It’s a touchy subject, beauty–and female beauty in particular. There has been a lot of to-do about a well written and completely valid op-ed on whether or not we should engage little girls in terms of their physical appearance. You can find the article here:
Lisa Bloom, on the Huffington Post, wrote:
I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.
She goes on to say that there’s a lot wrong with engaging little girls in conversation about appearances, and shares tactics on how to steer conversations away from the subject of beauty and back onto subjects of more heft, worth and interest. Bloom argues that if we teach our children that external beauty is not important then that’s what they’ll learn. We can solve the epidemic rates of eating disorders and body image problems in this country, or at least, counteract the factors that impact our daughters’ opinion of themselves, by refusing to converse in terms of physical appearance when speaking about women and girls.
I understand the point, I truly do.
But a few thoughts: my daughter is not that dumb.
If you tell her she looks pretty she will not project your definition of beauty onto all things and suddenly decide it’s the end-all be-all in the universe. She knows better.
She will project her definition of beauty onto things. If it applies. And if it doesn’t, she won’t. And her definition of beauty is hers. Not mine, and not yours.
Not only is she not as impressionable as all that, she has far more moral character than that. Every little girl I know has far more character than that. To think that my daughter’s first instinct would be to discuss the appearance of female protagonists in any given story is… er…. insulting. To her. Not to me. To her.
And I do not presume that I have so much power over my daughter’s judgement–or any other child’s– as to tell her what should and should not matter to her. To believe that our daughters are so impressionable is not fair to them. It shows no faith in their own inherent ability to see and understand things for themselves. When left to their own devices, my kids take my breath away. It’s when I interfere that things get mucked up.
The world will inevitably send each of our children, at different times, messages that they are simply not good enough. Not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not smart enough, not cool enough, not quick enough, not tough enough….There will always be someone who feels so inadequate that all they can do is try to make others feel even more inadequate.
This is universally true for both men and women and although insecurities often manifest in different ways, I am every bit as concerned about it for my son as I am for my daughter.
The world is a scary place. But what we parents hope for is that our children can face these feelings of inadequacy and know them to be just feelings; we hope that they walk away with their heads held high, knowing their worth is not tied into any one of those external factors we so often use to categorize each other.
As I have thought about this topic I get one image in my head over and over again. My oldest daughter bouncing down the stairs in any of the horrendous outfits she has concocted for herself over the years. Usually in my head it’s an obscenely bright pink/red/purple/orange outfit, where she has paired clothing that has no business ever being paired together. I see her with both her arms out, a beaming smile on her sweet face, basking in the glory of her completely absurd outfit entirely of her own creation. “How do I look?” she asks me, bursting with pride. Tears come to my eyes because I honestly have said, and always will say, with all my heart, …”You Look Beautiful”. Oh, so very beautiful. Her expression of self, her pride, her joy, oh. Such beauty. In that precious innocence, the beauty of her self, inside and out, is one and the same.
The beauty on the outside is merely an expression of the boundless beauty that lies within. Nothing I say could ever, ever change that. Because it is innate. So I will not look to change, mold or direct her definition of beauty. I think she knows far more about beauty than any adult she’ll ever meet.
The beauty of the child shines and radiates; we are all struck by its magnificence. I believe it is that beauty that we so often respond to when we tell a child they look handsome or beautiful. And I believe it’s ok to say it. In the eyes of our children, there is a light. And it shines so brightly. And it sure is beautiful. I need not teach my daughter, or anyone else’s, what she already knows so well: that though beauty takes myriad forms, true beauty lies within. So go ahead, and tell your daughter she’s beautiful. Because she is.