A while ago, I asked my son what he wants to be when he grows up.
“I want to be fat,” he answered without hesitation.
“Like the Daddy in the Simpsons,” he explained.
“Like Obelix the Gaul,” he emphasised.
“Like him”, he exclaimed in delight when he saw Japanese hammer thrower Koji Murofushi in the Olympics. “Big, fat and very strong!” He delightedly launched his foam rubber hammer across the living room, imitating the throwing technique with uncanny accuracy.
I am sometimes glad I don’t have a daughter. I have a friend whose 10 year old daughter is already worrying about being thin. She leaves half her dinner sometimes. She compares herself to the skinny girls at school and wishes she looked like them.
Half of me is not surprised about this. When you turn on Italian TV, this is what you typically see:
Not surprisingly, this is the doing of Berlusconi, who owns most Italian TV channels and, while president, indirectly controlled the rest.
The other half of me is shocked in disbelief that prepubescent children are already imposing this unhealthy nonsense on each other. At their age, dieting not only risks infertility and stunted growth but also irreparable organ damage. Children watch whatever adults watch nowadays. They copy everything with that total lack of criticism or judgement that is… well, typical of children.
The Italians used to be famous for their love of curvaceous women with big boobs, rounded hips and womanliness all over. Until recently, it was mandatory in all Italian movies for there to be one scene where the heroine, in her dangerously low-cut top, gets really pissed off about something and stomps away on her six inch heels, her boobs shown in close-up wobbling like a pair of jellies.
Not any more. Nowadays, even in Italy, it’s all about being thin. That means the women often get false boobs, which as we all know can’t wobble even if their owner goes trampolining naked.
One of the things we women often tell each other, and which older women always tell younger girls whom they think are diet obsessed, is that men don’t like those anorexic model types. They want “something to get hold of”, we reassure each other. They like womanly women with boobs and curves, we claim hopefully.
But I am afraid that’s not true any more. Men’s opinions are influenced by the media just as much as women’s. Seeing skinny actresses playing the role of the sex symbol gives men their idea of the kind of woman who will impress their friends, and thus, the kind of woman they want to date. Does anyone formulate their beauty ideal independently of the culture they live in? Almost nobody.
As I said, I am glad I don’t have to worry about this. I’m glad to be the Mum of a little boy whose ambition is to be a fat and very strong hammer thrower. And, my God, he is so beautiful! Sometimes, I look at him when he’s sleeping, and I get tears in my eyes to think how lucky I am.
We humans have always loved beauty. We have always wanted to be more beautiful. We have always favoured people we find beautiful and we always will. The only thing that changes over time is our definition of what is beautiful. Once it was this:
Nowadays, it’s this:
It seems we can find just about any shape of human beautiful provided other humans tell us to do so. But can our definition of beauty please fall within the parameters of healthy?
Any responsible parent stops their children seeing sex or violence on TV. They are unsuitable for children. But what about those images that shape their idea of what is beautiful? Do we ever stop to consider if those are suitable?
As parents, we cannot just tell our teenage girls “Men like curves” or “Dieting at your age is unhealthy.” If we ever need to say that to them, it’s too late. Their beauty ideal has already been formed.
I don’t have to worry about having an anorexic daughter in the future. But I don’t want a git of a son either. I have decided to take control of what my boy sees on TV.
I do not allow terrestrial Italian TV to be switched on while my son is awake. I do not want my living room filled with images of unhealthily thin women dancing about in bikinis beside ugly old men who praise their beauty patronisingly, then ignore them while presenting a programme about what passes for politics in Italy.
My son may only be interested in cartoons so far, but what goes on in the background does influence children from the first day they see a television. I do not want my son to think that sexism is acceptable. I do not want him to think being thin equals being beautiful. I am determined that he will not grow up judging girls by how self-disciplined they are about dieting to below their natural weight.
I know a lot of other families in Italy who have made the same decision. I know some families who do not allow their teenage daughters to buy fashion magazines. And the number of parents making the same choices is growing. If all parents did that, the peer pressure at school would stop. If we all boycotted the fashion magazines and the unsuitable TV shows, they would eventually disappear.
We can blame the media but, in the end, we as parents CAN have control over what influences our children. We just have to take it.