Monday, July 18, 2011

Pretty

She's so cute here, but I don't know why she has her hand up like that

After reading this article I have done a lot of thinking about what I do, or should, talk about with my nieces and others.  It's true that "you look so pretty" or "I love your dress" is an easy conversation starter, and it's also true that it's probably not the best topic you could choose.  I appreciated many of her points in the article, especially about being a lone voice helping girls understand that they are more than simply "pretty."  Seems like great advice when talking to girls you don't know very well.

What about daughters, though?  My mom and dad did an excellent job of helping me believe I had value beyond my appearance.  I can't count the number of times my dad emphasized that math and the sciences were as accessible and valuable to girls as to boys.  I certainly felt that my mind and personality were my most important assets, and yet, like everyone, I wasn't able to escape the feeling of wanting to be pretty, and never feeling that I was.  (I never found much comfort in people telling me, "Boys probably aren't asking you out just because they're intimidated by you."  Huh.)

I know that girls are constantly bombarded with expectations of beauty, and of course I want to help my girls expand their view beyond that.  (And my boys too!)  But do you think that means I should avoid talking about their appearance at all?  I am always telling Daisy and Juni they look pretty, because they DO, and I just can't help myself!  They are so darling and cute and it's so fun to see them in their pretty dresses!  I also tell my boys that they are handsome, and I mean it.  As long as I ALSO emphasize their other traits and capabilities, is that okay?  My parents told me I was pretty.  I don't think it made me immune to feelings of insecurity as an adolescent (and adult), but it seems like it probably helped.  But since the media now emphasizes beauty so MUCH, do I need to spend all my time as a parent just counteracting that?  Does any praise of appearance send the wrong message?  What do you think?

3 comments:

  1. You're a smarter, more intuitive mom than I am, so I'm sure that whatever you do will be right. Go get 'em, flycowy!

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  2. This is so spot on, Marilyn. I already have this same conflict, and I don't even have two unbelievably adorable daughters. I was just telling Jordan the other day that I'm so glad I can tell my cat how pretty he is (I know, I know--ridiculous) without worrying that he'll begin to feel that all his self-worth is tied up in his appearance.

    It's just so hard to know what to do, though. I feel very similar to you about my own upbringing and experiences. I remember constantly hearing how cute/pretty I was many times, but I also remember getting lots of other positive messages. We want our daughters to be empowered and talented and intelligent and all that jazz, but we also want them to know they are beautiful. If they never hear that from us, will it really make them attribute less importance to beauty or will they simply feel more doubt as to their own attractiveness? I've felt my share of this kind of doubt, and I tend to think that all those positive messages ultimately helped me rather than hurt. I just don't know. But if I can't even stop gushing over my cat, my children are probably doomed to similar treatment. I'm comforted to know you tell your kids these sorts of things. I think (or hope) it will be the sum total of the messages we send them that will win the day.

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  3. First of all, attractiveness is not so much a function of bone structure, good hair and nice shape as it is of personality, animation of face, depth of character. I know that sounds trite, but it's simply true. Look at the people we accept as attractive - they're rarely perfect of feature.

    Second - you were a VERY cute girl. Pretty. Attractive. That kid who was running with you when you hit the wire? Yeah - I could feel that he was very drawn to you, just standing in the same room with the two of you. I know - he's not the best example, quirky little dude. But i remember. You were adorable. You still are.

    It's the light in the face that makes somebody pretty. The humor, the quick intelligence. Or sex. If someone is promising sex, that will always drawn in the testosterone. But that's not pretty. That's hot. Different thing. Pretty, lovely, beautiful - it's the light. JUst couple the expressions of delight in this with equal or more delight in how kind, how gentle, how intelligent, how loving - because your daughters will be like you. And those things will set them alight in a darkening world.

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