I am standing at the counter checking out at the pharmacy when my almost 11-year-old son standing with me says, “Wow!” I turn to see what he is wowing about and he has picked up the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and is going crazy telling me how gorgeous these women are, as he frantically turns the pages.
My first reaction was laughter, so was the reaction of the people in line; and then he says “Mom are these free? Can I keep this?” “No, they are not free…you have to pay for them, why?” I ask , already knowing the answer .
“Are you kidding me, these women are amazing – this is crazy, I can’t believe I can almost see real breasts!”
Again, all the people in line are laughing…but now I am not. He begs for the magazine, like it’s an app for his iTouch. He says if I buy it for him he will never ask me for an app again (not). There is a long line, I can’t do my parenting right now and provide a “teachable moment.” I throw it on the counter to buy it and we leave the store – with my son telling me “You are the best, Mom!”
We get into the car and he is flipping through the magazine like a crazy person when I pull it away, saying I need to look through it first to make sure it’s appropriate for you to see (though he has already now seen it all) and he says “Mom, do you have to be so ‘KidSafe?’ I just want to see these women, it’s normal, it’s okay, what’s the problem?”
I need time to think…what is the problem? (I know when we get home, that is what my husband will say.)
I say, “Do you think women really look like that?” “What do you mean?” he asks. I say, “When you look at those pictures, these women have perfect hair, perfect bodies, but most women don’t really look like that. He says “I know, I have seen you.” (I breathe.)
Now I’m outraged but I practice what I preach and I remain calm with a poker face. I say, “Honey, I am 45 years old, the women in this magazine are maybe 20, and their job is to make their bodies look good by working out and eating right (or not eating at all). At the end of the day the magazine works with Photoshop to make them look “perfect.”
His answer: “I know all that, and the problem is?”
I feel a teachable moment coming, but I am uncertain as to what I should be teaching him.
- Not all women look like that? (He knows)
- It’s not appropriate for him to look at beautiful women? (No, that’s not it)
- He’s too young?
For what? We have had numerous sex talks, we have had safe and unsafe touch talk… in fact we talk all the time about how to treat women with respect, about boundaries, about his body and girls’ bodies, the differences, and that’s when I realize – the teachable moment is for me.
I have to realize that my son is growing up, he appreciates beautiful women, understands not all women look like that, and Photoshop can be a great tool. He knows he can ask us anything, say anything about his body and the changes happening to it without any discomfort. He can say “Mom, I want to look at these women.” He can say all that because we have brought him up to talk to us about anything and we will answer as honestly as we can, or seek the information if we don’t know the answer. But most importantly we want to make him feel comfortable letting us know his thoughts and feelings.
We open the door to our house and he is pulling the magazine out to show his dad. My husband looks at me and grins. I say, “I didn’t know if it was appropriate for him to look at, but he sold me on all the reasons it was okay, what do you think?” My husband says “You are kidding right?” and they proceed to sit together and turn the pages.
I realized as they turned the pages, that we have also turned a page in our lives.