Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Beauty

Here's an interesting take on little girls, big girls, and beauty.

The writer quotes Huffington Post author Lisa Bloom, who in turn says, "ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize."

We've all read these sorts of alarming reports, and I don't think they're exaggerated. My friend's six-year-old niece asked him, "Uncle John, do you think my legs are fat?" Whatever was on my mind at age six, jiggly thighs didn't make the list. Was this because my thighs didn't jiggle back then? Or that forty years later we are more obsessed with thinness?

Both, I think.

The obvious comparisons between Marilyn Monroe and modern supermodels are a study in the changing standards of beauty. Let's all go back to the age of Rubens, I say. But, of course, we aren't headed in that direction anytime soon.

So ... Do we, as some say, ignore looks altogether? Do we refrain from saying to our little girls, "You're beautiful."

I couldn't do it if I tried.

The births of my four children produced a euphoria of such intensity, I doubt anything I do in life will quite measure up. My first thought on looking at each tiny face was simply, "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever set eyes on." Swollen faces, ski hats hiding cone heads, eyes smeared with anti-biotic cream -- none of it mattered a whit. Those babies were flat stunning.

Love does that to you.

And as they have grown, I have continued to tell them they are cute or handsome or good-looking or, in Ainsley's case, pretty.

For so-called experts to exhort mothers not to mention beauty reminds me of thoughts I have had on competition and rewards. I shared my thoughts here. Essentially, there is a modern line of reasoning that says if there are winners and losers in some element of life, you simply stop playing the game. Back then I wrote:

Sitting in a waiting room not long ago, I flipped through a popular parenting magazine. An article on encouragement caught my eye. Parents, the author advised, should avoid words that smack of judgment when looking at, for example, a child’s drawing. If your child has done a good job, you certainly shouldn’t say so. Rather, you should comment on the variety of colors chosen or the interesting subject matter.

On no account, the author gravely warned, should you use words like good, excellent, or well done.

In a similar vein, a growing number of schools have eliminated honor rolls and spelling bees because there are winners and losers.

So, too, it is with beauty. Ignore the issue entirely, and your daughter won't struggle with issues about her looks. Fat chance, I say.

I shared a laugh with a friend of mine over girls and Barbie dolls. While growing up, my friend was not allowed to play with Barbies. Anxious to promote healthy body images with her three daughters, my friend's mother had banned the leggy figures from her house. My friend's assessment of this? She still wanted to grow up to be 5'10" and 120 pounds. It's a tough, tough sell.

I love so many, many things about my kids ... including their looks.

Parents should be champions for their children. Certainly this should not be in the sense of "My baby can do no wrong." That line of thinking makes headlines in our fair city when parents attack the school and hire attorneys the second their baby gets into any trouble at school (however deserved the trouble may be).

Certainly this does not eliminate the need to correct bad behavior or to steer children in the direction of real (not imagined) talents. When I lived in England, a friend couldn't believe I didn't play basketball. I'm an American, after all!  As I pointed out to my friend, I'm also 5' 2". Imagining that I'm Shaquille O'Neal just wouldn't take me very far.

We shouldn't live in a fantasy world nor should we gloss over character flaws, but parents should communicate essential messages: You are loved. You are competent. You are capable. God has great plans for your life. I admire you.

And to our daughters, yes, I think we should add: You are beautiful.

I have a friend who has struggled with her mother's tendency to say "You look nice, but... You're paper is really well written, but..."

Let me confess right here: I suffer from the But syndrome. I am a retired teacher. How I wish that means I  am always encouraging. Too often it means I was born with red pen in hand. I tend to correct everyone's work (and manage to do a hatchet job on my own, I might add).

Unconditional love is essential; it is also very, very challenging.

To this day my father will share about my softball career or my high school grades in a way that is slightly out of touch with the facts. To hear his occasional remarks, you would think I was the Valedictorian of my class and Most Valuable Player. In fact, I was a diligent student and a fairly good softball player. But who I am to say my father shouldn't think I hung the moon? My older sister is about to start a new job as an attorney. Dad is excited and has no doubt his daughter will take the legal profession by storm.

As we were leaving church on Sunday, I looked over to see my husband, Dave, looking at our two-year-old daughter, Ainsley. She was wearing the cutest dress in the history of life. Her hair, well, these days of non-compliance with hair accessories will leave her reminding me of a song from the sixties: Long-haired, freaky people need not apply. But on Sunday her bow was in place.  Her growing blond locks were neatly pulled back. Her blue eyes were bright and sparkling.

She was beautiful. And, wow, you could see it in her father's face.

 And that's the way it should be.


Anonymous said...

I'm getting caught up with your blog and wish I had more time to read your recent posts, and respond! This post is very thought-provoking. I couldn't agree with you more about the pressure particularly on girls, but also on boys increasingly, to consider their appearance to be their chief value. I think children can see in their parents' eyes when we delight in their beauty; and I think we need to tell them in words as well. I also talk with my daughter about beauty in terms of character. The older I get, the more I think how true my Granny's maxim is: Beauty is as beauty does! But you're so right, we need to champion our children. Who else will, if not us?

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! COuldn't agree more! Our children, especially daughters, need now, more than ever, to know that we think they are beautiful. Nothing we can do about the world's focus, but we can certainly counteract it by how we raise them and how we love them in our words and actions. Just found your blog, and can't wait to read more! God bless!

Kelly said...

Christine - I agree that beauty is as beauty does. I think of how much easier it is to appear a certain way outside my home but be grumpy inside of it.

Boys face body issues. Late bloomers of either gender have a tough go of it.

8Little - Welcome and thanks for your kind comment! I'll hop over and check out your blog.