On Sexy Superheroes, Little Girls, and Body Image

Girl superhero, body imageMy little girl wants to be Wonder Woman. She puts on that outfit and vanquishes bad guys and saves the world. She spins and jumps and lassos until she is stopped mid leap by the full length mirror in my room. Turns out, even in her Wonder Woman outfit she does not look like Wonder Woman. Huh?! 

She had tied sweatshirts on her hips (bigger hips makes your waist look tinier, so, points for creativity I guess), she put socks in her top. “Boobs!” She declared. She’s playing. I get this. It isn’t a comment on her own body image, but I cringe anyway. I don’t want my girls to feel the pressure to grow up super quickly. To become the curvy, hyper-sexualized woman between the covers of the DC comic.

Thankfully, the superheroes she idolizes are saving the world rather than waiting to be saved by the prince, but why on earth can’t they save the world in a less sexual way? Why do we have to see their butt cheeks? And also, how can one kick ass in 3-inch heels?! Puhlease!

I want my girls to feel good about their bodies. I want for them to stay little girls as long as they want to be little girls, and when they are ready I want them to feel good about the young women they morph into. 

Last weekend in the family locker room at the pool, Little E said, “You’re too skinny for your breasts.” What?! I wanted to move on, to say, “rinse off the chlorine,” but I’m trying to be the mom that talks about stuff. Honestly and frankly, about whatever they want to talk about. So, I asked, “What do you mean?” “They’re so . . . ” She couldn’t answer (probably because her statement made no sense), but it turned into a full family discussion of my breasts. Their size, and their sagginess quotient compared to the rest of my body. We also talked about the saggy part of my lower belly that hangs over my c-section scars. It was awesome and didn’t make me feel weird at all. (Said no mom ever.)

My girls are trying to figure out what they are “supposed” to look like. What women in general are “supposed” to look like. They kind of get (because they can see) that most representations of women are not realistic. But that’s not fair. They shouldn’t have to be taught that their bodies don’t have a chance in hell of ever looking as beautiful as . . . what?! I don’t even know. As beautiful as they should be? As beautiful as the photoshopped billboard for the tanning salon? As beautiful as Wonder Woman?

WonderWomanI don’t want my girls to overcome body image confusion and shame when they are in their 30s. I want them to never have confusion or shame. 

They are confused, though. Because they feel pretty. They know they are strong. They think I am beautiful, and they think the mamas in our tribe are beautiful. I want to abort the paradigm that has lead to this confusion. That tells them there is indeed something wrong with their perfect bodies. 

I want them to be able to hold on to the honest confidence they have right now. Right now they know that their bodies are perfection. Their legs are strong; they can run and climb and jump. Their fingers are dexterous and they can make daisy chains. They know that they can do anything that pops into their ridiculous little heads. They know that they don’t have to stand for the BS that makes them not feel awesome. 

We own a book called The Bodies of Mothers. It is gorgeous and filled with photos taken by Jade Beall, cofounder of A Beautiful Body Project. I watch them trace their fingers over the lines of all different types of bodies. All beautiful and all interesting. My big girl pours over the words, soaking them in. Her eyes roam over the curves and edges of women of all shapes. I count it as a victory against the fashion magazines, the sexy fairies and the curvy super heroes. 

I will not censor what they read. It would be an exercise in futility. However, I will fill my house with alternative media so that they can have some context. As they say in chemistry, which a wise blogging friend applied to body image, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” So I will help them to notice the sexism and see it for what it is. I will guide our conversations around Wonder Woman, princesses, and the display window of Fantasy on Burnside. 

I will own my body in a positive way. I will speak of our bodies and when I do I will use positive language. I will never shame myself or my sweet babies. I will not shame Wonder Woman. Or the small waif-like woman. There will be no body shaming at all in my house. Ever. We will be fierce and we will be perfect. We will be superheroes.

3 Responses to On Sexy Superheroes, Little Girls, and Body Image

  1. Avatar
    Walter Chin February 11, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    Great thoughts Molly, on women and sexism.

    • Molly
      Molly February 12, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      Thanks Walter! You are a reliable source of encouragement and I appreciate it. –Molly

  2. Avatar
    Alex Burns February 24, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    There are some comics out that are great for this – check out Marvel’s Squirrel Girl and Hellcat, IDW’s Jem and the Holograms, or Boom!’s Lumberjanes for really wide variety of body types and beauty standards.