I was thirteen when I bounced up the concrete steps of our screened in porch and plopped down next to my mother in one of our four  vinyl green and white striped lawn chairs. Her long tanned legs were crossed and she was nursing an ice cold martini, two olives tilted in the glass, impaled on a tooth pick. Next to her sat a TV tray, and on the tray was a  plate of saltine crackers and a can of smoked oysters. I had just come in from playing with the neighbor kids, and even though I was a bit hot and sticky, it being July, I reached over and grabbed a cracker, popping in my mouth. She looked at me, eyes filled with disgust and said “You’re a cow!’

I can still taste the dry, salty-crumbled cracker in my mouth, because I couldn’t swallow. It was as if she had delivered an iron fist to my chubby adolescent gut and I couldn’t move. I really don’t remember if there were any words between us after that, but it’s been over fifty years and I’ll never forget those three little words that delivered such a punch that still hurts today.

I’m not writing this to disparage my mother. Let’s face it, anyone who’s ever had kids knows that we parents, at one time or another have have had bad days. We’ve said things in the heat of the moment that we can’t take back. I’m guilty myself. We are all human, but those kinds of remarks have a lasting impact because we are human. To this day, I struggle with body image. My husband never understood why I was constantly worrying about what I put in my mouth. The constant hamster wheel inside my head going round and round with questions like: should I eat the ice cream; order the fries; skip the bread. There isn’t one thing that crosses my plate that I haven’t analyzed before it crosses my lips. It’s exhausting. And why has this had such a negative, long lasting impact? Because society says it’s important, that’s why.

And today, my thoughts of that ancient remark were triggered by a television news story that was aired this morning. How social media, the likes of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. have contributed to the unrealistic images of women and how they should look. Young girls are bombarded with images of perfection. Sumptuous lean bodies, flawless skin, luxurious hair, and blinding white smiles are continuously streaming across the internet. This is truly damaging our girls. I worry about my granddaughter who will turn eleven next month. I worry about her ability to live a full and happy life in the skin she’s been blessed with. I also worry about all young women and what their future will be like if this continues. I worry about their emotional well being, The images, the photoshopping, the glamor of it all, it’s not reality. I heard one of the commentators even use the term “gene lottery.”  Meaning, folks simply born with the physical attributes society deems beautiful. We’re delivered into this world with the DNA that makes us who we are. Why isn’t that enough? And yet, it’s never been enough. Not then, not now. There is even an increase in girls as young as adolescents requesting plastic surgery to change their appearance. This is NUTS!

I don’t look for the social media to change anytime soon. But I certainly encourages parents, grandparents, guardians, or whoever mentors young people (boys included) to have serious conversations and watch for signs that there might be a problem. It’s perfectly normal to want to look your best, to feel healthy and happy. But if perfection is the goal, it’s unachievable. I think back to my thirteen year old self. Yes, I was a bit physically awkward at that age, a bit chubby, no calendar girl for sure, but the great majority of girls that age were exactly like that. Oh how I wish I could go back in time and have a conversation with my thirteen year old self. I would tell her she’s worthy, that she’ll grow up to have a wonderful life, loving husband, beautiful family, successful career, and find her own kind of happiness. I would tell her that as imperfect as life is, it also comes with the ‘extraordinary’ if you let it. We’ve just got to  keep talking, keep listening, and keep loving our kids. Their future depends on it.