25.1.10

Protecting girlhood

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?

11 comments:

  • Chibi Jeebs

    Oh, Kelly. This takes my breath away. I wish I had advice for you. :(

  • TKW

    This is incredibly disturbing. Swear to God, if you need someone to fly out and hold your hand while you read him the riot act, I'm in.

    ps: Loved your guest post at Amber's. You are an amazing woman.

  • Ambrosia

    I am so glad you posted this. As hard as it is to talk about this, it is necessary. Since when did it become socially acceptable for pre-teens and teenage girls to dress like hookers?

    I know that age is hard. It will be so much harder for your sister if she engages in an active sexual lifestyle when she is still immature. (Which, as you have insinuated, seems to be an issue.) She thinks that attention will bring her happiness. She doesn't understand that there is more to happiness than a glance from a boy/man.

    I am sad for your sister. I can relate to her feelings of insecurity.

    You have said she is religious. Something that research has suggested (and worked for me) is to emphasize spirituality. Rather than seek to please men, seek to please God. This will obviously be tricky if she doesn't please God. Maybe, though, it will give you some sort of direction?

    Another thing that has always worked for me is service. As I have become less selfish and more self-less, I have worried less about my outside appearance. I have felt more valued and at peace with myself and all my flaws. So, perhaps encourage her to engage in some kind of service like volunteering at a low-income elementary school, in a special needs classroom, or at a hospital.

    I know that it is difficult when you are in the position of sister. It is even harder to convince the dad that his daughter is giving herself away.

    I know that I am rambling, but I will be facing this issue some years down the road. I guess that you have made me think and I needed to write these thoughts down.

  • Kelly

    @Ambrosia - She is very active in her church and even goes twice on Sunday and on Thursday evenings. My dad refuses to talk with her about sex and sexuality, saying instead that he's raising her to think her body is sacred and that it's a gift she'll give the man she marries. I don't know that she will choose to be sexually active, but I worry that the choice will be removed from her (through some boy deciding she "wants it") or that she'll gain the reputation for being sexually free because of how she presents herself (and we live in a small town, so this could be very hurtful for her).

    I definitely think I could involve her more in the volunteering that we do. I'm president of our local Jaycees chapter and I know of five service opportunities right now she could help with. I think this is a great way to show her her inner worth/value without having to be the prude who just doesn't understand. Thanks for that suggestion.

  • Kelly

    @TKW - So this means I have to read him the riot act, right? I mean, will it solve anything or will it turn me into the old prude that he considers my mother. We're supposed to have a family counseling session on Wednesday -- maybe that's a safe place to bring it up? He has dismissed my concern in the past, like when she was texting late at night and always at her friends' houses. I told him it seemed she was getting too much freedom at a such a young age, and he told me to wait until Bella is a teenager and then talk to him about it.

    Suffice it to say my father and I aren't close.

  • Kelly

    @Chibi - I think I know what I have to do. I'm just really scared because a) I don't know what landmine I'm about to walk on and b) I struggle with codependency so sometimes things really aren't my business (even though it feels like they are). This doesn't seem to be one of those times.

  • Kim

    Kelly -- Boy, I wish I had a magic wand for you! Your poor sister is in for a rough life, if she doesn't wake up soon! Is it possible for you to mentor her or find an objective mentor for her? She needs someone who will teach her that she can be popular and loved without being sexy and sexual before she's ready - someone who may be able to speak from experience.

    What bothers me most about your post is the way her father looks at her and talks about her body! That is very disturbing! There is a big difference between a father making sure his daughter knows she is beautiful and one who practically drools as he looks at her. Without knowing the people involved - just from an outsider's view of what you wrote - I would be seriously worried! Since you didn't go there, maybe you know there is no reason to be concerned. That may also need to be part of what you talk to him about - the inappropriateness of his comments and leering.

    I wish you luck and hope that it all turns out well for your sister! Being so active in the church may be a saving grace for her - I hope she doesn't lose that as she gets older and more raging hormones!

  • Draft Queen

    Oh this is so rough. I would absolutely sit my daughter (11) down and have some serious talks about such behavior if I saw such pictures being posted, though we don't allow her to have a Facebook page. And your father? Oh my goodness. A father (and a mother) needs to make sure his daughter knows she's beautiful, sure, but on the outside AND on the inside. And emphasize the beauty of personality over body. Especially at this age.

  • Kelly

    @Kim - I don't think he's a predator in the physical sense, but I do think he's the type of man who sees women as objects that are here for men's approval. He often makes comments about women who don't wear make up, who don't work out or keep their bodies in shape, and those who are "aggressive" toward men. Keep in mind that machismo is alive and well in my father's family. I believe he looks at her and thinks she will make someone a fantastic wife, and then pats himself on the back for "preparing" her.

    @DQ - I am planning to bring all of this up in family counseling on Wednesday. I hope he at least agrees to lock down her account, even if nothing else changes.

  • Lauren

    Your dad commenting on her body like that is really inappropriate!! Girls aren't supposed to be cat-called and harassed by their own fathers. Are 12-year-olds even allowed on Facebook? Regardless, you are a good big sister for recognizing that this is a problem. Your sister doesn't know any better and is being groomed to be promiscuous and treated like a tramp when she gets older. Other girls are going to hate her and the boys are going to be just awful. Save her!

  • Anonymous

    Um, I know I am super late on this but have him read Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls-Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins by Leonard Sax. It is a great help to parents rasing daughters in this day and age. Trust me even if he just skims the book it will help. And or have his Pastor talk to him about after you show him this book and express your concerns.

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