information, even trading secrets in a safe, supportive way. It also teaches girls to learn that they have a “right” to their sense of beauty and how to formulate conversations with their own friends on the subject.

Can the book be used by mothers with their daughters?

Absolutely! My hope is that mothers and daughters will read it together and use its stories as a springboard for ongoing conversations. Conversations about:

1. The true definition of beauty

2. How the culture distorts that definition – and why

3. Why a narrow, distorted definition is harmful

4. Who are the women and girls in our lives that we find most beautiful – and do they embody the cultural ideal of beauty – or a deeper, more meaningful definition?

5. How we can enjoy the fun and frivolity, even the consumerism, of American life without buying into notion that we must alter our natural features in order to feel beautiful, make friends, get good grades, get ahead and on and on.

I encourage mothers and daughters to write their own essays together, to deeply contemplate what makes them beautiful, then write it down. Share it with one another. Put their written answer in a place where they see it every day – maybe next to their toothbrush, or on their nightstand. Read it again and again. Slowly, over time it is my promise that this simple act can have powerful results.

Proof positive of this is seen in my own two daughters. Because I have been working on projects related to this subject for more than 10 years, my daughters have been raised on a nutritious and bountiful “diet” of ways to define their beauty. Like any belief or idea that one is exposed to, affirmative ideas of who they are have shaped how they see themselves. Further, 1,000 “teaching moments” over dinner conversation or watching TV or looking at magazines, have raised their awareness of how and why the media diminishes women. And, knowledge is power. Oh sure, they have “bad hair” days and times when they are knocked off their stride – just like we all do. But at their core, they have a deeper sense of self and an expansive measure of their worth to draw on. This is the gift I work to share – one girl at a time, one woman at a time.

Why do you believe that naming our beauty is so essential?

When we give “voice” to anything, ascribe literal words to a thought or idea, a major shift begins to take place. It might be ever so subtle in the beginning, but in time the act evolves into a concrete declaration of fact. I also believe that we deserve to know and feel our beauty. I believe it is our right, our spiritual right. Can we reach our full potential in this one precious life we have been honored with if we are chasing an artificial ideal of our self-worth? This is the ultimate question that we must ask ourselves – and guide our young daughters looking up to us to do the same.

What else are you up to with the I Am Beautiful Project?

I speak frequently to various audiences of women and girls on this subject. From colleges and universities around the country to high schools, at companies and more. These seminars and workshops are designed to dig deeper into the issues we have explored in this interview. These events are listed on my website:
My website also recommends other books and web links on this subject, as well as tips on building better self-esteem. Please visit! Please write with any questions.

Special for It's All Fun & Games readers... if you would like your own copy of Woody's book, let me know in the comment section by Thursday, February 14th and EvaJun and I will post the winner on Friday.

knows she's beautiful...


dgm said...

Because we live in Orange County.

'Nuff said? ;-)

No? Well then. I'll say that growing up, I never looked like any of my peers--I was tiny, with dark skin, black hair, dark brown eyes, and most of them were fair-haired blondes with green or blue eyes. I had (have) a naturally muscular build, not a lithe one, more prominent because I'm very athletic.

For some reason, however, I've always thought I was the lucky one because I stood out. I want my daughter, a beautiful brunette in a sea of blondes, to grow up with the same mindset and to be confident that she is unique.

Amy Y said...

What a lesson this one is, in our society obsessed with looks.

I turned 30 last September and was happy to kiss my 20's goodbye... rife with insecurities and self questioning. I made a decision that in my 30's, I'd love me for me, no matter what.

Kristin said...

dgm - Oh yes, living in Southern CA hasn't made it any easier!

Amy - the 20s, despite the good skin and muscle tone, were a beeyotch mentally... the 30s have been better!

Anonymous said...

I have two Beautiful girls, ages 7&8. I worry every day.


Phoenix said...

Hell yes, I want one. Great post by the way.

My nieces so know they're beautiful...and smart and bratty. ;)

But that seems like an awesome book, for when they stop remembering.

Joannah said...

I agree that living in Southern California makes it even tougher for girls and young women. And men around here really seem to want the Barbie dolls, so that compounds the problem. We need to be raising daughters and sons to value others' for things deeper than outward appearances.

I know you will instill a strong sense of self-worth in Eva. She's lucky to have a mommy like you!

Kristin said...

Joannah - that's a very good point - our boys need to grow up recognizing beauty is more than the latest Victoria's Secret model!

Anonymous said...

What an important interview and the book sounds great. I want to win my own copy!


Joe said...

Sounds like a great project. Speaking as a guy, it's hard not to notice that the odds are stacked in our favor as it relates to aging and our physical appearance. Hopefully we'll get to a point where people are focused less on an "ideal" and instead realize that many "ideals" exist.

Domesticator said...

I have the opposite problem. I never worried too much (at least consciously) about what I looked like until I hit 40. All of a sudden, the weight wasn't as easy to lose. Had some wrinkles...had to be a little more careful to chose clothes that were fashionable yet not make me look frumpy( or too young) yes, I myself struggle with body image a bit for the first time in my life. I do worry about my two girls, too. Are they going to pick up on some of my insecurites? I hope not. I am aware of it, and feel that vanity is so superficial. Yet, I somehow fall into the trap myself.

This author is trying to do a good thing for young people, and I applaud her efforts.

Tori said...

Of course I must have this book K! It was meant to be read by the sea of burgeoning and blossoming women in my house. It would be an excellent one to read for the Mother/Daughter book club!

Bring it on.....


Anonymous said...

"I have been on diet since I was 16"

I can so relate to that!

Los said...

I remember growing up, and worrying about the clothes I wore - my parents were unable to buy me the name-brand clothes, and sometimes the kids at school would make fun, especially in middle school. My parents gave me everything - they did all they could for me, and I love them for it. I just had to develop a thick skin about it, and rise above the shallowness ... not an easy task.

Kristin said...

Los - according to Reese Witherspoon, that type of teasing is what makes you interesting today and she hopes that her kids are teased and bullied.

Seriously, couldn't you just kick her in the ankles?

What you said is my biggest argument for uniforms... stick 'em all in khaki shorts and navy pullovers and even the playing field... I LOVE that my kids wear uniforms... it makes it easy to buy a couple of the more "brand" items because they only need a few things.

Jodi said...

I have no girls, what about a book for boys???? Do you know of a good one that address issues similiar to these oh-wise-one?

Shelley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelley said...

Okay, it took me 3 attempts to read this post (ala various kid-induced interruptions), but read it I did. It was worth it - God, what a great post!

Yes, the girls and I must have a copy of this book. This subject alone keeps me pacing at nights. Especially as both of my girls are so focused on looks and voguing and the like ...both from different vantage points, but still "girl vanity," and all its trappings, runs big in this house (and often for all the wrong reasons).

For her 9th birthday, I just gave Gills the book called "Ready, Set, Grow" by Lynda Madaras. It has positive messages and is intended to inform about puberty, specifically.

I would LOVE for (and need to help) her learn more about how she can define beauty for herself she can define her own presence and self-worth ...and how she can operate confidently in a world that is really (still) male dominated/controlled ...and to understand and overcome the challenges she will face in doing so.

I want Gillie and Charshee to "have the balls" to live life to the fullest and to take what is rightfully theirs if they choose.

Whether we win or not, that book is mine. :)



Gracencameronsmomy said...

ooh,ooh, me, me!! Sounds awsome!

Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

Your girl is gorgeous and I'm glad she knows it!

M3 said...

Love a good book, and that one sounds dead-on. Please enter me in the contest. I worry about this all the time...

Sarah O. said...

Amazingly, my daughter has always rejected standard beauty ideals. She never liked Barbies, even before I started telling her that absolutely nobody is built like that. She went to a high school where most of the girls were gorgeous, willowy blondes but she never felt the need to emulate them.

Are we lucky or WHAT?

Daniella said...

After various interruptions, I finshed reading this very important post today. Great message - I want to read this book.

Kristin said...

Ok, so I have -


Marisa (get a blog!)





WInner drawn today by Miss Thing herself!

SSC said...

Crap I am too late!!!!

But not too late to tag you. You've been tagged, but I still want a chance to win the book!!!

Wendy said...

Growing up in OC made me very weight conscious. I think my first diet was at 14, and I wasn't even fat! Now that I'm out of that environment, I try not to obsess so much. Though Camille does see me weigh myself each morning and she wants to too. I don't want her to ever feel fat, even if she isn't. It's a horrible feeling of inadequacy.