Washington - When they were younger, my daughter's friends wanted lots of followers on social media, so they followed me, and I hit them back.
They have matured, though, and I doubt they would ever reach out to a friend's mom now. I don't like or comment on their posts. I'm sure they forgot I'm still there.
But I see them. And I recently saw something that I couldn't un-see, something that made me worry and want to discuss it with my daughter immediately.
Her friend had on a low-cut top and the photo, which supposedly was meant to showcase a necklace, highlighted her new (and substantial) cleavage. Her chin was the only part of her face that was visible. Honestly, if I'd had that body - and a mechanism to share it with the world - when I was a girl, it would have taken herculean willpower not to do what she did. This girl is only 14.
I'm also pleased the comments included few of the "you're so hots," or "damn girls" that frequent her posts. One follower's simple response made me laugh aloud:
"Good for you for keeping your friend real, and for trying to get her back on the rails," I thought.
The post eventually came down, but not before I checked in with my daughter.
"Did you see that post?" I asked, and my eyes drifted down to my girl's flat chest.
"I have no idea what she was thinking," she said with wide eyes and a shaking head.
"You want to talk about it?" I said.
"Mom, you know I would never post something like that," she said.
"That's not what I mean," I told her. "I was wondering if when you saw that boob shot, it made you feel a little bad about your own body. You guys are only a month apart, and it's clear she's off to the races while you are still sort of stuck in the barn."
I didn't want to talk about using social media responsibly. I wanted to talk about body positivity. Social media can be enemy number one in helping your daughter develop, and maintain, a healthy self-image.
Data from Ruling Our Experience shows the girls who spend the most time using technology are the ones who most want to change their appearance, and that they are more likely to be sad or depressed every day. This is the same problem I faced growing up. And yet, it isn't.
Jill Walsh, an expert on social media and body image, said in an interview, "Girls are not comparing themselves to media ideals as much as one would expect, but they are making micro-comparisons to their peers. It's not me versus Gisele Bündchen in a bikini, it's me versus my good friend Amy in our bikinis."
So what can I say to help her navigate that?
I don't know my daughter's friend very well, so I can't accuse her of self-objectification, a syndrome that can cause eating disorders and depression. It also has subtle ways to take hold of girls, exhaust them and interfere with their academic success.
She offers three questions parents can ask girls in these situations:
"What do you think of that picture?"
"Why do you think she took it?"
"Who do you think this photo was for?"
Once my daughter can answer those questions and objectively view her friend's bikini and cleavage shots, she can help other girls by posting body positive images. She can share gratitude toward her body for being strong enough to carry her through a sports game. Or she can take a picture of an unrealistic image in an advertisement and express disagreement with how the brand portrays women.
I took a long time to get comfortable with my shape and size. I'm still working on it, to be honest. But I now appreciate the positives, along with the things that cannot and will not change. And because I'm familiar with this long journey to body acceptance, I know this conversation won't be a one-and-done; we will need to revisit this theme many times.The Washington Post