Joey Garcia

I am a single dad of a 16-year-old daughter. I discovered that my little girl has been taking herbal breast-enhancement supplements ordered online with a friend’s credit card. I can understand her thinking that having a bigger chest would make her more attractive to boys, but it seems wrong that she would be taking measures to increase her size at such an early age. I would like to take the supplement away from her, but I really don’t know how to handle this. Any ideas?

Before you break the news of your discovery, carefully process any feelings of discomfort that you may have about your daughter’s choice. For example, if you are embarrassed to talk to your daughter about her body, shed that discomfort by understanding that her problem is medical (her body is still developing) and emotional, not sexual. Don’t let your own issues about puberty, sexuality or attraction distract you from being helpful. And don’t carry your own fears into a conversation with her. Most teenagers are adept at exploiting their parents’ insecurities.

When you talk, be clear that you are not angry but that a conversation is important and non-negotiable. In response, your daughter may boomerang through betrayal (she may believe that you discovered her secret by snooping through her belongings), embarrassment (at being seen as insecure about her body), shame (because she believes that her breasts are small and that, therefore, she is not as good as other girls) and anger (an attempt to win power). Let her express her emotions, briefly, while you stay calm. Do not defend yourself against accusations (“You’re always looking through my stuff!”). Stay focused on the topic at hand.

Tell her that you understand the pressure to be attractive and that, in our culture, attractiveness is unfortunately measured by how sexually available someone seems. This pressure is an illusion manufactured by the media, which has actively mainstreamed pornographic culture over the last 20 years. If she is unable to lift herself above this noise, she will become a slave to it, believing that the only thing that stands between her and happiness (in the form of popularity, the perfect guy or whatever) is her appearance. This kind of thinking serves to heighten insecurity, not to improve confidence.

After all, by inviting boys to focus on her breasts, she is saying, in effect, that her breasts are the most important thing about her. That’s not a valid starting point for a friendship or a dating relationship. If she likes a guy who only dates girls of a certain breast size, point out that there will always be someone who is bustier or prettier. A guy like that is not looking for a relationship; he’s looking to score and move on.

Then spend some time chatting about the qualities that do allow a healthy romantic relationship to develop. Your daughter needs guidance in making choices that enhance her ability to be respected for who she is, not who the culture is trying to seduce her into becoming.

Thank you for your response to the individual stressed by her economic situation (”Ask Joey,” February 16). I, too, have felt so stressed that I have questioned whether my life is worthwhile. I am a full-time student working two jobs. Going out for a single meal or purchasing clothing (even at Goodwill) can induce tears at the end of the month when my bills come due. I even began the humbling process of applying for food stamps. My jobs are fulfilling and an excellent complement to my career goals, but I have recently been considering quitting my jobs and school for a higher-paying, although unsatisfying, job.

Your column came at the right time. I admit that I didn’t even know what the word “ascetic” meant, so I looked it up. Merriam-Webster defines it as “practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline.” The idea of finding peace with poverty had never even crossed my mind before. Thank you for a new view.

Thank you for being open enough to receive it!

Meditation of the week
Joseph Eichler was the first builder of tract homes in the Bay Area to sell to Asian (1950) and black (1954) families. When white families protested that their property values would decline accordingly, Eichler consistently offered to buy their homes back. Only one family ever took him up on his offer. Eichler resigned from the National Association of Home Builders in 1958 because of the organization’s racial-discrimination policies. Do you live your values at work?

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