Catherine Byle |

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June 22, 2014
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The "real" beauty experiment | Moms

One of the challenges we face as parents is instilling our children with a realistic appreciation for each one’s physical appearance.

We must help them balance that with the belief that inner beauty of character makes the outer you beautiful, too.

Then there’s the bit about how to appropriately appreciate and attract the opposite sex without compromising oneself. It’s a tall order!

I grew up in the era of Punky Brewster, Strawberry Shortcake, Jennifer Rabbit, Madonna, and Princess Diana. And, of course, Barbie, originally introduced to young girls in the 1950’s.

No doubt every era has its icons of femininity and masculinity.

I learned to embrace my freckles, tame my frizzy hair, and follow the Strawberry Shortcake model – look cute, smell good.

When I was at college near L.A., one of the high school students at my student-teaching assignment talked about a boob job her parents were getting her for her sixteenth birthday!

Having grown up in Elkton where our motto when handling sheep was, “sacrifice your body,” this was a bit of a shock. But I also visited several L.A.-area art museums, and received the gift of satisfaction with my “child-bearing hips.”

Recently, I reflected on a promise I’d made to myself during those college years, and a book I’d bought then, for the purpose.

It’s a big, 373-page coffee-table book of the artwork of Pierre-August Renoir. The impressionist painter impressed me with his honest portrayal of the feminine form.

Slight, voluptuous, young, old, nursing mothers, bathers, rich, poor, lumpy and tone – Renoir captured the beauty and simplicity in each one.

As a freshman college student, struggling with stress and too many cafeteria carbohydrates, Renoir’s celebration of a woman’s varied beauty served as a great inspiration.

So what was the promise? An experiment, really. To let Renoir’s paintings guide my children to a realistic expectation of what a woman’s body looks like.

For the girls (I have three), a truer standard to compare to.

For the boys (I have one), an unraveling of any mystery that might tempt them to learn from a tainted, less reliable source outside my supervision.

Now that my eldest is 10 and noticing her classmates begin to change into womanhood, I realized it was time to commence the experiment.

A month ago, I pulled Renoir off the bookshelf and set him on the coffee table, unannounced.

The next evening, just before bedtime, my 10-year-old picked it up and started leafing through.

Pretty soon, I heard, “Mom! There are naked women in here!”

What followed, as all four of my kids gathered around to look at the luscious pages of masterpieces, was a we-should-really-all-be-going-to-bed-now, “teachable moment.”

A discovery of art and why artists paint nudes, and the beauty of the true female figure in a variety of types and sizes, and about how beauty should not be defined by TV or movies, or toy dolls or superstars.

My daughter remarked how Renoir painted the people with clarity, but the surroundings were blurred, dreamy. Ah, Impressionism!

My youngest, just turned six, has not yet outgrown his innocence, and was unfazed – since he occasionally still takes baths with his sister and finds nothing exciting about barging into the bathroom while Mommy is in the shower.

But Renoir remains on the coffee table for future perusal – a quiet protest against the idol of bimbo-beauties and twiggy supermodels, and a celebration of life in its natural forms.

A discovery of art and why artists paint nudes, and the beauty of the true female figure

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The News-Review Updated Feb 2, 2015 09:01AM Published Jun 28, 2014 09:06AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.