Several nights ago I overheard daughter number one and my wife speaking in a tone somewhere between a talking to and the convivial, “Get your homework done.” Sensing something more serious I placed my fatherly self in the situation. Seems a pair of pants that daughter number one purchased earlier that afternoon no longer looked good in the darkening hours near bedtime. This is nothing new. Taking things back to the store is done on a more regular basis than picking up the basement. I suspect buying something to take back later is built into the plan as a reason to return to the mall. I cannot prove this.
Being the helpful sort of dad I told daughter number one I thought the pants looked fine. At worst they were a little tight and that they would stretch after being washed. Then I got one of those looks, two of them actually. I had failed to follow my instincts and little did I know the situation had devolved into body-image issues. I stood there for a moment, the way a butterfly newly pinned to a board stands there for a moment.
One either learns or one does not. I wanted to say, “Oh, I thought it was something serious.” But I recognized the terrain as deep girl territory, at least seventy, maybe eighty miles north of the demilitarized zone separating the single male of the house from three of the four significant women in his life (my mom lives 240 miles west).
Occasionally I have to venture to where they two now stood in counsel. When I do I ride hard and fast, like Gandalf upon Shadowfax, emitting my bolts of dire wisdom against powers I know I cannot contain, only hoping to slow or perhaps turn events to a more favorable outcome. I mumbled something and left to feed the dogs and give them their last outing before night-nights.
There is much I do not understand. Approaching body-image issues in detail over a pair of pants that look to fit is like trying to put on gloves with both hands asleep. Dad’s dress code is this: modest, clean, and look like your gender. A streak of color in the hair, Gene Simmons clod-busters, raggedy cut-offs, sans cheeks and the oft-time strategic rips don’t startle me that much. This is standard battle picking and the policy avoids making such forbidden items all the more alluring. It’s a two-for I’m particularly proud of.
My age plays into it. That and the fact I have never been a teen girl in high-school. The skills of fitting in, of being edgy and stylish, of balancing upon the narrow plank between noticeable but not too noticeable and yet noticeable to that someone you want to be noticed by, are all things best left to the experts. Night darkened stairs with two dogs underfoot are less risky for me and thus my hasty retreat.
Daughter number one swims about 5,500 yards five times a week. She has a trainer she visits once a week to help with posture, balance, and core-body strength. She eats right, gets good grades, and is the only one in the house capable of helping me move furniture. She has long blond curly hair much like mine was in college. Her eyes are green and only an occasional zit meanders near her hairline before fading back to the hormonal teen-grease from whence it came. She has friends. She lifeguards in the summers, and biased though I am, she is a pretty girl. And she has body-image issues. Though I might add not often; but they are there. She is, at times, her own worst critic, as are we all.
Since my girls have been old enough to watch television I have watched it with them, mocking the projections of size-zero stupidity every step of the way, pointing out how their television peers are actually thirty years old. I shine scalding beams of sarcasm upon the immodest and slatternly creatures depicted and have noted many times how televised and webinized cavorting is really not representative of good decision making. I have sat with them looking at bridal magazines (yes, young girls dream of the wedding) noting how the coveted dresses are beautiful, but for less than what they cost a couple could put a nice down payment on a home. I have noted aloud how no one on magazine covers has acne and, every step of the way have reminded them that girls as pretty as they are don’t need too much makeup, if any at all.
In a moment of calculated hyperbole I once advised them to noticeably fart on the first date because any boy who could not handle that was not worth their time. On and on through the years their mother and I have lifted the curtain to expose the machinery of illusion selling them what they are to look like and how they are to behave. Yet it feels like a rear guard action against an enemy innumerable and close upon our heals.
Body image issues begone! You shall not pass! It would be nice to be able to do that.