I have come to the recent realization of how much harm my mother did to me in emphasizing outward appearance. I don't have a huge body image issue beyond any normal woman, but it is something I definitely don't want to pass on to my daughters. I was taught that inner beauty mattered but was never allowed out without being "coiffed." Comments were/are made about weight or wearing ponytails everyday. I am also now seeing favoritism with the grandkids based on looks. Comments are made about less attractive babies, etc. Even within extended family! It really horrifies me because society already gives such high standards for girls.
Have you started emphasizing inner beauty? At what age?
not a whole lot of time to respond in detail, but from the time...
May 30 2012, 1:15 PM
...DD was a toddler and anyone commented on her appearance, I would always add something like, "And she's smart and kind too, the whole package -- beautiful outside and in, which is where it really counts!" We talked a lot about the qualities that make a person beautiful, positive, a good friend, a caring mother, a connected teacher, etc. We also talked, and still do (DD will be 10 this summer) about how our culture is appearance-based and youth-oriented. We talk about advertisements and marketing -- we did even when DD was much younger. There are a number of great books out there (names escape me now) with suggestions on doing this in age-appropriate ways.
I also counter comments about what's ugly. One memorable moment: DH came across a close-up picture of an old woman's wrinkled hands harvesting saffron. "Wow, what ugly hands!" he said, and without thinking, I shot back, "I think they are beautiful. Imagine the babies those hands have held, the meals those hands have prepared, the tears they've wiped away, the gifts they've wrapped, the gardens they've planted" and on and on. DD was taking all of this in, and DH immediately regretted his thoughtless comment and affirmed what I was saying.
We talk frequently about superficial beauty (fancy hair, makeup, glittering jewelry, stylish clothes -- not that those things are bad, but believing they make you attractive and worthwhile IS bad) and inner beauty (kindness, honesty, loyalty, etc.). Who would you want for a friend? How would you like it if...? And on and on.
As DD has gotten older, we've had some real-life examples to point to - a Queen Bee type in school ("Mamma, Alison thinks she is so beautiful because she has fancy clothes, but she's not nice to anyone") and plenty of very smart and engaged classmates and alums around us (we talk a lot about the importance of learning and being engaged in the world).
We talk, too, about how society (media, marketing, etc.) tries to steer us -- how to behave, how to dress, what to value, what to think, what to want, etc. Fortunately, DD has adopted DH's and my rebellious, non-mainstream values in this regard, and she can identify the BS in an ad in no time flat ("They really want us to buy such and such, don't they" or "They think if they put a pretty girl in the picture that people will want to buy this").
We compare books to people -- the cliched 'can't judge a book by its cover' has proven true time and time again, both literally and figuratively.
It's possible to do all of this in age-appropriate ways, and sometimes I wonder if I'm being too cynical about it, but overall, I don't think so - I think one has to really start to plant these seeds early and nurture them often if one is to help a child learn to see, think, decide and assess for him- or herself, and to value all of the beautiful things that have nothing to do with the way someone looks.
Hope some of this rambling, train of thought message is helpful!
This message has been edited by piove on May 30, 2012 7:33 PM This message has been edited by piove on May 30, 2012 1:16 PM
What a great mom you are. Your quick response countering DH's comment really demonstrates how much this is a part of your belief system, not just "talking the talk." Beautiful!
I wish I could be quicker when I speak on this subject as things come up. Perhaps it reveals a bit of superficiality or vanity on my part...I'm not sure, but I do know that after reading your post I'm going to revisit a conversation I had with Sophie this morning! Thanks, Kat! I'm out of time and having trouble collecting my thoughts, but will post again later.
You're exactly on track with DD and the consistent message you deliver will end up being deeply embedded into her view of people and life. She's already light years ahead of the average child in the most important life philosophy, namely, trying to figure out what really matters and what is "real.
Given our society with all the media/entertainment focus on vanity, superficial looks, and notoriety (for example our fascination with Kim K!), we need to make sure our children realize the difference between what they see on tv and in magazines and how to live a satisfying life. Otherwise, unless you are part of that reality show superstar set, you'll be unhappy with your life, no matter what you have.
At DS' private school, we have some very wealthy families. One in particular seems to be setting up their daughter for an unhappy adulthood. She brags about the very LARGE gifts her family has given to the school. Her parents pick her up in a limousine the day after some of her "friends" expressed doubt that her family owned a limo (I think it was her birthday). DS tells me that she is very bossy and brags a lot. Her "friends" like to be with her because she has really nice stuff. The girl scout leader for this girl tells me that the Mom is constantly with her daughter and even "helps" (does the activity instead of observing and offering encouragement) her complete all her assignments and crafts that she does in girl scouts.
Personally, I'm very happy that DS has this opportunity to observe how material wealth can actually ruin a person's potential to be a nice person that people love to be around because they are good company. Also, it makes for very interesting discussions around our dinner table.
We also have some interesting conversations about the placement of sexy-looking women in ads. DS has been brainwashed that "how people look doesn't necessarily translate into how they are". Living in Hawaii, we have a very racially diverse population, and I'm proud that DS is sensitive to the fact that some people are quick to categorize people by skin color. In fact, one day I identified a grocery checkout person to DH in a conversation as black, and DS asked me if I was being a racist.
Anyway, thank you for such a wonderful post. I will remember it and apply it liberally with DS whenever the opportunity arises.
I am sooo aware of this and know that I don't have the solution, but here are some of the mini-efforts I make:
1. No fashion magazines in the house (even toss athleta, title 9, etc catalogs as soon as they come in).
2. I no longer polish my nails.
3. My scale is in my closet and I make sure dd never sees me step on it (though, I really should hide it totally...but then I may never step on it!).
4. Never ever talk about weight in front of dd.
5. I do comb dd's hair each morning (see prior strands about her refusing to wash it), but this is posed as lice prevention and knot-ridding rather than looks.
6. Dd chooses her own clothes with no comment from me other than as it regards the weather. Sometimes its painful/embarrassing for me but I do it anyhow!
7. The hardest I have ever come down on Dd was the first time she said she didn't like someone because they "looked funny" (our heavy neighbor). The ONLY reason you can not like someone is because they are not nice to you or not nice to other people. That's it. Period. Since then, we've had more conversations/reminders about how you can like someone no matter what they look like and that all that matters is that they are a nice and good person.
8. When it comes to special events where you need to dress up, I explain it as a way of showing respect--that you wear certain clothes to certain events. I don't say that you need to look extra pretty for it.
9. Still haven't mastered the exact right response as to why I sometimes wear makeup...Open to suggestions!!
So, do I talk about inner beauty? Sure, as we talk about friends, people who are special to us, etc. That comes pretty naturally. The NOT talking about outer beauty takes more of a conscious effort on my part, but it is becoming more second nature as time goes on (though I am sure I still have many many goofs--it is so ingrained in our society...)
me:smc (single mom by choice)
Dd: Conceived when I was 42 after 2 years ttc. Conceived on 6th IVF cycle after 2 bfn's and 3 m/cs.
I would say that "I wear eye makeup (eg) because I think I have nice eyes & the makeup makes them even more noticeable to other people"
Thus, makeup becomes a way to enhance what you LIKE, not hide what you don't. Isn't that also how we choose clothes for our adult bodies? At least, after watching way too many seasons of What Not To Wear, that's what I've been trying to do -- play to my strengths, show what I like about myself, not wallow or try to hide what I don't.
On a different level, that's what I want DD to do with her life - if she's smart, I want her to play to that. She might never be exceptionally graceful (she gets that from me!) so I am cautious about how we pursue ballet at this age, just because of the body image stuff. But being able to do strong things with her body, oh yes!
...I often say that I just think it's fun to wear sometimes. I ddn't want to mae it an appearance-based thing...but I DO tell DD that our culture wants girls and women to feel like they need makeup in order to look pretty -- and isn't that stupid to think that you need lipstick/eyeliner/etc. to look pretty? I tell her that the more women feel like they HAVE to wear makeup, the more they'll buy, and the more money companies will make, and that it's important not to be brainwashed into that trap.
Wear it if it's fun for you and you like it, in other words. I'll also say, I don't have time to put mascara/gloss/whatever on -- just too busy to bother! And when DD asks why I don't wear nailpolish, I tell her that I'm just too busy typing and painting and that the polish will just chip, so why bother? I tell her I have too much to do with my hands and can't be constrained by lacquer.
Speaking of which...I also tell DD that there is lead in many lipsticks, and chemicals in nail polish and remover. She asks, "Don't companies care that this hurts people?" I tell her the truth: no, they don't -- they just want to market their product and make money, and if that means using cheap, harmful ingredients, that's what they'll do - so we have to be smart consumers and inform ourselves about ingredients, quality, etc.
"I love to watch you play." Simple, perfect, exactly what needs to be said. It's funny, because only recently have these words even become true for me (regarding competitive sports...I've always loved watching my children play for playing's sake). I've finally learned to stop cringing and fretting and feeling excruciating pressure for them and just watch them play and enjoy that time. And I do love it now. And I will say it!
As far as wearing make-up, I don't wear much make-up, but I always wear mascara, and I tell my girls it's because my eyelashes are blond and they stand out and just look prettier when I wear mascara. I like the idea of telling them it enhances what I like, and that's an honest explanation.
Makeup - when I put on makeup DH, DS and the dog (m)
June 1 2012, 5:08 PM
all ask me, "Where are you going?" They all know it's something more than the routine trips to the post office, grocery store, library, bank, etc. I think they are interested because if I put on make up, it often involves "treats" (doggie bags, gifts from clients, going out after my meeting, etc.).
I love the idea of saying that make up is for special occasions to highlight things that I like about my face.
I wish that the post was a general one and not specifically addressing girls. Maybe I'm missing something. I have two boys and they need to learn about inner beauty too.
"It really horrifies me because society already gives such high standards for girls." Yes but one of the ways to change this is what we teach our boys as well.
I think a lot of this is cultural. In my native country a lot less was made of someone's outward appearance (except one's hair). I hope I don't offend anyone but here in NA it seems to be "all" about outward appearance. I'm very glad to read this post because I realise that it's not that way for a lot of people, however, for the majority of NA society, it is.
I wouldn't change a single thing that I do for my outward appearance. I love making myself beautiful. I love doing girly things and trust me for a black woman losing her hair, one has to really re-think the whole concept of "outward beauty". I've been forced to think really very deep because even though I may say, I don't care, blah, blah, blah, the hair loss is devastating and the truth is, a lot of my outward beauty was tied up in my hair.
So even though I "get" the outer/inner beauty thing (and it' was still a learning process for me this outward beauty thing), I think it will be very, very difficult for most kids my ds's age (4 and 2), in THIS society.
All I can teach them is to groom themselves well and always be pleasing to be around AND teach them how to love and APPRECIATE others and the world around them. That way, when they see a drawing on the sidewalk for e.g. (which people do a lot of in downtown Toronto), that they should walk around it and try to see the beauty in it vs just blindly walking over it. Especially since, often times, the artist is sitting right there and if you think it was worth looking at, to toss a coin in their little hat Which is why they drew it in the first place. Do it just as you would for the person playing the subway music.
None of this will change unless we also teach our boys EXACTLY what we teach our girls about inner beauty AND teach our girls EXACTLY what we teach our boys about appreciating it.
I wish I could write more but I have a lot going on now, but I will continue to read the responses because this is such a great post.
As I read your very thoughtful response, a mental image came to my mind. I saw a very old, wrinkled woman's face and imagined discussing with ds a different kind of beauty, something like imagining her life experiences and valuing these. I have no clue how other cultures teach their children to value and respect the aged so much, but I wish we had these values. Honestly, I think that advertising and corporate $$$ are behind our pathetic emphasis on physical beauty in NA, not to mention the ever-present media. It's good for business, plain and simple, and most ppl are too unreflective to question this. Even thoughtful, bright ppl feel the pressure to conform, as you know.
Keiki's Makuahine (Keiki's Mom) 51, dh 52
Keiki: b. 2002 after 3 months bedrest
Natural conception following ZIFT/chem. pg
Olivia: b. 1999 d. 1999
28-week preemie, ptl cause unknown
Natural conception after 1 mc
I should clarify to mention I live in the Southern US
June 2 2012, 3:38 PM
Makeup, hair, and wardrobe are huge. Walk on any Southern college campus and its a bevy of blonde beauties (think Elle Woods) plus some of us brunette gals. Of course, we have lots of trendy hippy folks too. But the environment my girls are going to be brought up in is maybe a bit more looks focused than others. I was actually bullied by a mean girl in LAW SCHOOL. Can you believe that?? Yes- made fun of for wearing jean shorts to class. She came from Bama where looks are literally your worth. It determines what sorority you get into thus giving you access to the cutest guys, etc etc
And Z- totally agree about DS's too. Here it's very concentrated on being macho and playing a zillion sports. That's pressure too! I know people who force their kids to play 3 sports year round all the while screaming at them if they miss a goal at 5 years old. A lot of parents hold back until 6 yrs for kindergarten because of sports.