I appreciated your article and wholeheartedly agree. Here is where I struggle and why I intentionally point out ALL traits I see in the young girls (and young boys) I work with as a school counselor…no one, not even my parents, said that I was pretty. My mother always said “pretty is as pretty does” and then she never complimented me…so I felt I never did anything right either. I didn’t feel exceptionally smart or talented, just good at doing the laundry. Now as an adult woman I struggle with self esteem, facial and body image. I truly believe if just one significant person in my life had told me I was beautiful I wouldn’t seek it in unhealthy ways. I tell students they are dressed nicely for school, I get excited when I hear them reading, I point out how glad I am to see them because they make me smile and I do all of this to fat, skinny, homely, beautiful, intelligent, special ed and struggling students. I believe EACH child is beautiful and they need to know it… not the beauty that the world holds but the beauty that they each hold. We can always find ONE good thing about a kid and make sure to tell them out loud, so others hear it! I also believe modeling appropriate work attire, coming to work with my hair done and ready to hit the ground running are good examples to students. There are days I wear no makeup and no jewelry…kids see me as less put together these days. I just tell them that I wanted to look more simple today but I’m still here to work for them…they accept that. The messages that we give children are so powerful and we are powerful force for good when we empower them to see the beauty inside of themselves and not look for approval from the world. I wish someone had done that for me!
At the risk of being the skunk at this “love in,” I think Ms. Bloom has made much the same mountain out of much the same molehill. The obsession with looks and dieting and cosmetic surgery in younger and younger women is real, and the obsession with things like beauty pageants and the Disney Princess consumer culture is unquestionably damaging. But to me, trying to trace these problems back to telling a child she look pretty in her new dress trivializes the matter. In fact, after talking to many adult women, I have been told over and over again that, as a father, telling my own young daughter how much I admire her looks – just as much as I admire her achievement at school and at ballet class – is critically important to her self acceptance and appropriate expectations vis a vis men. In fact, I would worry that any child – boy or girl – who had made a special effort to look nice for a special occasion and was NOT told by adults that he or she looked nice, or a child who was NEVER complimented on her looks, would wonder what was wrong with her looks, or whether she was ugly.
Nicole, I am so glad you said this. And disheartened by how many comments I had to read before coming across yours. Similarly, I was a child who was told by pretty much everyone that I was smart, accomplished, clever, witty… every compliment that theoretically counts. But I was never told I was pretty or beautiful. And that is the one that sticks. In my adulthood, I have often been told that I am. Beautiful, that is. But I don’t believe it. Not in my heart of hearts. It sounds cheap and insincere now.
They are not mutually exclusive. Girls can be both clever and pretty. And we want to and should believe that we are both of these things.
This was a wonderful article especially with the huge following for the toddler/girl beauty pageants. I can’t believe that someone would subject a small child to that type of stress and have them thinking that the only thing you can be is a princess type.
Girls are intelligent and able to do anything that they want in life, as long as there are parents behind them with encouragement and love.
I must admit that when my daughter was born ( after 2 sons) I was hoping for a “girly girl”. Well, she had two brothers to play with and instead of ballet , she is a 2nd Black Belt in Taekwondo and competes in local and national competitions. She is smart, she is beautiful and she is strong. She is also doing something that she loves and works very hard with her coach to be the best that she can in her chosen sport. At 13, she wants to look nice but that doesn’t include make up or anything drastic. She is taking pre-ap classes and some 9th grade classes while in the 9th grade. She is now my idea of what a girl should be, strong, smart and passionate about her life.
This is a wonderful article on an issue that I honestly haven’t thought much about. It is very difficult not to compliment little girls on how adorable they are but you are absolutely right. I work with elementary school children and I’m going to make an effort to speak to the girls differently now that my attention has been drawn to the issue. I must admit, I do see the effects of cultural expectations of women even with the kindergarten girls. They are highly concerned with clothes, jewelry and even high-heels (yikes!). All of the girls I take care of are bright and surprisingly thoughtful so I’m sure they will respond well to more academic conversation. Thank you for your insight and I will be looking for your book!
As a kid I was always complimented on my sporting ability. Destroyed me! How I wish they had complimented me on my ability to converse or my interest in astronomy. How I cope now I do not know. I fully understand how complimenting a child on their clothing or how they hae taken pride in her appearance means this is all they will focus on in adulthood. Poor wee critters. STOP complimenting on this before it’s too late.
The problem I see with the angle of view about the subject in this post is the narrow definition of beauty. Biologically, a female or a male is considered valuable based on her or his merits to create offspring with higher chance of survival. So, if people believe that a skinny, symmetrical looking girl has a higher chance of producing a child who would have a higher chance of attracting the opposite sex, then there is nothing wrong with the common desire for the appearance and looks. Even animals of different species practice that approach, the bird with bigger feathers, or the lion with a bigger mane is more in demand than the rest. But what we are over looking is that we are human and basis instincts are not suppose to be the first priority. But, characters such as Kardashians, Beyounce, and any other talent-less beauty queen who defines success based on granted merits rather than earned ones, are the reason that we, as the most intelligent species, still practice instinct driven lives like the rest of animal kingdom and not as intelligent ones
Our real teachers are experience and emotion, and man will never learn what befits a man except under its own conditions. A child knows he must become a man; all the ideas he may have as to man’s estate are so many opportunities for his instruction, but he should remain in complete ignorance of those ideas which are beyond his grasp. My whole book is one continued argument in support of this fundamental principle of education. (Everyman edn: 141; Boyd: 81)
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From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve but the State remains. (Rousseau 1755: 148-9)
Thank you so much for writing this! I am a seventeen year old girl who is constantly plagued by the fact that looks tend to fall in a higher priority to teenage (and sadly younger) girls than does intelligence or personal accomplishments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with adults when I was seven, let alone teenaged, as I tried to insert my opinion on the world or nearly force them to ask me what I was reading. So thank you for giving me a bit of hope that women who still believe in the power of females still exsist out there! I work with younger children on occassion and I always try to ask these questions because really, male or female, physical attractiveness needs to diminish as a factor of value.