I don't talk about her much, but I have a 12-year-old sister. She's in sixth grade and her walls are papered in Jonas Brothers posters. She's smart, funny, considerate, and popular -- and yet every time she posts a picture to Facebook, I cringe.
My youngest sister -- this amazing girl -- takes every opportunity to show her cleavage and her bare legs and thighs on her Facebook page. She wears heavy makeup and pouts for the camera. She positions her body so that her breasts are thrust out, so that her bum is shown at the best angle, so that she looks sexy and sultry and desirable.
I understand her motives. I was once a 12-year-old girl with raging hormones and low self-esteem; a girl with an absentee parent and the nagging feeling that I wasn't lovable enough. I was smart and funny and popular -- and yet I still needed to be wanted. I went out of my way to be suggestive, desirable, loved. Who was I if I wasn't hot or sexy? What was I worth if no one wanted to touch me, to kiss me, and more? I get it, and it breaks my heart. I get it, and I feel that there's nothing I can do about it.
My sister's Facebook account is (supposedly) monitored by my father. He is "watching" her and keeping her "safe" from the mistakes of youth, and the predators that young girls haven't yet learned to recognize. So why do her pictures burn my eyes yet elicit no response from him? If she's posting this pictures to her account, what is sharing in private? I have a ball of fear in my stomach because I know I must confront my father, yet I'm not sure he will see the problem.
My father revels in his daughter's body. He looks hard at her, sucks in his breath and announces, "God, you're beautiful!" He says to her: "Your butt is looking good in those jeans!" "You have your mom's hips!" "Your husband is going to love those lips!" When she walks away, he stares at her butt while slowly shaking his head. He locks eyes onto her budding breasts and smiles while saying she'll definitely be well endowed.
She's twelve and she's already been taught that her body is meant to bring pleasure to men. And her own father has sent the message. He insists she is confident and strong because he's raised her to be active in the Catholic Church. He brags that she's mature beyond her years, and therefore able to wear the gobs of makeup my mother banned until her daughters were at least thirteen (and even then, it had to be light and natural looking). He pays for her unlimited texting and explains her long days away from home by saying that's what girls her age do.
How do I convey to him what he doesn't perceive to be wrong? How do I convince him -- without old-fashioned words like ruined reputation and regret and immature -- that he's losing her, that I recognize this as the beginning of a downward spiral that could spin through her teenage years leaving destruction in its wake? How do I teach him to treat his daughter less like an adult piece of meat (as he treats all women) and more like the tender, beautiful child she is?