Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Here's Looking at You, Kid: Why I Don't Tell My Two-Year-Old She Looks Beautiful

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


merry said...

Interesting stuff to think about.

One thing I was thinking in regard to her grandparents doting on her "beauty", is that while your daughter might in fact be very physically attractive, her grandparents' ideas about that are going to be greatly influenced by their love for her. They think she's beautiful because of what she means to them, not necessarily because of what she looks like.

As far as the difference between boys and girls, they might not respond to the same words the same way, but I think lots of little boys will ham it up if you say, "you're such a cutie. That is so adorable." Especially at the age of 2, I think a lot of it is in the emotion and excitement, not particularly the words.

It is difficult when you have reason to be hypersensitive to issues to keep it all in perspective. And it's definitely difficult to decide how much is too much. I hope that what I wrote doesn't sound judgmental b/c I did not mean that in any way. I think it's important for us to evaluate carefully the impression we give to anyone, especially our children.

Anonymous said...

I think it's nice that my mother's love for me so influences what she sees that she sincerely believes I'm beautiful, and is constantly telling me so. (My father, bless him, occasionally corrects her, "She's very pretty, but she's not "beautiful".".)

I don't consider myself "beautiful". As I'm not naturally vain (I'm rather modest naturally), it's possible that my mother's assurances of how beautiful I am actually affected my self-image for the better. (Of course, since I know it's motivated by her love for me, I take it with a grain of salt.) It's possible her affirmations didn't affect my self-image. What really and truly affects my self-image is the feedback (verbal and non-verbal) I get from my environment (friends, people in the street, etc.).

Anyway, it's nice to know she loves me so much that she sees me as beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I need to correct what I said in my previous comment...
When I said that my self-image is influenced by my environment, by "self-image", I meant the "prettiness quotient" of my self-image.