Monday, January 24, 2011

Good Girls Don't Get Fat by Robyn Silverman and Dina Santorelli

Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It by Robyn Silverman and Dina Santorelli is bound to be one of those books that to be a clarion call to action. How can we protect our girls from the barrage of body image advice that often slips into a form of verbal abuse in its inescapable and endless shout from various media including television, magazines, and even in the home and classroom?

The message is good and powerful but the truth is the book mad me feel completely disempowered. I felt like no matter what a parent does it will never be good enough. First the mother (how Freudian) is discussed and while I understand that the mother daughter relationship is a profound one, by the time I reached the end of the chapter, I felt that most mothers would be in despair. There is a list of suggestions for how to properly approach the issues of weight with a daughter but I doubt most mothers would put these suggestions into practice 100% of the time and by the time you finish the first chapter you realize that even one slip of the tongue, one mistaken comment, can be carried in a child's psyche well into adulthood.

The relationship with the father is looked at next and, again, it seems utterly hopeless. Be involved but not too involved. Say positive things but don't say things that are too positive. Be a good example but be careful because if you say or do one thing wrong it will be enough to undo all that you've done. One story in particular affected me as a woman shared how her father never really spoke up for her when her mother was endlessly commenting on the daughter' weight except for one time. The suggestion made by this now adult daughter was that the one time was not enough to outweigh all the silence but that it helped. (I'll write more about this in a moment.)

Next, siblings and extended family are addressed but not with the same intense scrutiny as the parents. But even here, the parents are responsible for speaking up. If one sibling is picking on the other or an aunt or grandparent says something to belittle the child, the parent must intercede every time . . . or else.

Finally, we come to the schools and here the teachers are held accountable even though the author and the teachers she interviewed iterated and reiterated how much of the bullying and such that happens in the schools is not done in front of the teacher. Somehow, some way, the teacher is supposed to handle something to which they are not an immediate witness. Yes, there are some infuriating examples of how teachers completely fail to be supportive but the examples of teachers who do it right are fewer and further between.

Then we come to the peer relationships-the friends, the boyfriends, the other classmates. Of course, a perfectly good teacher would intercede but we now know, thanks to the previous chapter, that there are very few of these. And of course, wonderfully loving and supportive family members-from siblings to parents-could protect the child even here but . . . nope. Not really. And by now we know how bombarded these poor children are by so many outside sources and that much of the abuse the individual experiences is so shaming that nothing much is said and . . .

I wanted to throw the book against a wall a long time before I reached the valuable conclusion which is a pages long list of resources for the reader and for young girls. These pages are the redemption for this book because, let's face it, even the title is ironic. The book blabbers on endlessly about how powerless children are in the face of these endless body image messages and from the title to every page of this book guess what is discussed: the body and body image. Did I miss something here? I confess, I even found myself wondering how others perceive me now that I've gained a few pounds. Am I being judged this harshly? Are people laughing about my thighs and such behind my back?

This book could honestly give anyone a complex. The parent reading is bound to feel inadequate. The teacher reading this book will feel powerless and unable to bear full witness. Even the child is bound to feel that her perception of being surrounded and disempowered is overly represented. "If the parents, family, teachers, and peers are all a part and parcel of the problem, how am I to stand up against all of this?" I would imagine the young girl asking herself.

But the resources are excellent and I would encourage anyone who starts reading this book who feels as discouraged and frustrated as I did to just skip ahead and get to them. There are books and websites for just about everything from media literacy (something I strongly urge any parent and/or teacher to explore) to books from children of all ages to movies (although I have to question a couple of those choices as well) to, of course, websites.

The resources are almost worth the price of the book but you can just as easily go to your public library, grab a copy of the book off the shelf and use the list of recommended reading to actually take home some better reading material. And websites often come and go so make sure you seek out the internet resources sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, a great idea for a book with an unfortunate title and not a lot of meritorious content. Most importantly, I wouldn't want an adolescent to read this book. If I, as an adult felt powerless in the face of all that's "out there," I can only imagine how a young girl who is still trying to figure it all out would feel.



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