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Mean Girl Apps Are Hurting My Daughter

Photograph by Getty Images

Dear Catherine,

I am horrified. As I was casually going through my iPhone photos recently, I came across a screenshot of an app that, apparently, my 16-year-old daughter had downloaded. It featured my daughter’s face with a bunch of red, numbered dots superimposed over it. On the side were six bullet points pointing out what’s wrong with her face. Blech! She was told things things like: “Your nose is too wide for your mouth” and, “Your ears are too long for your nose.” It nauseates me. What do I say to my beautiful daughter? I just know she’s now going to develop a complex about her ears, among other things. What would a French parent do?

Thanks,

Irked by Mean Apps

Dear Irked,

Blech (or, as the French say “Berk!”)! I’m with you on the horror of this. Horrified and intrigued, really. I had to do a little sleuthing, and I’m pretty certain that your daughter stumbled upon the app Anaface, which bills itself as a “Facial Beauty Analysis” that lets you “score your face.” Just what teenage girls need. Non!

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I hadn’t even considered this side of technology before, but now I’d like to take my own two young daughters and run for the hills—preferably the hills with no Internet or cell reception.

I am a shoddy runner and, also, I kind of love my smart phone. So ... I’ve got to prepare my girls for this crap app-happy world. I’m up on my Naomi Wolf, and my girls receive regular doses of the “Free to Be You and Me” soundtrack, but I fear this won’t be enough. I need a strategy. Here, however, I should point out that my strategy will not be inspired by French parenting. French mothers, and even grandmothers, are notoriously critical of their female offspring. French teenagers don’t need an iPhone app to point out their imperfections: Their mothers will do it for them. Not every French mom chastises her daughter for putting on weight or sprouting acne, but you’d be surprised. Perhaps it’s not as bad as it sounds; the French are experts at harsh critique, and they are seemingly not as thin-skinned as we Yanks.

I’m hoping that if my kids grow up aware of the magic, and excessive use, of Photoshop, they will be less likely to hate themselves.

I’ve been trying to work on toughening up my gals a little. I admire how the French can have a heated discussion—or even argument—with a compatriot and not let it detrimentally affect their friendship, and I like the way in which French mothers are honest with their kids about everything from their outfits to their artwork—unlike in some countries (ahem) not everything is universally praised. I must draw the line when it gets too personal, though. Telling one’s teenage daughter that she looks like “a swine” (I got this from a French friend recounting her upbringing) is taking tough love out of my comfort zone. That has to sting, bad.

Back to my strategy. It will be straightforward and sincere, but hopefully not upsetting. Just as many experts advise approaching the subject of sex with children before they encounter those rascal birds and bees on their own (something much easier said than done, at least for me, I’m going to try to take a shot at this body image/torture/confidence pickle with my daughters before they are too deep in it. Sometimes I try to avoid the teen and fashion magazines, but I don’t obsessively keep them out of my girls’ orbit (I couldn't, really. We live in New York City and many of my friends work in fashion).

When I do see one of my girls contemplating beauty as dictated from the pages of Vogue or its glossy correlates, I make a point of voicing the near unattainability of that brand of beauty. I’m hoping that if my kids grow up aware of the magic, and excessive use, of Photoshop, they will be less likely to hate themselves for not looking like a model in Glamour. Another mantra I’ve been spouting lately goes something like this: “Make the most of what you’ve got. Whether you grow up to be bitty or buxom, you can work with it and look great. Pining for what you don’t have is useless.” It’s a little strange talking to a 6-year-old about the art of accentuating one’s curves, but I’m desperate.

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Since I don’t know you or your daughter, I’ve no idea where she is on the spectrum of self-loathing. One thing you might do is show her what happens when you upload a headshot of Angelina Jolie to Anaface, as I just did. According to that mean app, even AJ is flawed and would be told, “Your mouth is too wide for your nose” and “Your face has poor horizontal symmetry.” Deliver me!

I’m about to Anaface Charlotte Gainsburg, a French beauty who takes after her unconventionally attractive father. This will be fun.

Good luck to us all,

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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