5. Body Image
Of course, the quest for products and things is intricately tied up in a culture that tells us we are never good enough. It was in middle school that I first began spending lots of time frowning into the mirror. For my daughter, the frowns began crinkling her brows at age 10. That’s when she made her first comment about being “fat,” even though she was a lean five feet of solid muscle.
But she was already sizing herself up, comparing herself to impossible standards of beauty, worrying about what others thought. I saw in her the slow grasping of “not good enough,” the pursuit of perfection she would never attain.
With AI-generated images and social media “glamor filters,” impossible standards of beauty are only getting more impossible. Studies show at age 13, 53% of girls are “unhappy with their bodies,” a percentage that grows to a staggering but unsurprising 78% by the time they reach 17. And by age 20, 13.2 percent of females will experience an eating disorder.
It all kind of makes me want to flee with my family to an off-grid community with a herd of slightly feral kids who never look in mirrors and entertain themselves with rocks and sticks.
They say we’re overprotective, parents these days, and they are largely right. But we protect our children against the wrong things. We’re worried about letting them walk to school—which actually contributes to their physical health and helps them learn vital life skills—when they face far more risk in their own homes.
If we’re not vigilant, it’s far too easy for them to be exposed to ads that convince them of all the things they absolutely can’t live without, to filtered images of unhealthily skinny women who chirp on about thigh gaps, to bags of processed sugar-filled loot that came from who knows where, to druggified apps that make them feel shitty and lure them away from outdoor play.
What would parenting look and feel like if we didn’t have to work so goddamn hard to fight upstream against all the toxic behaviors and messages that our children swim in daily?
Well to start, given that every single trend cited here has become measurably worse since my own childhood, parenting might look and feel a little more like it did for my parents. That’s not to say my parents’ generation didn’t contend with its own challenges, but the fact that our children are getting progressively sicker is a telltale sign that something is very, very wrong.
If you compound this with everything else that’s gotten harder —for instance, finding childcare, affording shelter, and ignoring climate change — it’s no wonder that today’s parents are exhausted.
I know, no one wants to hear it. But I’m going to keep talking. And I hope other parents will join the fray.
Check more of Kerala's stories and subscribe to her Substack publication, "Mom, Interrupted."