Friday, August 2, 2013

A Response to "How to Talk to Your Daughter About her Body"

There's an article going the rounds online. It's called "How to Talk to Your Daughter About her Body." I read it just now in the Huffington Post. It's written by Sarah Koppelkam.
I'm sure Sarah means well, and she says some good and important things in the article. But I'm always afraid readers out there will peruse an article, think "Hey, that sounds good!" and swallow it. Hook. Line. and Sinker.

Here are a few of the terse, quippish statements Koppelkam makes.

"Don't talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works."  That sounds clever. But what does it mean? What does it communicate to your daughter about her body, if you only ever talk about "how it works"? That her body is only utilitarian? Do you really want your daughter to think her body is simply a machine that should work well? Of course not!

What does the Bible say your daughter's body is? Her body is a temple for her spirit and a temple (more importantly) for the Holy Spirit. A body is an important thing to God, and should be to her. It is much more than simply a physical entity that should "work."

Another: "Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body." Because we wouldn't want our daughters to feel good about their bodies, would we? Okay, I understand that's not exactly what she's saying, but you know what? It comes across that way in the article. She steers dangerously close to this concept: A woman's body is not feminine. It is not an object of beauty. We shouldn't really be noticing it at all. Is that how you want your daughter to feel about her body? Is that how you want her to think others feel about her body? Unvalued? Unappreciated?

And another: "Don't ... talk about your new diet" in front of your daughter. Yeah. In fact, she says not to diet in front of your daughter. If you diet, do it in secret. Because we should be ashamed that we're trying to improve our bodies by becoming less obese and watching what we eat. Koppelkam assumes women always diet to improve their looks. Doesn't it occur to her that many people diet to improve their health? Duh?

Yet another doozie: "Prove to your daughter that women don't need men to move their furniture." (This one really gripes me!) I'm all for women being strong and capable. But this sentence is so loaded! You might as well replace "to move their furniture" with "fill-in-the-blank-helpful-male-activity." Tell your daughter, "You can do everything a man can do because you're just as muscular as he is." This is a lie. Or, "You don't need men's help." Another lie. This statement is so problematic regarding the whole family dynamic. What if I never left anything for my strong, healthy, helpful husband to do for me? "That's okay, honey! I can do it all myself!" That's a terrible relational example to show my daughter.

And: "Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter." I like butter as much as the next Slow Food Person, but the message behind this sentence stinks: 'Who cares about fat!? Eat whatever you want, as much as you want, no matter how unhealthy it is -- because your body is your own and you can make it as fat and unhealthy as you like!' Teach her to bake? Yes! Teach her the wonders of butter? Yes. Push her to unhealthy eating habits so she can shove-it to the whole Hollywood Modeling Establishment? No.

And last: "Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul." I'm sure Ms. Koppelkam was happy with this finishing line in her article. It lets the reader down ever-so gently after all her bombastic over-statements. Following all the emphasis on the body, it places that "soul" word on top like a decorative sprinkle. But the fact is, the body's purpose is not simply to hold a soul. It's not a container. It's not an empty robot designed to move a soul from one spot to another. This degrading of the body is tiresome to me.

The body and the soul are a beautifully, perfectly incorporated unity. Both are equally important. If the body were this disposable, this unessential, our resurrections would not be so important to God. But they are. God is determined not to give us new bodies for eternity. He's giving us our old ones back -- resurrected, perfected, but the same old bones and skin and smiles and hair. If He values our bodies this much, we should too.

One more word about beauty -- we're lying to our daughters if we attempt to give them a view of their bodies that doesn't address beauty. Beauty is not arbitrary; there is beauty and there is ugliness. Beauty comes in a wide range of flavors (thankfully), but we're involved in utter futility if we try to conceal from our daughters that: 1) beauty exists, 2) it's important to everyone, 3) it will effect their relationships, 4) their own beauty and others' beauty is worth observing, and 5) the world has standards of beauty that our daughters should study and understand.

Koppelkam's article advocates ignorance as a method of emotional protection for girls. That's not only ridiculous; it's dangerous. Help your daughter to find her own flavor of beauty and enjoy it. But don't convince her that her body is not designed for beauty, because that's a lie. She's eventually take it for the insult that it is.

5 comments:

  1. I read the orig. article after I read your response. What a shallow collection of orders on what to do and not do in an area of life that strikes me as intensely personal. Your response was, far from being "grumpy", rather thoughtful and a good deal deeper than the original. Certainly our culture gives negative messages to girls about their bodies and their beauty or lack of it, but I agree with you that much of what is suggested in the article is negative also. How awkward a relationship would result if a mother followed all of those suggestions! Awkward and dishonest, both. KK

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  2. Yer ol' buddy DaveAugust 2, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    Good show, Mary Kathryn! Way to take the bull by the horns.

    This weird gnosticism that's become popular recently concerning the body... particularly the female body... is so troubling. There is all the difference in the world between saying "Physical beauty is nonexistent, arbitrary or irrelevant," on the one hand, and saying, "We need not be enslaved by worldly standards of beauty or perspectives on beauty." The first statement is asinine and borderline evil, because God is beauty; the second statement is entirely consistent with the gospel of the Kingdom.

    You're a peach, MK. Keep it up!

    David Kennedy Bird

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  3. I like your article better. :) Hey, this woman's piece sounds like someone who's got book knowledge, but no practical sense.

    Easy to be a robot and have canned comments to tell our kids (daughters), but I think our girls are much too mature for that sort of shallow conversation.

    I'll not read anymore of this woman's drivel, thanksverymuch! I've got a cake to bake.

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  4. I did not read the article, but I bet it's largely a response stemming from fear and "I'm not enough" and meant to soothe and comfort or prevent sad and wrong thinking caused by a fallen and unloving society. Have you read The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness? Good.
    You're such a smarty, good MK!

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  5. If God isn't in the talks, what does it matter? Just a bunch of noise with no substance for when the cold winds of life blow.

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