Hiding Vogue: How Dads Can Build Girls' Self-Esteem

We talk a lot about moms and body image here, but a moving essay by a single dad shows that fathers can have an impact too.

Simon Von Booys's piece in the Times of London runs the gamut from heart-wrenching — his wife died suddenly, possibly of Marfan syndrome, when their daughter Madeleine was just three — to the mundane — he messes up breakfast, just like in Kramer vs. Kramer. I was ready to write off his essay as good-hearted but nothing America's millions of single moms don't already know. But Von Booys doesn't discount the experiences of mothers — they're the ones he turns to for advice "on the subway, in the supermarket, at the park." And while he sells dads short a bit (on the advice of women, he says, "I buy own-brand cereal and put it in the box with cartoon characters on it. How could a man ever have thought that up?"), he sounds like he's doing pretty well.

Von Booys tells the story of his daughter pointing out "someone for you to marry" — a model in a fashion magazine, whom she thought looked like Snow White. He writes,

I now hide all fashion magazines, not because I'm against Disney-inspired couture, but because I'm worried that Madeleine will think those models are what she is supposed to look like as a woman. What I mean to say is: I think differently now about everything.

This is poignant real-life evidence for the theory that having daughters may help men develop more feminist beliefs, as well as proof that dads as well as moms can help girls build good self-esteem. It's important for a little girl to see women who love themselves and don't insult their own bodies, but it's equally important for her to know that not all men think she's supposed to look like a model. I'm always a little grossed out by the (heteronormative) idea that a girl's relationship with her dad is a model for later romantic relationships. But it's true that a girl who grows up knowing her dad not only disagrees with bad messages about women's bodies, but actively wants to protect her from them, is probably predisposed towards healthy relationships with men, romantic or not.

The night after his wife died, Von Booys and his daughter watched Sleeping Beauty. He writes,

She missed the part where the Prince brings Sleeping Beauty back to life with a kiss, and everything returns to normal. I wondered whether she fell asleep on purpose.

Whether or not it was intentional, maybe it was good. As Von Booys surely knows, no man can protect a woman from all harm — and fathers who overprotect their "princesses" are doing them a disservice. But men can be women's allies in a difficult world, especially if dads lead by example.

The Trials Of Being A Single Father [TimesOnline]

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