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Suzanne Power: Mum's the word for girls and body image

My friend's eight-year-old daughter refused to eat cake at her own party because it was fattening. Her mother's response to this was legendary: she sat down and ate two slices with extra cream and gave a giant burp.

One of the reasons, in her view, why the little kid was thinking of slimming was not just to do with endless Beyonce-ing, the domination of trout pouts, balloon breasts and chicken arms, in the media. It was to do with her mother.

"I've been on about losing weight since the poor thing was born. I never realised she was taking it all in. One day when she was bouncing her head off my pillowy stomach, I turned to her dad and said: 'That has to go.' What should have been a lovely, cosy family moment was another opportunity for me to give her a weight complex when she shouldn't even know what it means." Her honesty made her look at the situation.

"I don't have any full-length mirrors in my house. I never got back to what I was before I had children. My post-partum figure, I lived in denial about it. I still have a rack of clothes I could get into before she was born. It's been a constant pressure. I yo-yo diet and I collect cookbooks. But I thought I was keeping all the weight paranoia from her. I tell her every day how beautiful she is. But she needs to see me happy with what I look like."

Listening to her made me realise, once again, how much more pressurised it can be when you have girls. My lads fall into the scruffy category and they're not expected to be anything else. They never think about food. They just eat it. I always wanted to have another baby, and if I am honest I wanted a girl. The mother and daughter shopping trips. The dressing up. Now I see it's terrible Barbie-related pressure all the way. It used to be inconceivable to have a plastic doll figure. Now it's realisable, with a no-food regime and a plastic surgeon. Horrible.

When I interviewed Gabriel Byrne once, he was fuming about how his little girl, Romy, was treated, because she was beautiful: "Everyone spoke about how gorgeous she was. I told her: 'You're smart too.'"

On the one hand, the print and broadcast media are full of how we need to tackle childhood obesity. On the other we have reports of eating-related disorders on the increase. It all points to a very effed-up relationship with food and mirrors. We're growing a generation of girls who feel guilty about food when they should be enjoying it.

Another friend describes herself as Communion Season Survivor: "When my girl made hers, it was Girls Aloud in white dresses. I felt like a terrible mother because I refused all her demands to wear blusher, eye liner and lip gloss, like her friends were doing. She kept telling me it was the 'natural look'. I told her the natural look was her skin. She ended up in tears, so I let her have no-colour gloss. At her age my beauty routine was a face cloth and soap."

When I was young my summers were about roaming free and stuffing my face. Now they seem, for most girls, about American and British serials, featuring 25-year-old actresses letting on they're 13 and getting their kit off for lad mags. All this teaches girls is: "You're an object. Be as clever as you like but if you're over a size 10 you're not that brainy."

We're making our girls sick. Let them eat cake.


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