A friend’s daughter’s selfie stirs contempt for social distortion.
Somewhere around age 11, most kids stop thinking of themselves as children. In fact, with some, there might even be a first taste of contempt: an inaugural disdain for one’s own image in light of the year’s more celebrated models. That was my experience, and I’m guessing it might also be that way for Ray (short for Rayna), the 12 year-old daughter of my friend Ruby. One of Ray’s selfies, in which she’s wearing thick eyeliner and lipstick, took me by surprise this morning.
Now, I’m a non-parent by choice, so these remarks are made knowing that my own being caught off guard can’t compare to the urgency felt by Ruby and other moms. But the photo made me sad, nonetheless: sad for the marketing designed to strategically divide and conquer women that’s already being aimed at this kid, this baby held by me in a picture above my desk.
What I saw in this selfie took me by surprise, ‘cause I wasn’t prepared to equate Ray’s face with my anger for how dumb adults can be.
I’ve been unfortunate enough to overhear or sit through parental conversations so torturously inane they’d crack a Taliban terror cell. Too few parents realize they’re actually expecting others to raise their children. The bedrock of their child rearing seems to be a reliance on corporations that make the “safest” toys; start-ups that guarantee the “most innovative” approach to learning; car manufacturers who offer “top of the line” protection; prepared foods manufactured with the “healthiest” ingredients; and martial arts instructors espousing the most “inclusive” (homogenized) philosophies. Worst of all, perhaps, is their insistence on schools with the “best” reputations (and of course the longest waiting lists). As long as little Joey “gets in,” all will be well. Rarely do I hear a parent say, “My kid really loves his teacher.”
Among my own adult parent peers, when it comes to schools, the emphasis is too often on the forest, rather than the trees. By the time I’d been kicked out of my third school, for example, my parents were forced to settle for something pretty far away from the traditional definition of things. Yet it was in the classroom of a converted 7-11 where I was finally “found” by a teacher who channeled my defiance and turned my academic life around in about three hours. It took thinking outside the mainstream to get there. But these days, for whatever reason, more and more parents are followers.
Adult followers, of course, were once teenage sheep, and in my experience, mainly male sheep. I hate that Ray will face idiot boys who fail to question each other, who suppress doubts about what they’re told girls have to offer, and who come from parents who judge a school by what other parents are seen driving. You know, the sort of people who have to first look around to gather others’ opinions before they can form their own. I have to admit: some of my friends and family are these breeding yes-men and gullible moms.
My own attraction to women who think for themselves has left me wealthy with insights for which many of my guy friends have no use. Still, with full awareness that it’s limited to the world of men, I’ll stick to my own experience. Straight up: I’m sad and angry when I witness the discomfort, dissatisfaction, and sometimes self delusion on the part of women I’ve known.
Just a few weeks ago, a lifelong female friend from before high school died, and it’s likely the toxicology report will show that she took her own life.
Her choices were her responsibility, but she’d suffered for decades with a negative body image, constantly dissatisfied by the results of tricks, helpers, and procedures that were supposed to return her to her to happiness. She kept her loved ones at bay and disintegrated until she could no longer see enough of herself to recognize something worth fighting for.
When it comes to parenting, you can tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’ve seen and known a lot of people pursuing an inner satisfaction through an outer cure, and I think this is why parents need to dive deeper into what influences their children – and how those things are interpreted.
I’m not saying that Ruby contributed to her daughter’s decline by allowing her to experiment with makeup. I just wish Ray wasn’t entering the circus of hoops we make women jump through, and I wish she wasn’t about to encounter teenage boys who’ll look to see how their friends acknowledge her presence and contributions before knowing how to acknowledge it themselves. Her survivor mother will guide her well I know…
Yes, all of this and more is what I saw in a selfie. It was like looking at the picture in a funhouse mirror: the social distortion a young girl is about to face, stretching and bubbling the photo itself.