Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The beauty myth

In case I sounded like I am googly-eyed about having kids in the previous posts and entirely clueless to the challenges and reality of them, I am not. I think that even if they don't read them till much later, I would like, on record some affirmation of why we enjoy them, challenges notwithstanding.

And challenges, there are many.

The biggest challenge with having girls, actually having boys too is to make sure they grow up with a good head on their shoulders. And I'm not talking about academic achievement here.

Packrat and I agree on how we don't want Jordan to grow up focusing on being pretty. As it is, with people telling her that she is 'beautiful' and 'such a princess', she is already very concerned about it. When Muffin swiped her on her face some time back and actually broke skin, it wasn't the pain or the blood that upset her; it was whether or not she was still pretty and whether or not she could get married. Some people think that I am an inherent contradiction because I enjoy the fact that she does pretty things, like ballet and art and I actually insist that she dresses properly. But there is a difference here. With ballet, art and all the pretty things both she and I enjoy, it is about teaching her to appreciate the beauty of it, the beauty of things around her (which has she a great inclination for) and not about her per se. Thankfully, she seems to know that the make up is part of the performance and the make belief.

Many around her love to indulge in her prettiness. Yesterday, she was having a conversation with an adult about her being gorgeous. I asked for her not to be called that. Of course, I got a "WHY?"

I think from Jordan's point of view, it might have sounded as if her mommy didn't think much about how she looked.

Dear Sweetheart, I was in no way saying that you weren't pretty or commenting on your looks.

The reasons why I have an issue with gorgeous which in itself means "dazzingly beautiful" or words like 'beautiful' and 'pretty' are as follows.

1. If she goes away thinking, at 6 that she is 'dazzingly beautiful', what will her standards be when she is 12 or 18 or 24? And even then, should any girl be growing up with aims of becoming even more beautiful? Semantically, it's got to do with the idea of the extreme superlatives so early on. Tangentially, it's got like telling a kid who swipes a paint brush across a canvas that he's Picasso.

2. The constant complimenting of her looks will reinforce 'beauty' as part of her identity. Who is Jordan? She is a pretty girl. The danger of that happening is that one day someone may tell her otherwise and her whole world and self-confidence will crumble around her. While her father and I and her uncles will fight to yank off the head of anyone who says that to her, girls can be mean and there's no stopping what they can say. What we can do is to mediate the amount of damage such things will have on her.

3. Beauty shouldn't be the most important thing to her. I want her to learn what the world sees of her, and I'd be kidding myself if I said that wasn't important, is about carriage, about how she puts herself together and what comes out of her mouth from her brain and heart as well as how it actually comes out.

4. My last reason has got to do with boys and Packrat. Packrat gets panic attacks thinking about Jordan as a teenager. As is, she is disarming and charming and she goes up to everyone and makes friends. He worries about the boys that will come knocking and the fact that Jordan will smile beatifically at them. He wants that to happen as late as possible. And one way that we can think of to delay the inevitable is to teach her that there are other things that are praiseworthy and to bask in. As a teenager, it isn't going to be us or her family that she is going to seek approval from. And she will need to seek affirmation on what she deems as important in her life. Woe is Packrat if she is going to be out there seeking affirmation for beauty because the boys that will give it to her, will be given too much time of day. And that's how boys get invited into the equation.

So, for those reasons and more, we try very hard to debunk the beauty myth with her.

When Jordan posed like this, we told her in no uncertain terms, "no, that's not how you stand for a photograph." Of course, I added that she looked like a North Asian tourist which totally went over her head.

I like what was said in this article about how to talk to girls and I am glad that Jordan does indeed loves books and loves talking about them and drawing parts of them out. I am glad that she has more interests that go beyond just pretty dolls and princesses although they do feature.


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  1. I completely agree! I cringe every time my girl wears a nice dress somewhere and someone says, "wow, you look so pretty today!" the minute they see her ...

  2. Hmmm... I'm not really sure how this should work. (And thankfully I only have one daughter.)

    I do think that there are two important lessons that girls need to learn about their looks: 1. That they are beautiful, in their own way. Sometimes it takes someone (or many people) telling them that for them to believe it themselves. 2. That one day a few people might think differently, and it doesn't matter as long as you love who you are.

    I think it's only when they've learned lesson #2 that they can stop obsessing over their looks and start living. I'm speaking from personal experience, of course! :)