In her popular first book, The Velveteen Principles, psychotherapist Raiten-D'Antonio promoted individuality and being Real, in the spirit of Margery Williams's cherished children's classic. In this equally appealing sequel, Raiten-D'Antonio's style is light and appealing as she describes how our culture enforces conformity and how to become Real (i.e., yourself). Drawing on her own difficult childhood as the dutiful daughter of a mother with Parkinson's disease, she explains how girls are raised to be Barbie-perfect wives and caretakers. She calls our materialistic, stereotyping culture "The Object Culture" and the superficial language it uses "Thinglish." The antidote, the way to feel "Real," says the author, "is a fully developed set of your own values and beliefs that are not generic but tailor-made by you." In her 13 principles ("Becoming a Real Woman Is a Process," "Real Women Are Flexible"), she examines the practice of values such as empathy, generosity and honesty. In this simple, sweet and positive book, Raiten-D'Antonio offers a message that will be palatable to a couple of generations of women who have grown up seeking power in the workplace and in their relationships while remaining outwardly conventional and mainstream in their values. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Velveteen Principles for Women: How to Shatter the Myth of Perfection and Embrace All That You Really Areby Toni Raiten-D'Antonio
The Velveteen Principles for Women is a motivational guidebook for those who want to identify the sources of their unhappiness and become genuinely Real themselves. It is essential reading for women who want to free themselves from self-doubt, silence their inner critics, and live as the Real, unique, and valuable women they are meant to be.
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Excerpts from The Velveteen Principles for Women
You know this generic version of the ideal woman: She is young, tall, and thin to the point of being gaunt. She has long, straight hair, preferably blonde, and blemish-free skin. Remarkably, although she's so thin, she also has large, firm, high breasts, which she displays whenever possible. She must walk, talk, and pose in a way that suggests sexual energy. She mustn't appear overly intelligent or else she'll be intimidating, and she shouldn't show too much interest in expressing herself or developing autonomy outside the realm of sex and beauty.
In both appearance and behavior, she is a lot like the world's most popular doll, Barbie, who would measure 39–18–33 if she were human. Because material wealth is also part of the ideal package, like Barbie, the perfect woman should have fashionable clothes, a beautiful house, an expensive car, and everything else money can buy. The standards for the ideal woman are widely held and communicated in television, movies, and magazines. They associate a very narrow definition of perfection with becoming a secure woman who will be cared for by an adoring man. All girls get the message and carry it into adult life. You are affected no matter your race, income level, sexual preference, age, region, faith, intellect, talents, or goals. Even girls who aspire to become physicians, for example, talk about the need to be 'hot' like the women doctors they see on TV.
They dream of becoming perfectly beautiful and thereby capturing the devotion and lifelong support of a wonderful man. I call this fantasy the Princess Paradigm. Its power was recently impressed on me by a young mother named Anne, who sees me for counseling. Anne's preschool daughter, Lily, is obsessed with princesses. She reads and re-reads books about them, watches movies that feature them, and plays at being a princess almost every day. As Anne recalled, Lily had noticed that her mother was bothered when she returned to her car in a shopping center lot to find a flat tire. 'Don't worry, Mommy. You're beautiful and you're married,' she had said. 'Daddy will take care of you!
As suggested by Lily's words of comfort, our culture still promises happiness and security to the woman who meets certain standards for beauty and behavior. These attributes will allow her to attract a mate and then be supported by him, just like a princess. Although expressed in different ways in modern stories, the message is basically the same one presented in classic tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White .
Life can be a challenge, but if you are pretty enough, you will be saved. (The story that most closely fit my personal Princess Paradigm was Cinderella because her beauty saved her from caretaker drudgery.) The trouble with this Princess Paradigm, beyond the fact that it insists women must be alluring and then dependent, is that very few of us can ever be sure we are pretty enough to become and remain forever a cherished princess. Therefore, we find ourselves drawn into a lifelong process of anxious mirror gazing. We struggle over the condition of our outsidesskin, hair, bodyat the expense of our insidesheart, mind, soul.
Worst of all, we never get the promised reward of ease, pampering, and endless admiration. Instead, as many women struggle to seem worthy, they become so committed to serving othersas mothers, partners, wives, daughters, and even as employeesthat they lose themselves in the process. In the kitchen, in the bedroom, on the job, they make other people the main subject of their own lives and turn themselves into objects that exist to serve others.
So many of us have this problem that one of the staples of my therapy practice involves having women clients ask the simple question: What about me? These three words instantly lead women to recognize how much they have neglected their own development and lost themselves in service to others. I suppose the Princess Paradigm could work for a woman with movie-star looks and the time and money for the clothes, exercise, makeup, and, ultimately, frequent plastic surgery to maintain it all from adolescence to the grave. But how many of these princesses actually live on the Earth? Very few. So few, in fact, that every woman I have ever known in my roles as therapist, teacher, friend, or acquaintance has lived with the nagging sense that she is inadequate in her natural state.
By the time I was seven or eight, I suspected that I wasn't ever going to measure up to princess-hood. I had bad eyesightmen don't make passes at girls who wear glassesand I was overweight. I already felt insecure about my looks and, consequently, worried about whether I had any real worth as a person. By my teen years, I felt even worse about my appearance. High grades at school and obedience at home brought me with my dread that I was going to be a failure in the looks department.
To fight off the self-loathing that came with feeling like I was never pretty enough, I began to study the Princess Paradigm, hoping I might discover its shortcomings and feel better about failing to achieve it. I had to admit that besides beauty, the paradigm upheld values such as kindness, consideration for others, and loyalty, which are quite positive attributes. But other elements of this idealextreme conformity, self-censorship, and emotional/creative repressionrobbed girls of life's greatest rewards. This was the price the princess had to pay. She had to abandon much of her individuality. Moreover, all that time spent on primping limited her development as a person. In the end, even the most successful princess was dependent on others for survival. The princess's life, it seemed, was a very limited kind of fantasy.
Realizing that I would never become a princess, and discovering that I didn't really want to be one after all, saved my sanity. As a child, my growing recognition helped me endure a home life that was filled with neglect and marred by occasional abuse. As an adult, this knowledge led me out of a career as a stage and TV performer (the perfect princess occupation) and into my life's work as a psychotherapist and professor. In my work, I have seen how the Princess Paradigm and other forms of social pressure limit women's lives and erode their mental health. I have also discovered positive alternatives supported by all the great theorists of human developmentfrom Adler, Erikson, and Piaget to Kohlberg, Jung, and Maslowwho stress the value of individuality, creativity, courage, and ethical behavior. In short, they support being true to yourself. Understanding and discovery are essential for any woman who wants to pioneer her own life's course.
Makeovers, now hugely popular thanks to television, plunge a woman into a sort of appearance transformation process that can include anything from a new hairstyle, clothes, and makeup to dramatic plastic surgery. Their enormous appeal confirms to me that women are subject to an ever more demanding set of standards for beauty. (If you don't think things are worse today, consider this fact: In 1985, fashion models typically weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. In 2005, they weighed 23 percent less.) It also shows how much value society places on a woman's outsides and how little we value her insides.
©2007.Toni Raiten-D'Antonio. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Velveteen Principles for Women : How to Shatter the Myth of Perfection and Embrace All That You Really Are. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.
Meet the Author
Toni Raiten-D'Antonio is a psychotherapist, acclaimed motivational speaker and adjunct professor of social work at Empire State College of New York. She has been featured in national magazines and on radio programs across North America. Her first book, The Velveteen Principles, was a runaway hit with more than 100,000 copies sold. She has a thriving private practice on Long Island, New York, where she lives with her husband.
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