I have a two-year-old daughter. Ever since she was born, I have avoided telling her she looks beautiful. I will tell her the outfit she is wearing is beautiful on her, or how the shoes she chooses are beautiful. I use with the word "beautiful" when it comes to the drawings she makes, the music she plays, how hard she works at putting cubes together, or what a generous girl she is. I have seldom told her she looks beautiful because I believe that her looks will never constitute who she is as a person.
Over the holidays, my beloved parents came to visit us. They are gaga over their granddaughter, and they are truly the most well-intentioned grandparents you could ever imagine. When they arrived at our house, some of their first words to my daughter were, “Let us see how beautiful you are!” My daughter stared and didn’t move. They showed her how to twirl around so they could have a good look at her. I saw her taking in this new kind of attention. I watched her absorb it, react to it, and adjust her behavior to get more of it. From that point on, every time my mother or I would do her hair or put a new outfit on her, she would run into the living room and coquettishly raise her shoulders, moving her arms from side to side until she heard the confirmation she craved: “Awww, look how beautiful you are!” And so went the dance for three weeks.
First I was puzzled, then I became weary of the effects, and then it all made sense. One thing's for sure: If my child were a boy, I would not be writing this. And if females--as babies, toddlers, young girls, girls, teenagers--are constantly rewarded or chided for something as shallow as our looks, it's no wonder we grow up believing that our physical appearance is such an important key to getting positive attention and feeling successful in our lives. It's no wonder so many women's New Year's Resolutions are centered around changing their bodies and faces, and becoming more "beautiful," when what we all really need is to be rewarded for the beauty in what we do with our lives--our contributions, our creativity, our smarts, our kindness, our strength, and our compassion.
Artwork by Megan Jones, Age 7