I recently learned of an increasingly popular summer
activity for teenage girls: modeling camp. As I understand it, parents of teens and even
tweens shell out around $1,000 to have their daughters spend five days learning
to hold their shoulders back when they walk, turn with elegance and flawlessly
shape their eyebrows.
If you've read much of what I've written in the past, you
know that I believe that one of the best things we can do for our kids as they
grow older is to feed their passion. Sports, music, academics, dance or whatever pulls them. Self-esteem and confidence come from mastery,
so giving kids a chance to do what they love and achieve success in those
activities can be an important way for them to believe in themselves.
Competing over who can look the prettiest isn't exactly the character-building exercise we dream of as parents.
Fashion and modeling may be a passion for your
daughter. If that's the case, you might
feel that you're in a bit of a parenting dilemma. On one hand, you want to
feed that passion. On the other hand, you probably have some
pretty legitimate concerns, like these:
"I don't mind my daughter competing, but I hate to see the
competition focus on superficial issues like looks and clothes." We want our kids to learn to hold their own when they have
to go up against others in life. But usually, that means developing a skill in extracurriculars such as athletics or music,
or working extra hard for a math competition. Competing over who can look the prettiest isn't exactly the
character-building exercise we dream of as parents.
"I don't want her self-worth wrapped up in her external
features." Another good point, especially considering that beauty
really is in the eye of the beholder—which means that someone else will always
be prettier, at least to someone. Plus,
what happens as your little girl becomes a woman? If her self-esteem has been based on how she
looks, she might struggle (even more than we all do) as she ages.
"I'd rather she care less about what others think about
her." Granted, this concern might also apply if her passion were
chess. She'd still likely enjoy the
accolades she'd receive from her chess teacher for successfully executing the
Panov-Botvinnik Attack. (Yes, I looked
that up.) And you'd still want to work
with her on finding meaning from within. But again, as opposed to most activities, modeling is, by definition, primarily
about how you appear to other people.
So those are probably some of the main things bothering you about modeling camp. But what if
you've thoughtfully addressed these issues with your daughter, and she still pleads with you to let her
go? What do you do?
I can't answer that for you. But I will suggest three conditions you might require your
daughter to accept before you even consider allowing her to attend modeling
camp. These might serve to
counterbalance some of your worries.
Condition No. 1: Sleepaway Camp
Before she attends modeling camp, make it a prerequisite
that she attend some sort of girls camp that puts her in the outdoors, far from
technology and all things having to do with materialism and looks. Spending time in nature developing authentic
friendships, as opposed to having to navigate the social jungle that makes up
the normal environment for so many tweens and teenagers, can give your daughter the
opportunity to look at her life and relationships in a whole new way. She'll learn how capable she is at many new
things that she might not have imagined, while building confidence, competence and resilience.
Condition No. 2: Service Project
Require that your daughter get involved in (or better yet, design herself) a service project that is completely other-focused. Whatever it
involves—helping younger children or homeless people, or working on a downtown reclamation
project—require her to spend a significant amount of time thinking about "inner beauty"
issues and meaningful ways to invest her time that have nothing to do with
makeup, clothes or the length of her hair.
Condition No. 3: Empathy-Focused
A related suggestion is to encourage your daughter to "get
out of herself" by spending time understanding the problems that others have to
deal with. Maybe she joins a group helping teens deal with trauma. Or maybe she
volunteers at a homeless shelter. The more she can think about and understand
the real difficulties that real people deal with, the less you will have to
worry about her dedicating herself to more superficial interests.
the end, I can't tell you what to do for your daughter. I'll just encourage you
to continue to pay attention to her passions and desires. As you do, remain a
loving, constant presence in her life—one that stands by her and also
challenges her to grow into the kind of person who lives life with depth and
meaning. If all of that is taking place,
you won't have to worry quite as much about what will happen when she spends a few
days learning how to sashay down a runway.