I live in a country where it’s bathing-suit season all year. As a woman “of a certain age,” as they say in France, that fact does not exactly fill me with joy. My bathing suits tend to be utilitarian affairs, more designed for walking along the shore than glamorous sunbathing. Because I live in the United Arab Emirates, however, my friends in the States assume that there is some sort of dress code that mandates what I can wear. Ironically, I wish they were right, but they’re not. It would be great to blame a dress code for my demure swimsuit, rather than admit that it’s my love of bread (and occasional glass of wine) that led me to the one-piece life.
Sometimes I think it’s a betrayal of my feminist principles to be self-conscious about my middle-aged tummy (apparently when I turned fifty my metabolism pretty much decided to leave the building), but I can’t help it: my belly and a bikini aren’t going to be keeping company any time soon. Thinking about my own body makes me wonder how mothers of daughters negotiate the potential land-mines around issues of body image. I have two adolescent boys, and while I know they wrestle with questions about their physical appearance, it all seems less fraught for boys than for girls (ah, patriarchy: the gift that keeps on giving).
Photo credit to the author
I see teenage girls on the Abu Dhabi beaches in the tiniest of bikinis and wonder what I would say to my daughter, if I had one: I’d want to encourage her to wear whatever the hell she wants, on the one hand; and on the other, I’d worry about having her be so exposed, both literally and figuratively. I once joked to a friend of mine whose daughter is sixteen that perhaps all girls should wear “burkinis” and not just those who want to maintain hijab while at the beach.
At the beaches in Abu Dhabi, there are burkinis and bikinis and women wading in the water with their black abayas billowing out in the waves. Men in salwar khameez splash each other, while Russian men in tiny speedos do laps across the beach front.
Pink-skinned Brits crisp themselves in the sun (mad dogs and Englishmen, after all), and children of all sorts laugh and play in the waves. My teen-age sons see the beach as a place to play soccer, paddle-board, and hang out with their friends (preferably as far away from me as possible). I see the beach as a cosmopolitan space that allows for, and respects, individual differences—this person covered up, this person barely dressed—even as we’re all there enjoying ourselves.
When I told my kids about my beach-as-cosmopolitan metaphor, they scoffed. “It’s just a beach,” they said. But I wonder. In a world that is slipping faster and faster towards intolerance, nativism, and fundamentalism, I’m happy to grab at any indication that people from different worlds can exist happily in the same place.
What the beach also provides, much to the shared chagrin of my sons, is an opportunity to talk about (ssshh!) girls. Or rather, desire. And bodies, and respect. We talk (well, okay, I do most of the talking) about what it means to find someone attractive, and about how they feel about themselves in this public and uncovered space; I try not to laugh when the thirteen-year old mocks the sixteen-year old’s subtle bicep flexing when a cute girl walks by. I remind them that it’s okay to feel insecure about how they look (there was much scoffing at this point, and then some quiet questions). We also talk about the importance of looking past what someone is (or is not) wearing—and after one of those conversations, my younger son said, exasperated, “we’ve lived here for six years. Robes or no robes, covered or uncovered, I don’t really care. Can we get ice-cream?”
Ice creams were indeed purchased, although I didn’t have one. Maybe with enough “no” on ice cream, a bikini won’t be out of the question by August.
How do you talk with your tweens and teens about their bodies, and all the related issues? And how can we make sure that our own issues with our bodies don’t inflect how our children think about theirs?
This is an original post written by Mannahattamamma for World Moms Network.
After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.
Earlier this year, the Ghanaian Food and Drugs Authority announced that it would enforce a ban on the importation of skin bleaching creams that contain the harmful ingredient known as hydroquinone. The news was received with much anticipation, and has since been talked about on many news platforms all around the world. Hydroquinone is noted to cause damage to the skin and can cause severe skin dermatitis. According to research quoted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, hydroquinone may even act as a carcinogen or cancer-causing chemical.
A campaign dubbed “Love Your Natural Skintone” was launched in Ghana by actress Ama Abebrese, with the support of other female celebrities, to encourage people to love the skin they are in. It spurred a lot of interest amongst the young and the old as the outspoken actress took to radio and television to talk about the cause. The Ama K Abebrese Foundation has erected billboards to create awareness of the campaign throughout Ghana. The campaign “Love Your Natural Skintone” has since engaged students through debates and forums on the subject of self care.
Some months have passed, and we still see the sale and use of skin bleaching creams in the country. Although the ban was reported to officially take effect from August 2016, according to the Ghana Standards Authority, very little has been seen to have happened regarding this subject. I’ve spoken with with shop owners who still sell such products, and they tell me that skin bleaching creams sell, so they keep them on the shelves. Entrepreneurs say that, despite the ban, they will always find a way to bring skin lightening creams into the market for their customers, since the demand is so high.
In my opinion, it will take more than a ban to prevent people who are currently using creams with hydroquinone to whiten their skin. Proper education must be done at both the grassroots and national levels to show firsthand the health implications such creams have on consumers. We must all join together in the campaign to say no to this menace.
Are skin lightening creams popular where you live? What efforts have been made to encourage people to love the skin they’re in?
This is an original post written by Adowa Gyimah of Ghana for World Moms Network.
Photo courtesy of The Ama K Abebrese Foundation, Ghana.
I want to start out by saying that this is not some sort of fat shaming post – much to the contrary.
Not many years ago I weighed 67 kg (about 147 lbs.) – what is considered to be the “ideal” weight for my height. Now I weigh 105 kg (231 lbs.). Yes, my weight fluctuated back and forth over the years, but I had never weighed so much, not even during my pregnancies.
In fact, people often ask whether my weight gain had anything to do with my pregnancies. “No”, I answer, “I began gaining more weight after my youngest child turned one”. “So what happened?” is often the next question.
Having been the slave of an eating disorder for a long 26 years, I have a lot of answers for that one. Analyzing the motives behind my overeating and binging episodes took up a great portion of my life when I was trying to cure myself, but that is the theme of a sequel to this post.
The fact is, my gaining weight, now that I look back, was actually an important step in rethinking my relationship with food and with my own body.
What I wanted to share today was a handful of things I learned after gaining close to 40 kg (over 80 lbs).
It did take a while for people to notice and start to comment. After all, I am a very tall, big boned woman who likes to wear loose, comfy clothing. But after a certain point people started to comment. A lot.
“What is happening? Have you been to a doctor?”
“You have to work on your self-esteem!”
“Are you pregnant again?”
“Are you absolutely sure you’re not pregnant?”
“You need to try this recipe/diet/exercise program.”
“You need to take care of yourself!”
“Be careful, your husband might start cheating on you if you don’t get your act together!”
And on and on and on…
Most people meant well, especially close friends and family. However, I would stare at the mirror and think I didn’t look that bad. No, I didn’t like having a protuberant tummy for the first non-pregnant time in my life (nothing against tummies, but I have always been more pear shaped). But other than that I thought I looked quite good. Medically I am fine too – after looking at the results of a whopping 26 tests, my doctor said my blood work could have been that of a 15-year-old.
However, other stuff does bother me a lot, the first being the assumptions people started to make, well-meaning or not. Many assume that being fat means you have health issues or very low self-esteem.
Another annoyance is trying to find clothes. For most of my life – even when I was skinny – I have had trouble finding clothes (and shoes!) that fit me, as I am a tall and big boned woman in a region where most ladies are not this large. Now it is so much worse and soooooooo much more expensive, which always feels like I am being punished for some reason.
At some point I began to read about the different movements that have been sparking up around the globe to celebrate women of any size and shape (men too, but there is just so much more pressure on women). I discovered that among all of the studies linking body fat to health issues, there are several that have not found such a clear link. But these are not given nearly as much attention by the media.
All in all, health and body size is a very personal issue that is linked to a huge number of variables. There are also studies that have linked dieting patterns to eating disorders, and teenage girls are at the greatest risk.
So, in the midst of all this, what are the dangers of being a fat mother?
To me the greatest dangers of being a fat mother are forgetting to love my body no matter what, trying to change it to conform to the world’s standards, and obsessing over weight-related issues instead of truly enjoying my life.
I want my children, and my daughter especially, to know that they are worthy of love regardless of what their bodies might look like, and I must model that example as best as possible.
I said this would not be a fat shaming post, but it is not advocating fat either. It is advocating joy, self-love and happiness, no matter what size, shape or state your body is. People (me included, for a long time) tend to think that if you love your body as it is you won’t have the motivation to change. Now I see that not loving my body regardless of anything else only makes things worse, and for a long time only made me want to eat more. Also, for a long time I thought avoiding my body (as in avoiding the mirror) was a good enough substitute for loving it.
There is so much more to say, but for now that is a small piece of my story with my body.
And you? How do you relate to your body? Tell us your story in the comments!
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Eco Ziva of Brazil. Photo credit: Alan Levine. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
Eco, from the greek oikos means home; Ziva has many meanings and roots, including Hebrew (brilliance, light), Slovenian (goddess of life) and Sanskrit (blessing). In Brazil, where EcoZiva has lived for most of her life, giving birth is often termed “giving the light”; thus, she thought, a mother is “home to light” during the nine months of pregnancy, and so the penname EcoZiva came to be for World Moms Blog.
Born in the USA in a multi-ethnic extended family, EcoZiva is married and the mother of two boys (aged 12 and three) and a five-year-old girl and a three yearboy. She is trained as a biologist and presently an university researcher/professor, but also a volunteer at the local environmental movement.
I was happily preparing dinner the other day and I could hear my three children chattering away in the hall. Pretty soon the talking turned to bleeting, yes bleeting… and baaing, like a sheep. I could hear my 12-year-old son, JJ, say, “everyone is doing it at school.”
With my parenting radar on alert I popped my head out of the kitchen to ask what they were talking about and JJ explained to me that there is a teacher at school who looks like a sheep and all the students baa at her.
I was pretty horrified at this and I asked what ‘Miss’ (as they call their female teachers) said about their behaviour. JJ told me it was all done behind her back but she was a ‘good laugh’ and he couldn’t imagine she would mind. This of course was one of those moments that led to me abandoning dinner and sitting all three children down for a chat.
If I can help it, I don’t want any child of mine becoming a bully.
You might think I over reacted and that all children get involved in silly things, harmless teasing some might say. Character forming I’ve heard it called before and we’ve all heard the old rhyme ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ but it is not true, names really can harm a person, especially a vulnerable one.
I know this first hand, I was called many names as a young child, most of them revolving around my weight and being just a little (and it really only was a little back then) bigger than the average girl but the main reason I know about the hurt and pain that continues for many years long after the name calling stops is because I was a name caller and I really hurt someone else.
I still feel the shame when I write that, I don’t think the regret for the damage I did to a little boy called Simon (name changed for obvious reasons) will ever leave me. I first wrote about having been a bully as a child back in 2010 and it was so important to face up to the past and really acknowledge what I did. I had no idea at the time that what I was doing could be so destructive, as far as I was concerned I was just a little girl desperate to fit in with the gang and going along with everyone else.
But when your whole class cross their arms and mutter ‘fleas, injected for all my life’ each time you come near them, it is a big deal. I don’t recall Simon ever letting on at school just how much this hurt him but I do think he spent a lot of time on his own. The sad thing is that I don’t really remember that much about the whole situation to be honest, as it was inconsequential to me but of course not to him, not when it was damaging his self-esteem each and every day.
That damage went on for a very long time too. I know this as when I was 28 (quite some years ago now) I was contacted by Simon through Friends Reunited and then Facebook. He asked me about our time at school (primary school, ages 7-10) and why certain things had happened and did I remember…. I had to honestly say ‘No. No, I do not remember most of it’. I think it was therapeutic for Simon to be in touch with a few of his bullies and to be able to finally get a heartfelt sorry from us.
I praise the Lord that he told me he had found a good partner and was at last finding some peace and happiness after years of counselling. He talked about his early upbringing with a stern father in the military and a mother who was never mentally present. Moving areas and schools every two or three years of his life had been tough and a bunch of middle-class kids made it worse and made him doubt himself.
As I quite seriously told my own children this story a couple of weeks ago I had a lump in my throat and I had to fight to stop the tears forming. They were pretty shocked and I really hope they understood what I was saying about how something that seems harmless and just a case of simple teasing can turn out to be life-damaging for some children or even adults.
From the 16th – 20th November, it is anti-bullying week here in the UK but I’d encourage you, wherever you live, to please have a chat with your children about bullying and help them to understand that the line between harmless fun and detrimental behaviour is very fine. Best to just never get close to it and to adopt a positive attitude towards all people, whether they are easy to be around or not.
Have you ever been involved with bullying, either on the receiving or doling out side? What impact has it had on you?
Michelle’s tales of everyday life and imperfect parenting of a 13-year-old boy and 9-year-old twin girls and her positive Christian outlook on life have made her name known in the UK parenting blogosphere. Her blog, Mummy from the Heart, has struck a chord with and is read by thousands of women across the world.
Michelle loves life and enjoys keeping it simple. Time with her family, friends and God are what make her happiest, along with a spot of blogging and tweeting, too! Michelle readily left behind the corporate arena but draws on her 25 years of career experience from the fields of hotel, recruitment and HR management in her current voluntary roles at a school, Christian conference centre, night shelter and food bank.
As a ONE ambassador, in 2012 Michelle was selected to travel on a delegation to Ethiopia with the organisation to report on global poverty and health. Then in 2014 she was invited to Washington, DC, where she attended the AYA Summit for girls and women worldwide. When asked about her ambassadorship with the ONE Campaign, she stated, "I feel humbled to be able to act as an advocate and campaigner for those living in poverty."
You are 4! Just like that, in a blink of an eye. Now, before Dad and I blink again, and you are moving out of the house, please indulge me as I share my birthday wishes for your life as you grow.
Love God. Your faith and trust in Him will sustain you through this life. Pray for everything and sometimes pray for nothing.
Be Kind. I think you are the most beautiful girl in the world, but beauty is nothing without kindness. Be kind. Be gentle.
Be Happy. As you demonstrate every day, happiness is in the little things. Keep still; be centered. Happiness is all around.
Love Yourself. It is important, my darling girl, to see yourself through your own eyes, and to love yourself with your own heart.
Be Of Significant Service. Live a life of purpose. Your father and I will continue to raise you to understand the importance of serving others, especially those in need. Know that your service is of significance.
Do The Right Thing. This is not always easy. Even Mamma has made–and will continue to make–a lot of mistakes! You will, too. Everyone does. But, I strive to do the right thing and to be quick to apologize when I fail. As you always say, it’s important to “be nice.”
Love you always,
This is an original post to World Moms Blog. Photo credit to the author.
Today we welcome a guest post from Tara, who is writing from Kenya. You can follow her adventures in parenting at mamamgeni.com, where she blogs about raising her family with one foot in the expat world and the other firmly planted in her husband’s homeland. As she recently discovered, finding a black doll was no easy task–in either place.
“Mommy, there are three black people and one white person in our family.” My eldest daughter enjoys pointing out the obvious. She’s referring to me (white American), my husband (black Kenyan), and her baby sister (mixed-race, just like she is). She fully identifies as black, and has recently been expressing interest in race and skin color. We want our kids to explore their cultural and racial identities, and we try to ensure our toys and books reflect the richness of both of our cultures.
My youngest recently turned one, and we decided to get her a baby doll for her birthday. More specifically, we wanted to get her a black baby doll. Should be easy, right? We live in Kenya. No, not easy. THERE ARE ALMOST NO BLACK DOLLS HERE. Whenever you see Kenyan kids playing with dolls, they are almost always little white dolls with blonde hair. White baby dolls, white Barbies, white, white, white. You can find some nice black dolls handmade out of cloth, but they tend to be mommy dolls with babies on their backs. I was looking for a realistic baby, something she could cuddle and take care of, a baby of her own.
Since I was having no luck finding what I was looking for in Kenya, I decided to look for a black baby doll while I was in the US on a recent visit. My family lives in a greater metro area that is over 50% African American. I went to a local department store, and sought out the doll section. I expected to see a choice of dolls from different ethnicities (at least black and white dolls, given the racial make-up of the city). I was wrong – there was nothing but white dolls. Row upon row of white dolls. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed white dolls. Dozens of pink boxes with white dolls inside. Not the kind of dolls I was looking for.
Why was this so hard?
In the end, I decided to search online for a black baby doll, and found one that I loved. My daughter loves it too… She walks around the house, patting her baby’s back, swaying back and forth with a big grin on her face. I had some Kenyan colleagues at my house recently, and they asked where I had found our black doll. I told them my story, and together we lamented the fact that there were so few black dolls available in a predominantly black country.
There is a market for this kind of toy here, and someone is missing out on a serious business opportunity!
It is really important to me that my children have dolls and books that reflect who they are. My eldest is always looking for people who have skin like hers, or hair like hers.
She yearns to identify with a group of people. Having black baby dolls and books featuring black characters makes a difference. Dolls may be “just toys,” but they can mean so much more to a young girl who longs to connect and identify with others like her. What are dolls like in the country where you live? Do they reflect how the people look, or are they different in any way?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama Mgeni of Kenya.
Tara Wambugu is a wife, a mother of two, and a Kenya-based lifestyle blogger covering parenting, family life, travel, and more. A former aid worker, Tara has worked in various countries in Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Central America. She is now a stay-at-home mom living in Nairobi with her husband and their two sassy little girls. You can follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni.