Friday, September 30, 2011

I Give Up

You may have already read Lisa Bloom's article "How to Talk to Little Girls" that ran in the Huffington Post last June. But if you haven't, maybe you should. It's very interesting food for thought on the subject of how incessantly complimenting girls on their appearance only emphasizes to them (over the course of some fairly impressionable years) that physical beauty is of utmost importance.  The article is just as applicable for non-parents as people with children, since one could argue that the author's point is directed more towards how we generally speak to strangers or acquaintances as opposed to our own kids.

Anyway, in addition to Bloom's piece, I've read others that suggest that not discussing looks at all may be the best way to make your daughter feel comfortable about hers.  So I try (and frequently fail) not to overdo it with the appearance praise, and have been known to get on Joe's case for calling Georgia and June "beautiful", oh, about 1,000 times per day.

My conclusion: perhaps I've been trying too hard. And also, my four year old is too clever for her own good. To wit, I share with you the following conversation that took place as I clicked on the TV looking for Dora and was instead momentarily greeted by the scene of a female guest on the Ellen Degeneres talk show, wearing a gigantic red bra and stepping into a flying cash booth to see how much money she could capture in her lingerie.

Georgia: "She's really pretty!"
Me: "Yes, you're right. But do you think she is smart or kind, too? Because don't you think it's really more important that she be smart and kind than pretty?"
Georgia (after thinking it over for a moment): "Yes, I think she is smart because she knows the right things to wear to look beautiful."

Touché, my dear.

(For an interesting counterargument to Bloom's piece, check out Rebecca Woolf's post here.  I think she makes a lot of valid points about there being plenty of room to compliment shoes as well as brains, and to have just as much fun playing princess as doctor.  One of my favorite lines from her post:  "Complimenting little girls on their clothes isn't the gateway drug to implants."  My only criticism of Woolf's take is that it fails to address the fact that we all reflexively seem to comment on little girls' appearance about a billion times more often than boys', and it is that disparity that is the crux of the issue, in my humble opinion.) 


Danni said...

I doubt it makes that much difference. The societal pressures are going to be there no matter what.

Kate said...

Danni - I guess I respectfully disagree. It is precisely because of all that societal pressure that I think it really matters what message my daughters are getting at home and from close friends and family. I just want them to feel confident and am trying to strike the right balance b/w counteracting that societal message of "looks matter most!" by not discussing looks, while at the same time counteracting the societal message of "you're too fat/thin/ugly" by straight up telling them they are beautiful so many times that they never doubt it and don't crumble in the face of b.s. marketing and media.

Danni said...

I hope your're right and there's certainly no downside to not emphasizing looks. I certainly would never want to as a parent or with others' kids either.

Sarah said...

I love Georgia's comment :)
I've been thinking about this a lot, especially since Mia goes by "Beauty" more than her real name at home. It doesn't hold much meaning for her right now, but we'll probably have to drop it soon. I often use it as a general term for overall lovely behavior including being helpful and showing good manners ("thanks for being a Beauty"). I have to say that if I had to choose a side, I'd err on the side of showering your children with praise of all sorts (smart, beautiful, etc.). I agree with R. Woolf that we can't escape appearances, and frankly, we have to pay attention to how we present ourselves because it affects how people treat us. It's not such a bad thing except for when it becomes the Hollywood extreme. I'm very grateful to my Mom for pointing out the kinds of things that help us look and feel beautiful and and especially when I see a What Not to Wear episode, I'm thankful for my Mom. I really do believe that it changes people's lives to realize that they too can look and feel beautiful. There are a lot of beautiful people that don't know they're beautiful which can be endearing, but can also be sad. Ultimately, I'd rather Mia feel even more confident than than beautiful, so why not help build her confidence? Then there's also my own effort to appreciate beauty in the world (art, nature, etc), and for a growing girl, that includes deciding what is beautiful to her. I've actually been trying to follow beauty vs. logic more, after realizing I often go with the logical choice (e.g., less expensive, most convenient, etc.) and am trying to take aesthetics into account more often. I guess my pendulum is swinging the other way, trying not to lose sight of the fact that there is beauty out there and it's okay to acknowledge it, even if there is inherent comparison and judgment (and then back to the confidence thing, beauty isn't everything - most of the time the other variables win out). This will be an even more delicate issue in adolescence - yes it's okay to wear 6 inches of eyeliner, and yes I see other people are doing it too, and no it does not make you look beautiful.
Of course, the most important message is that even when you're not at your best, I still love you.

Kate said...

Sarah - I love it that you're thankful to your mom for keeping you off of What Not to Wear! (I could totally be on an episode right now by the way, I swear it. Ugh. Baby spit-up is not anyone's look.)

Oh - I forgot to mention this, but the other thing I think is perhaps even more important than whether you compliment your kid's appearance is what you say about your own in front of them. I make sure to never put my appearance down or talk about weight loss or whatever in front of the children. Having kids in the house does wonders for one's own level of self loathing I guess!

Maggie said...

I just want to emphasize this last point. I think so much of what influences our daughters -- is their mothers! What we do matters. Are we constantly complaining about those extra pounds? Are we obsessed with our own looks? clothing? In a backwards kinda way, I think partially why I'm starting to pay more attention to my own clothing/home/aesthetics is because I want to be a model for Anna so that she doesn't turn to others when she looks for a model of femininity. Does that make sense?

I think if I present a balanced image of someone who is put together, but not overly critical or obsessed with stuff, then she will fall back on that someday as an example. But if I don't bother (which I'm kinda prone to do) with thinking about it at all, then maybe I'm opening up the door to her seeking other models... ones I may not really want.