beauty
Communication | Parenting

Talk to Children about Beauty

August 30, 2017

 

Recently two mothers were faced with their daughters focusing on appearance. In one case we know the daughter thought she was ugly. In the other case we don’t know what the daughter thought.

There was such a stark contrast between Pink’s response and Smith’s response to her daughter!

One mother asked questions, learned more about what her daughter thought, then she guided her daughter to see for herself that people like her are beautiful, and thus guided her to feel better about her own appearance. There were no words that denied her daughter’s thoughts, no rules that forbid or limited her daughter from exploring her own thoughts. Just guidance that empowered her and acknowledged the importance of appearances.

There’s a huge difference between the two approaches. I think only one of those approaches will help the child grow up with a healthy view of herself, her world, and the part beauty and appearance plays in our society.

Avoiding talking about beauty doesn’t

remove it from our children’s perception.

But denying a child the reassurance of beauty in our society takes away their feeling of beauty.

Smith’s daughter was looking in the mirror. There are a lot of reasons why she might look in the mirror. Instead of acting and reacting in anger, I think it’d be more important to find out what her daughter saw. Find out what her daughter hoped to see. Find out what her daughter thought about herself. But instead of having a dialogue with her daughter, Smith shut her down and closed the door.

When I find my children looking in the mirror, I ask them what they see. Their answer helps guide my next response. At no time would it be worthwhile to tell them it’s a waste of time to look at themselves. One day a few years ago I found Agatha staring at herself in the mirror, frowning. I asked what she was thinking about.  She wanted to know what she’d look like if she were a cat.

A cat!

I was worried she had self-esteem issues, but those were my own thoughts and fears surfacing. She wanted to be a cat. So we painted her face, put a tail on her, found a cat hat, and took some pictures. Her time in front of the mirror stopped as soon as I took the picture.

 

Society says people need to be beautiful.

 

Grocery checkouts contain magazines adorned with airbrushed models. Movies and tv shows, even the ones for children, all contain beautiful people. Anyone that doesn’t fit a narrow definition of beauty is deemed ugly, often being the punch line of many jokes. Yet, the ‘ugly’ people we often see on TV aren’t even ugly. Instead they’re maybe a different size than the others in the show. Or maybe their hair is different, or they wear make-up different. Different is ugly.

Our children see that, they internalize it. Unless we actively offer something else. We can’t just tell them not to participate in society, give them something to do that teaches the brain better ways to think, as well as better ways to see ourselves and others.

I grew up believing I was ugly. I was well past 25 before I thought I might be something other than ugly. I was over 30 before I ever thought I could possibly consider myself pretty. I won’t tell you how old I was when I looked in the mirror and smiled because I loved the woman I saw. It happened. But I want my children to grow up loving themselves right from the start. In order to do that, I need to make sure those seeds of doubt never take root for very long.

Some experts I’ve read say princesses are the problem. Some say make-up, photoshop, or billboards are the problem. Others say our misogynistic society is to blame. I say we, as parents, are to blame. But I also say we can change the stars and guide our children into adults that love themselves and don’t judge a person’s worth based on appearances. It’s okay to not feel attracted to someone else. It’s okay to think someone else isn’t pretty or handsome, but it isn’t okay to treat that person differently than anyone else.

When we were waiting for a theatre performance while camping last year, we met a child that looked quite different from others. He had long hair. Really, really long hair. He used a walker and had braces on his legs. He looked different. He entered the amphitheatre then sat down near some other children. They promptly got up and moved away from him. Their parents watched them move, then laughed. I pointed out what happened to Ella, Agatha, and Cordelia. I told them they needed to go sit with the boy. At first they resisted, but I was firm. I said they usually have a choice in what they do, but in this case other children purposefully did something to hurt someone else, and they had the power to make things better. They went over, introduced themselves and asked to sit with him. He said yes. They became fast friends (they ended up playing together for almost 2 hours after the show). This year when we went camping, they all hoped we’d run into him again and were sad when we didn’t.

After we said goodbye to him, I talked to our children about the way he looked. I asked them to point out all the ways he was different than them. I asked them to point out the ways he was the same. As we talked I helped guide them to see that even though he looked different, he was still a person worthy of being treated nicely. We talked about the way the other children moved away from him and how he might have felt when that happened. We talked about why they didn’t want to go up to him at first and why it was so important that they did.

Beauty is a topic we all love to hate. Or is that hate to love? Im not really sure actually. Either way, beauty is a topic fraught with intense views and emotions. If we’re not careful we’ll raise our children to view beauty and personal appearances as something to hide or be ashamed of. I think it’s so important to guide our children through these moments rather than dictate what we think they should do.