Oh, Kate, Where Art Thou?

As a teenager who came of age at the end of 1994, my pop-culture world was filled with Nirvana, Hole, Riot Grrrrls, Bikini Kill, My So-Called Life, Reality Bites and Sonic Youth.  And oh, yes–Kate Moss.  It’s not that I worshiped all of these rock stars and celebrities.  Some I liked, some I didn’t, some I paid no attention to.  Most of them were too mainstream for me to obsess over, at least openly.  My world was made up of feminism, art and literature.  The people around me concurred, almost across the board.  I attended a very progressive alternative school.  We talked politics and social justice.  Clothing may be admired but would not be disdained.  Bullying was limited; an awkward student was far more likely to simply be ignored.  Intelligence was valued almost as highly as creativity.

However, I have never been immune to the influence of the media.  At that time, body imagine and eating disorders were a hot topic.  Who was more symbolic of the issue than Kate Moss?  In retrospect, it seems the world revolved around her.  

I had previously known girls who admired Cindy Crawford, but I had never understood why someone would even know a model’s name.  I was a toddler in the late 70s and early 80s when nothing was coming between Brooke Shields and her Calvins.  Christy Brinkley?  Pshaw!  These women have no power over me.  But is there anyone with more influence over a teenager than someone a few years her senior?  Kate Moss was four years older than I.  Even as I scrawled “Feed Me!” across her forehead, she had found a permanent place in my heart and mind.  I protested about the unhealthy standard set by the modeling industry, but in my most secret heart I worshiped her.  

Ironically, it was the outraged journalists and Riot Grrrls who made me aware of her existence.  Had they not become so concerned about the effect she was going to have on me, she may never have registered on my radar.  I didn’t think about models.  My lunch box toting, clunky-shoe wearing, babydoll dress loving self would never have dreamed of going out of her way to know the first thing about the modeling industry.  But the dismay was everywhere, making me wonder “Who is this Kate Moss?”  When I finally saw her, I was a bit baffled.  She didn’t look like she was about to fall over and die of hunger to me, at least no more than any other model.  She was thin, but I couldn’t see how this made her any different than any other woman who was famous for wearing clothes.  I thought she looked the same.

I would, in short order, learn more about her.  She was, in fact, physically different than other models.  Shorter and probably in possession of a smaller build.  She may have had an easier time maintaining her gaunt figure than they did–in my eyes, she’s always looked like she was born to be that skinny, while Cindy Crawford looks like if she dropped her guard for even a day or two she would gain 20 pounds.  But it doesn’t make any difference.  All that matters is that, when the general public sees her or any other model, we all know that they have set a standard that we will never, never meet.  Is Kate Moss anorexic, or just lucky?  Does it matter?  She may not have to be anorexic to maintain that figure, but the odds are that you would.

Last night, as Nicole too the crown of America’s Next Top Model, she squealed “I’m a dork!  And I’m America’s Next Top Model!”  It’s true.  A dork won.  Not a faux-dork, but a truly awkward and misunderstood girl.  Most of the other models were more than happy to aim their mean-girl tripe in her direction, which made her victory especially sweet.  She was such a dork she didn’t even always recognize subtle cruelty when she saw it.  But is this a victory for dorks everywhere?  I think not.  A woman who’s career consists of posing for pictures in magazines may be intelligent, quirky, or passionate.  She may have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.  She may have Asperger’s Syndrome or dyslexia.  But her pictures are far more likely to reach us than her story is.  If you could tell by looking at her that she had a crippling speech impediment, she would not have been hired.  The part of her that doesn’t meet with society’s approval is not on the cover of the magazine.  We are looking at the part of her that is conventional; I will go so far as to say obedient.  No matter how hard we protest, that it what we admire about her.


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

In light of a government task force suggesting mammograms at 50 and no self breast checks, the National Breast Cancer Coalition put out a list of truths and myths about breast cancer.

I did not catch the interview, but Politico had a summary of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Did any of you catch it?

According to the Talking Points Memo blog, “unfriend” — as in to “unfriend” someone on Facebook — is the New Oxford American Dictionary company’s “word of the year.”

A writer at the Washington Post talked about the delicate balancing act by parents of obese teenagers. On the one hand, parents should say something to their kids if they are unhealthy, but they also can’t damage their self-esteem by criticizing their bodies. That’s a tough one.

Katy Farber over at the Non-Toxic Kids and Mighty Nest blogs doled out tips on how to green your Thanksgiving.

Wanda Eileen Barzee, the woman involved in Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping seven years ago, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor as well as apologized to the victim, according to the Associated Press.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


A new twist on sleepovers

What would you do if your 16 year old daughter came to you and asked if her boyfriend could sleep over? Sounds a little crazy and you may be thinking to yourself, has my daughter lost her mind? But the idea may not be so crazy after all. I recently came across some comparisons researchers have been doing in how in the U.S. we talk about and deal with adolescent sexuality compared to folks in the Netherlands.

When researchers compare the two countries, they find: teenagers in the U.S. and the Netherlands begin to engage in sexual activity at about the same age, but teenagers in the U.S. are nine times more likely to give birth than teens in the Netherlands, syphilis rates are more than twice those in the Netherlands, and gonorrhea rate in U.S. among adolescents is almost 33 times greater than the reported teen rates the Netherlands. You can see the comparisons at Advocates for Youth website.

Why the differences? A piece by John Santelli and Amy Schalet shed some light on the issues.  They say:

An important reason that European youth have better sexual health outcomes is that adults approach teenage sexuality differently than do adults in the United States. The Netherlands is a case in point: prior to the sexual revolution, sex outside of marriage met with strong disapproval. When the sexual behavior of young people changed in the decades that followed, Dutch parents and health care providers came to see sexual intercourse as an acceptable part of adolescent development, as long as youth were using contraceptives responsibly and involved in healthy relationships. Health care providers, policy makers, educators, and members of the media facilitated a normalization of adolescent sexuality by ensuring that young people had access to reliable contraception and by providing different public forums for the discussion of sexuality and relationships (Jones et al., 1986; Ketting & Visser, 1994).

The article goes on to talk about how in the U.S. parents — of course not MTers — but many parents “dramatize” adolescent sexuality and focus on the “dangers, conflicts, and difficulties of becoming a sexually active teenager.” On the other hand, the authors talk about how the Dutch “normalize sexuality” and view it as a normal part of development.  Here is how they describe a “sleepover.”

Parents also approached teenage sexuality very differently at home. The majority of U.S. parents interviewed opposed giving young people the opportunity to have sex. Dutch parents, on the other hand, counseled teenagers to move slowly and exercise caution, but most reported they would permit 16- and 17-year-old teenagers in steady relationships to spend the night with their boy- or girlfriends at home.
While permitting a teenage couple to spend the night together may seem like extreme parental laxity to parents in the United States, Dutch parents continue to exert a great deal of control over the terms of the sleepover. Most parents interviewed said they would permit a sleepover only when they saw that adolescents felt ready, were using contraceptives, and related in healthy and loving ways. By normalizing adolescent sexuality within distinct parameters, Dutch parents are able to maintain a connection with their adolescent children as they develop their sexual identities. (Several Dutch parents spontaneously mentioned that their child might prefer a same-sex partner.) Thus, Dutch parents can encourage their adolescent children to stay true to their own sense of readiness, can urge caution and contraceptive use, and are able to monitor the nature of their children’s romantic relationships. In fact, one reason that the Dutch parents cite for permitting the sleepover is a desire to stay connected to their children and prevent secrets which could interfere with open communication. By contrast, the dramatization of adolescent sexuality in American society instills fear of teenage sexuality among parents and teenagers, but gives them few tools to create an empowered sexual development.

Since my DDs are only 9 and 6 I figure I have a couple more years (but just a couple) to ponder this issue and I am curious to see what other MTers think about this idea.  


The Dropout Rate and Age

The Washington Post ran an editorial urging the state of Maryland to up its dropout age from 16 to 18.

The Montgomery County Board of Education, jolted by a drop in its graduation rate, voted unanimously last week to urge the state to increase the age at which a student can drop out from 16 to 18. Montgomery’s rate fell to 87.4 percent, still above the state average but the county’s lowest in a decade. The state rate rose slightly from 85.1 percent to 85.2 percent. Maryland’s compulsory age of school attendance is a holdover from the early 1900s, when an agrarian society saw the advantages of young people returning to the fields to help support their families. The dropout age of 16 is still the law in about half of the country, but Maryland is one of only two states in the mid-Atlantic region with an age of compulsory attendance less than 17; the legal dropout age in Virginia and the District is 18.

Past efforts to raise the dropout age have failed in the General Assembly. Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), sponsor of past efforts, says that she will try again when the legislature convenes in January. We hope that the State Board of Education, which has not supported previous efforts, will reconsider. The board is right to stress programs to identify and support students at risk.

Nonetheless, studies show that one reason students drop out is because they are permitted to. States that have raised the dropout age (there have been eight in the past decade) have reported decreases in dropout rates. Maryland, in many ways an education leader, should no longer lag on this issue.

No doubt that even low high-school dropout rates are a concern as they are tied to higher incarceration rates and crime, according to the New York Times. But the question is how do you keep disenfranchised and demoralized students in school? Any ideas?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Hi all!

I am back from a trip to Chicago. My brother-in-law got married in a unique and beautiful ceremony. You can read all about it and see pictures here and here.

Now onto some parenting news…

Are you a yeller? You are not alone. We discussed a New York Times story about how yelling is the new spanking. A poll cited in the article stated that as many as 88 percent of parents have yelled at their children. But no studies have been conducted to show whether this is harmful to kids.

Our Erika highlighted this MSNBC story about kids getting braces younger and younger. How old were your children when they got braces?

I am sure similar diaries have been posted here, but I thought I would mention to you that the Courage Campaign is seeking a few good volunteers to help fight the anti-gay marriage initiatives in various states and cities.

In somewhat related news, one of our front-page posters, Katie, is wondering whether she should change her last name when she marries her partner Kelly. It sparked a long discussion about women changing their last names — if at all — hyphenated names and everything you can possibly think of when it comes to choosing a last name. Ayayay!

Yet, in other LGBT news: The Scholastic Book Fairs banned books with gay and lesbian relationships, according to our contributing writer Dana. She and other moms on our site, who signed a petition, received a less than satisfying response from the company.  

Our Gloria highlighted this brow-raising article in Jezebel about mothers in their late 30s or early 40s being jealous of their teenaged daughters’ good looks. I am not there yet and found this article surprising and disturbing. What do you all think? Are you jealous of your gorgeous teenagers?

Attention Patrick Swayze fans: I reviewed the book Time of My Life. What a satisfying and quick read!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Sorry for the paltry post but yesterday was my day to volunteer at Ari’s school. Also, I am still behind in e-mail after my trip to DC, which was fabulous by the way. But here is what I was able to dig up:

More than 2 million mothers and babies — largely in Africa and South Asia — die during childbirth each year, according to Salon Wires.

From the Associated Press: Less than 10 percent of teenagers eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, according to a report by the CDC.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

My heart goes out to the all the victims of yesterday’s South Pacific tsunami which has claimed nearly 100 lives and left dozens missing in the island of Samoa, according to the Associated Press.

In related news, an earthquake in Indonesia has killed at least 13 people and trapped thousands, according to MSNBC.

Elizabeth Smart, who is now 21, will testify against the man who kidnapped her seven years ago, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. This will be the first time she will face her captor after he kidnapped her at knifepoint in the middle of the night.

A nanny at Open Salon wrote a touching essay about the kids she has cared for.

Like I mentioned earlier today, I attended a discussion with Planned Parenthood and some local mommy bloggers. One of the moms runs a blog on teenagers called Tangerine Times. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of coverage on parenting small children so I thought I would pass along the link.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

Ari lost his second tooth yesterday. The first tooth was lost at a restaurant in New Hampshire. This second tooth I am at a loss as to what to do with it. The ratoncito — the rat — already left him a dollar under his pillow. Now I want to throw the tooth away — as I do everything else. But feel like I should keep it as a memento. What do you think? What do you do with your children’s baby teeth?

Mamasource ran a thread on how to deal with mean teenaged girls.

From the Expecting Words blog: A dad wrote about the 5 things he wished someone had told him before becoming a father.

I am off to volunteer at Ari’s school. Every Tuesday, I help his English teacher by reading to groups of three or four kids and helping them finish the activity after the story. Ari and I love this time together.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


What To Do About Kids and Chain E-mails

Now I am not talking about the cute e-mail chains offering hugs and asking that it be passed to 10 other people. I am talking about obscene — racist e-mails, for example — being passed among children. Take, for instance, this example cited by Tina Case over at Silicon Valley Moms Blog:

I was just informed by another parent who monitors their son’s account about a particular chain mail going around.  This one in particular has a long distribution list of mostly 6th grade students.  The profanity, racial slurring and anger in them is alarming.  My question is, what do you do in a situation where you feel the anger of the children in this series of replies is more than just nervy profanity hidden in the safety of an email?  Could this explode into something worse?  And how can children, who just transitioned out of elementary school, be so cruel?  I think given time, children can all be as cruel as depicted in the book, “The Lord of the Flies”.

Is the stage when children transition to teens the time when anger can manifest itself into something worse than hurt feelings?

More importantly, I am at a loss for figuring out the right thing to do.  It could be just a simple case of email rage, like road rage.  But at what point do you intervene and get the parents of the “mean” kids involved?  And why aren’t they already aware of this anger, this email rage?  My child is not directly involved in this email.  She’s only being copied as are about forty other children.

Wow. Parents of tweens and teens really have their work cut out for them. Have your children received and/or sent such an e-mail chain? How did you find out about it — and how did you handle it?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Wal-Mart has issued a recall of 4 million Durabrand DVD players, according to Salon Wires. The devices heat up and have caused fires and property damage.

Also from Salon Wires: The Academy Awards have expanded the number of best picture nominees from 5 to 10. Also, unlike previous years, it will have the judges rank their favorite best pictures from one to 10. What do you think of the changes, MotherTalkers?

In Texas, it is now illegal for teenagers under the age of 18 to use a wireless device while driving — even a hands-free setup, according to the Austin Statesman.

The Associated Press ran an article on 10 things you should know about swine flu. Also in the Associated Press: President Obama’s Administration plans to speak to Cuban officials about restoring direct mail service between the two countries. Americans have not been able to send packages — only letters — to Cuba since 1963.

Here is an interesting twist to the healthcare reform debate: American retirees are relocating to Mexico for affordable healthcare, according to USA Today.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?