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 $1000 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.
Fashion and modeling may be a passion for your daughter. If that’s the case, you might be feeling that you’re in a bit of a parenting dilemma. On one hand you want to feed that passion. On the other hand, you’re probably worrying about 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 their life. But usually, that means developing a skill like in 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 about finding meaning from within. But again, as opposed to most activities, modeling is, by definition, primarily about how you look to other people.
So those are probably some of the main things that bother 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 make three suggestions for conditions you might require your daughter to accept before you even consider allowing her to attend modeling camp. These might serve to counter-balance some of your worries:
Condition #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 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 #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 make-up or clothes or the length of her hair.
Condition #3: Empathy-Focused Activities
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.
In 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 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 move on a runway.