October 23, 2003

self-image

This post on hippycritical unexpectedly brought me back to childhood:

I have been making an effort to stop telling Rebecca she's beautiful. Not that I probably say it that much anyway, but I'm finding more specific things to say to her. That's she smart or sweet or whatever. She's so beautiful to me, but it has nothing to do with how she looks and I don't want her to think I give a hoot about her appearance (other than, you know, hygiene). It makes me uncomfortable, really, when people say she's cute. It's about looks and I hate that our society is so hung up on a certain set of features that are considered attractive. There are plenty of years for Rebecca to learn about how people judge each other. Hopefully she will be confident enough to figure it all out for herself.

I completely understand the sentiment Aimee is expressing, and I think sheís absolutely right to foster her daughterís confidence in herself (her self) apart from looks. Women are so often conditioned to judge themselves (and judge harshly) based on how cute or not-cute they are, as measured by some arbitrary societal standard. Itís crucial, I think, to lay a broader foundation than that for our children, especially of course daughters. Smart, sweet, thoughtful, talented, strong, brave. All these things, and I make sure to use them as appropriate with Damian.

But thereís another side of this which I think is also important to consider. My parents were hippy-lefty semi-bohemians. This was lucky for me in many respects. But they too felt it was wrong to comment too much on a girl's looks, to make her too dependent on that superficial non-character trait. And so they never told me I was pretty and discouraged other adults from saying that sort of flattering folderol to the solemn-faced little girl that was me. They instead said I was so smart and that I could do anything I set my mind to try. All good, right? But I thought nobody said I was cute because I wasnít cute. And that hurt. It wasnít until years later, looking at old photos, that I realized: I was more than cute. I was a beautiful child.

I literally had no idea.

When I told my mother the wide chasm that had existed between my self-image and the reality, she was shocked. But a child only knows these things through othersí eyes. I think itís important for every child to feel loved and cherished in so many ways, and that includes knowing that your family appreciates your physical self. It, too, gives confidence. Yes, itís possible to go overboard with it, but itís just as possible to underplay it so badly that you end up with a teenage girl who thinks sheís not attractive enough to draw boys to her flame, who dresses like a schlub, hiding her face behind a curtain of unwashed hair, and who thinks sheís only good for her brain. Brains are good but so are bodies. It's taken me a long time to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see.

Posted by Tamar at October 23, 2003 09:41 PM
Comments

Interesting. I sort of doubt we (or anyone else) will stop telling her completely that she's beautiful, cute, whatever. Somewhere there's a balance, I'm sure.

Posted by: Aimee at October 24, 2003 07:38 AM

And I feel sure you'll find that balance. My dad was always extreme, everything was all or nothing.

Posted by: Tamar at October 24, 2003 01:08 PM