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I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful
November 16, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

"I don't want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too. They will get older and their breasts will lose their shape and they will hate their bodies, because that's what women do. That's what mommy did." Some lovely Friday-morning encouragement for all the moms.
posted by jbickers (65 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not just moms but all women.

Thank you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a dude, I'm aware that this isn't really for me. That said, it is wonderful and I wish it for any woman who wants it.
posted by contrarian at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate the way that's written, but the sentiment is just absolutely on.
posted by supercoollady at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


contrarian, I think the core message applies to dudes as well. It speaks to me, at any rate.
posted by jbickers at 9:02 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Something to think about. Thank you.

I've picked up a lot of strange skills in the last few years, and every time I use one, I say to my daughter, "Remember that Mama did this. When boys start telling you that 'Girls can't do this or that,' you remember this and tell 'em that girls get things done." Modelling matters.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:02 AM on November 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


My kids can tell when I'm lying though. Wouldn't it just be better to tell them that it's OK not to be the most physically attractive person, that it's OK to be whomever they are?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:05 AM on November 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


NO 10TH REGIMENT HER CHILDREN ARE PERFECT IT SAYS SO FIFTH PARAGRAPH.
posted by 7segment at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


I liked both the style and the message - thanks for posting.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Parents are so goddamn dishonest, someone should write a blog about it.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:12 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I appreciate the message, I really, really do. I think it's valuable. But a little part of me would like this to not be necessary at all. I'd like for women to be judged (and to judge themselves) on the works they do, the people they touch, the talents they posses, and the intelligence they have.
posted by cooker girl at 9:16 AM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Parents People are so goddamn dishonest, someone should write a blog about it.

FTFY.
posted by Melismata at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2012


Melismata: "People are so goddamn dishonest(...)"

Well that's just not true.
posted by boo_radley at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am slow and I am tired. I am round and sagging. I am harried. I am sexless. I am getting older.

Heh, that's not just mothers or women.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


On the one hand: good message. On the other hand: does it end up teaching vanity and arrogance?

I do think it is very important for mothers not to talk about how they hate their bodies in front of their daughters -- it normalizes and internalizes body-shaming -- but going around and shouting the opposite seems like an overreaction. (The same can probably be said of fathers and sons, but body-shaming and body issues are still issues that affect woman far more than they affect men in our culture.)

As a man, I read that and was thinking: "Wouldn't it be better if my (non-existent) children heard me saying that their mother is beautiful, instead of hearing her say it about herself?" But then I started thinking: "But doesn't that just reinforce the idea that a woman's value and/or beauty is defined by men instead of by herself?" Then my head exploded.

I'm not really sure the best approach to this. Is it by simply not saying that you hate your body? Is it by saying that you're beautiful? What about saying that you love your body, but not necessarily going on and on about how beautiful you are? Is that a fair middle ground? It seems like that might convey the same general message without sounding weirdly vain and self-centred.

Then again, maybe I just can't fully understand the dynamics at play here, since I am neither a woman nor a parent.
posted by asnider at 9:24 AM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Famously, all Cretans are liars.
posted by jaduncan at 9:25 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


But then I started thinking: "But doesn't that just reinforce the idea that a woman's value and/or beauty is defined by men instead of by herself?"

I think it also might continue reinforcing the already pernicious idea that physical beauty is an important measurement of a woman's value? Maybe?
posted by elizardbits at 9:27 AM on November 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


When boys start telling you that 'Girls can't do this or that,' you remember this and tell 'em that girls get things done.

The thing is, only once in my life was I told by someone of the male sex that I couldn't do something. My father refused to put me in martial arts, on the grounds that if I got into an actual street fight, he wasn't convinced I had it in me not to get myself killed.

Female people in my life don't tell me I can't do something, either. But they do make suggestions for improvement. Oh, so many suggestions for improvement. And I ignore it for the most part, recognizing that they're asking me to be or do something that runs counter to who I am. And honestly, I think that's the best lesson to teach kids. The world will have many suggestions for you of who to be, how to act, what to do. But that's all they are: suggestions. Weigh the pros and cons, decide if it's for you, and if you decide to go for it and realize after that it's not for you, it's no shame to switch gears and try something else.
posted by LN at 9:28 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


My kids are not perfect, they are humans. The make bad choices. They are loud. They break things. They think they can do things they can't. Rather than making up some fiction that they are perfect in my own mind or theirs, I just tell them the truth, that I love them and that I love them even when I'm mad or disappointed or I think their choice of outfit looks silly.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:30 AM on November 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


I think it also might continue reinforcing the already pernicious idea that physical beauty is an important measurement of a woman's value? Maybe?

Yeah, I was trying to get at that when by saying "beauty/value." The two shouldn't be the same thing, but our culture says that they are and I worry about further reinforcing that idea should I eventually have children.
posted by asnider at 9:32 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Beauty is the shape of love. That is all.
posted by wobh at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe it is less pernicious when the idea is to define beauty as just living in your body and accepting it?

I think this is one of those things where it's hard to correct for what you experienced as harmful growing up in a way that will cause zero harm. It is always worth a shot, though.
posted by skrozidile at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


On the one hand, I think it's good to split up physical appearance and intrinsic worth as much as possible.

On the other hand, if I can't do that, I'd rather have my children feel good about themselves than not.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:41 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


But that's all they are: suggestions. Weigh the pros and cons, decide if it's for you, and if you decide to go for it and realize after that it's not for you, it's no shame to switch gears and try something else.

I think this is a more important lesson than 'You're beautiful, I'm beautiful, we're all beautiful'.

When I take my daughter to the playground, I practice a version of this. When I see her about to do something that she's not quite ready for, I'll tell her, 'I'm not sure that's a good idea' but I don't stop her from doing it.
Sometimes, she listens. Often, she'll do it anyway.
A lot of the time, she'll fall or bump something, but a surprising amount of the time, she manages to pull off something I didn't think she'd be able to do for which she'll get deserved congratulations.

Either way, it's her decision and her success based on what she did, not on what she is.

I dunno, I'm not female, so I'm not intimately familiar with the apparently pernicious body issues referenced in the article, but it seems like focusing on what your girls accomplish rather than what they are given at birth is a better way towards a healthy life.

As well, as anyone with kids (or who was a kid) knows, repetitive, similar statements quickly become background noise.
Repeatedly affirming one's own beauty is just going to become 'one of those things my mom says'.
posted by madajb at 9:42 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do think it is very important for mothers not to talk about how they hate their bodies in front of their daughters -- it normalizes and internalizes body-shaming -- but going around and shouting the opposite seems like an overreaction.

I think if you can manage to send the message that "beauty" isn't simply physical, that takes care of a lot of this. Little kids think their moms are beautiful even if their moms are not Societally Approved Beautiful. They think their moms are beautiful because their moms love them, are kind to them, play silly games with them - a million reasons that have little or nothing to do with whether or not mom could be on the cover of Vogue.
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on November 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


I like:
Wow, I feel beautiful today! Isn't this a wonderful day? Let's go out and be amazing!

I don't like:
I am gorgeous today, and I'm amazing and wonderful.

I think that any realistic-but-hopeful self assessments are bound to be helpful to model for small children, like: I think a lot of the self-worth/acceptance issues that women have in western culture really evolve around the idea that the visual results, and what other people think of us, are the only valid measures of success.

I don't like "well, at least it builds character," because that phrase taught me to view with great suspicion anything billed as being "good for me." It may be best to ensure a variety of emotionally healthy adults model positive psychology for any given child...
posted by SMPA at 9:46 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Beauty is the shape of love. That is all.

My mother told me I was handsome. She didn't know - or didn't say - that it was only because she loved me.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:47 AM on November 16, 2012


My kids can tell when I'm lying though. Wouldn't it just be better to tell them that it's OK not to be the most physically attractive person, that it's OK to be whomever they are?

Beautiful means a lot more than physically attractive, and physically attractive itself can encompass all sorts of things.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:49 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


madajb:

I still remember an enormous inventory of the things my mother, and stepmother, and grandmother, said about body stuff, beauty, health, self-esteem, success, personal well-being, etc. My sisters and I refer back to that stuff all the time, and we all can quote the particular phrasing.

My mom does the same thing with things her mother and grandmother said. Both good stuff and bad stuff.

None of it is actually tuned out; they may act like they ignore it, but it's stuck in their minds forever anyway.

Which is why my stepmother banned Britney Spears from the car radio about thirty seconds after my five-year-old sister sang out "I'm not that innocent" at the top of her lungs.

I'm hearing some of the worst examples of stuff grownups said around me, over and over again, in my head right now. Please go to therapy if you hate your body or what you did in high school/college, especially if you have children.
posted by SMPA at 9:53 AM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


I tell my kids "You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else."

No wait, I don't have kids.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:53 AM on November 16, 2012 [20 favorites]




My kids can tell when I'm lying though. Wouldn't it just be better to tell them that it's OK not to be the most physically attractive person, that it's OK to be whomever they are?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:05 AM on November 16


Yeah and no. She's deconstructing the idea of beauty. She's saying that to these kids, she IS beautiful, and that she should be able to see that in herself as well. She's suggesting that the normative idea of beauty presented by media is not the only stick to measure beauty by, and thank god for that.

It's about her own self image, and the future self-image of her children, not some kind of measurable objective beauty.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:54 AM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


"I know I am ugly because I see myself with mean eyes." Me, way too much. Thanks for posting this.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 9:59 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


She's deconstructing the idea of beauty. She's saying that to these kids, she IS beautiful, and that she should be able to see that in herself as well. She's suggesting that the normative idea of beauty presented by media is not the only stick to measure beauty by, and thank god for that.

Precisely.

I was at an old boyfriend's family gathering once, and ended up hanging out with his awesome cousin and his grandmother most of the time (I secretly wonder if his cousin is a MeFite because damn, she'd fit right in). At some point the three of us were looking at our hands together (I don't remember why), and the grandmother said something disparaging about her ugly old hands or something.

And the cousin immediately turned to her and launched into this incredible heartfelt speech about how no, grandma, your hands aren't ugly - she was pointing out to grandma things like "think of all the piecework these hands did when you first came to this country! Think of all the meals these hands have cooked for your children!" She went on like that for a couple minutes and I could tell Grandma was touched. Hell, I was choked up and I'd barely met these people.

That's what I think this is about - claiming the idea that beauty is about what you've done, and how sometimes the things you do make physical marks on you, and those marks all tell the story of a beautiful life.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on November 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


I think constantly telling your kids they are beautiful or proclaiming that you are beautiful is a little odd. Through actions my parents demonstrated that each person was unique and they would love me no matter if I was beautiful or ugly. I remember my mom saying things like, "That color really looks great with your eyes..." I was never told, "You are beautiful." Looks just weren't a emphasized in my house. On the other hand, my mom never complained about her looks in front of or around me when I was a child. Now, we chat about things we don't like about ourselves, but she never would have complained about those things when I was young.

The mother in the article sounds like she's dealing with her own issues surrounding beauty and even though she's trying to be positive, it is still giving her daughters the message that beauty is of utmost importance.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:01 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]



contrarian, I think the core message applies to dudes as well. It speaks to me, at any rate.
posted by jbickers at 9:02 AM on November 16


That's fair, but while empathizing it's also important to remember that women have suffered from this particular issue at a much greater depth than most men can appreciate. Society wants women to have far more self-worth tied up in physical attractiveness than men do, and puts them under far greater scrutiny. The pressures may be universal, but the intensity of them is certainly not.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:01 AM on November 16, 2012


Until I read this essay, I hadn't realized/noticed that my mom didn't denigrate her looks specifically in front of me. She was always trying to lose a few pounds, but she never called herself ugly, per se. She always made it clear that what I accomplished as a young woman was much more important than what I looked like, and for that I am so grateful. (Also, I happened to inherit her beautiful skin!) Thanks, Mom!
posted by Pocahontas at 10:02 AM on November 16, 2012


I dunno, the intentions are good, but it all just seems like her methods might be a bit completely counterintuitive.

She might as well be saying, "Look at me, girls! I'm beautiful! My beauty is my entire worth! You'd better be beautiful too, and stay that way forever!"

It's just perpetuating the lie that beauty -- however it's defined -- is everything, isn't it?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's working, a little bit. I've even stopped hating myself, a little bit.

Or you could circumvent this entire tragic exercise by getting to the source and learning to think you are awesome. I mean, Jesus; if you think your daughters are picking up destructive messaging about ageing and beauty from you because you see wrinkles in the mirror, what message do you think they're picking up about self-worth and value because you hate yourself?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:05 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


None of it is actually tuned out; they may act like they ignore it, but it's stuck in their minds forever anyway.

Sure, I'm totally open to the idea that words affect people in many ways.
I'm just saying, in my experience, repetitive phrases trotted out ritually become part of the, I dunno, mythos of a person. The kind of thing everyone at the dinner table shouts out even before the speaker, because they know it's coming at a particular turn of a conversation.

Much the way I can still say 'Well, you know what they need to do...' at the exact same time as my father, even 20 years out of the house, because it's just part of him, rather than meaningful message, if that makes sense.

tl;dr Actions, not words.
posted by madajb at 10:08 AM on November 16, 2012


This is part of a big issue for me, (as a terrified dad of a little girl) is that inherent qualities are given SO much weight in our culture.

Look happy and joyous? "you're so Beautiful!"
Do well in school? "you're so Smart!"
Did great at soccer? "you're so Athletic!"

It's not about accomplishing things. We are not rewarding actions with this speech, but traits.

It reinforces the notion that what you are is more important than what you do.

And to me that is a language of turning girls (and others too) into objects instead of people.
posted by French Fry at 10:10 AM on November 16, 2012 [18 favorites]


...if you think your daughters are picking up destructive messaging about ageing and beauty from you because you see wrinkles in the mirror, what message do you think they're picking up about self-worth and value because you hate yourself?

DarlingBri,
Thanks for pointing that out.
I came back to read the piece more carefully - and it suddenly popped out at me too.

I also hate the fact she tacks on that sad little self-pitying flourish, "I've even stopped hating myself, a little bit."

I do, however, know the piece is well intentioned.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:17 AM on November 16, 2012


This really hit home for me. People who are annoyed with the article are picking up on some accurate stuff, though - kids will legendarily do what you do and totally disregard what you say. So if you don't feel like doing Zig Ziglar-style affirmations in the mirrors of their little faces, show your kids that you think you are beautiful by taking up space and moving through the world in a way that makes you feel beautiful. If the shape of your body is "unbeautiful" and prevents you from enjoying dance or hiking or ninjitsu as much as you did in your youth, well, do more dance or hiking or ninjitsu, and learn to stretch. Don't put yourself through hours of miserable jazzercise classes and eat gallons of cabbage soup and buy outlandlishly expensive wrinkle cream. Your body houses all your human authority. Speech is but a tiny part of how that authority is exercised.
posted by katya.lysander at 10:20 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of one of those signs that people supposedly put in their houses that you see on Pinterest all the time. Instead of declaring these things in such an unnatural manner why not let your actions speak for themselves?
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:27 AM on November 16, 2012


Until I read this essay, I hadn't realized/noticed that my mom didn't denigrate her looks specifically in front of me.


I read this, and it occurred to me that physical beauty was rarely mentioned in our household at all. The times it came up were usually in response to something external (i.e. "someone at school said I was ugly," or that x beauty product that was being advertised likely did not do the thing it said.) The only times I recall my mother complaining about her body, it was because some part of it was not doing something it was supposed to, or not feeling the way it was supposed to. Physical appearance was just really not important enough to merit mention. For fun we made ugly monster faces at each other (we still do!)

Now, this did not (and does not) prevent me from internalizing messages about how my body was supposed to look that came from other sources. It did not prevent me from internalizing negative messaging I got from the media, advertising, or the commentary of passers-by. It did not prevent me from noticing the way people reacted to me based on the way that I looked, be it positive, negative, or seemingly positive but actually toxic because it was divorced from the person I was.

But it did reinforce the idea that ultimately it wasn't that damn important. Who you ARE is more important than what you look like, even if you happen to be female and everything surrounding you seems to tell you otherwise. Anyone who values you primarily for the way you happen to look probably isn't worth your time, because they have dismissed so much of the rest of you and all the things that really count.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Regardless of what you think about the appearance-centered aspects of this, I believe what is being invoked here is the old saying, "the sins of the father are visited upon the sons." It's a pernicious affect in parents. I don't think it has to be spoken of in Stuart Smalley terms, nor do I think that it's a be-all focus unless it is, but parents should definitely be aware of the values they seek to impart and be vigilant in them. Plus, one of the hallmarks of parenting is little white lies anyway.
posted by rhizome at 10:39 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is good to hear so many did not grow up with messages like "Well SHE looks healthy!" (when seeing a woman my mom thought was fat) or similarly "Tell me I don't look THAT bad!" There was also a fairly-constant strain of "I ate too much!" "I wish I could lose just 20 pounds!" "Oh this is so bad for me!" "I can't wear that, I have terrible arms!" etc. etc.

My mom hated her body her whole life, and no, she wasn't a model, but she had so many friends who loved her and three marriages to men who thought she was beautiful and really she was. She had an amazing smile and pretty skin and a quick mind and a great sense of humor. I mean, you could see the fine hair that wouldn't curl and the beat-up hands and the thicker waist than when she was 22, but that stuff just didn't matter to anybody who loved her, at all. She was adventurous and proud and so brave. And I miss her every day. I never thought for one minute she wasn't beautiful.

And yet: it's so hard for me to remember that my kid obviously thinks I'm beautiful too. I've learned not to say the things Mom said, but I still often think them. If I had a daughter I'd do anything to keep her from carrying that crap around in her head, even if it meant saying things that kind of sounded silly. Since he's a boy I just work on trying to act as if I believed him when he tells me I'm pretty.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I tell my kids "You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

Well what's unique about them is that (hopefully) their parents care about them and them alone in a powerful way, and they don't care about anyone else on the planet at anywhere near that level. If that makes sense. I occasionally try to extend that to my sons and their brotherhood. Your brother is unique in that he is uniquely your brother. No one will have the same relationship with either of you that you have with each other.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:49 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since he's a boy

I was a boy and I can trace my self-hate about my body pretty much 100% back to my mom.
Even as an adult who understands that I'm objectively handsome. That shit knows no gender lines.
posted by French Fry at 10:52 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


We need to raise more young men on vintage Nat. Geo. Magazines, I swear to god. I learned to love droopy saggy breasts every inch of the way. I think it gave me an ability to see the beauty in aging, that wrinkles and spots and everything else are natural. Is it a shame that it is a product of empire and colonization? Of course - when the gaze onto the other whether it be an African Tribal Woman, or an American Model, is always a form of oppressor gazing upon the oppressed. But to be surrounded by "natural" beauty (of course, it is not as though Tribal women didn't have their own cultural motifs, their own standards of beauty, their own hair styles, their own clothing that played a role in how they look, so "natural" isn't necessarily the right word -- perhaps "less commodified")...

I dunno. All I'm saying is - be yourself. Find the little quirks that make you YOU. Find the blemishes on your body as parts of that individuality...

That doesn't meant that I don't have my own sense of "pretty" or "beauty". I think it's only natural, but I think we can constantly continue to re-evaluate that which we consider beautiful and hopefully overcome prejudices every step of the way in life, transforming and ultimately transmitting such cultural norms along to the next generation so that hopefully they have a more diversified view on what "beauty" can be. Beauty for one's own self, not for any other.
posted by symbioid at 11:03 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe this should be posted to AskMe, but I'll take a shot at having the discussion here.

First: this is a great piece. Thanks for the link.

My wife and I started our family late. We adopted a little girl from Kazakhstan when I was 39 and she was 42. Five and a half years later we have this amazing, and truly beautiful little girl (both inside and out). Over those past 5 years we've both aged. We went from being in shape to being a little less in shape. From paying attention to how we dressed to accepting being a little, well, schlumpy (as my Uncle Harry would put it). And we've also aged physically - wrinkles, little odd brown spots that have had to be cut out of our skin, gray hair (or for me, less hair) ... the whole bit.

As a man, it's been easier for me. I cut my hair shorter, promise to start exercising again next week, and loosen my belt a notch, and I'm fine. My wife, on the other hand, has been a lot harder on herself. I hear more and more of, "I look hideous ... I look old" and I know my daughter hears it too.

So my question is, how would I possibly introduce a piece of writing like this to my wife without her interpreting it as, "Oh. My. God. You think I look old and hideous too!"

I know there's no cut-and-paste answer, but if some 40-something year old woman who this piece resonated for wants to share some wisdom with me, I'd be grateful. Very. Very. Grateful.
posted by scblackman at 11:49 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I look hideous ... I look old" and I know my daughter hears it too.

I think letting your daughter (and your wife!) know you love her mom and still find her attractive even when your wife doesn't think of herself as beautiful might be an even better message for your daughter to hear than the one recommended in this article.

You might ask your wife privately after she says something self-denigrating, "Is that really a message you want our daughter to hear? Do you want her to learn to be hard on herself like that?"
posted by straight at 12:32 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


how would I possibly introduce a piece of writing like this to my wife without her interpreting it as, "Oh. My. God. You think I look old and hideous too!"

Don't make it about her at all. The next time she says "I look hideous ... I look old" you can say, "You know, Daughter can hear you. You are teaching her that something she can't avoid - getting older - will make her ugly. You might want to think about that."
posted by DarlingBri at 12:34 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the desire for positivity in this article, but it's the talking to convince oneself of physical beauty that bothers me.

I read somewhere about how to talk to little girls and that most people comment on their physical appearance and how pretty they look. Instead, we should be commenting on their smarts, asking about what they're learning in school, and what fun things they've done lately. The girls were actually more responsive to these types of questions and it helped to emphasize to them the importance of "being and doing" rather than having their looks be the first thing people talk to them about.

Similarly, I think a mother should be about being a loving, generous, confident woman rather than standing in front of a mirror and making sure her kids overhear her telling herself how pretty she is. Someone who is beautiful on the inside, radiates beauty on the outside regardless of her appearance. That is what is infectious and influential.
posted by E3 at 12:37 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Look happy and joyous? "you're so Beautiful!"
Do well in school? "you're so Smart!"
Did great at soccer? "you're so Athletic!"

It's not about accomplishing things. We are not rewarding actions with this speech, but traits.

It reinforces the notion that what you are is more important than what you do.

And to me that is a language of turning girls (and others too) into objects instead of people.
posted by French Fry at 12:10 PM on November 16


This. I don't have children, but I frequently babysit for my husband's law partner's kids, two girls and a boy. I have made a point of describing their behaviours when I am praising them, like "Thanks for picking up your toys - that was good helping!" and when they do something clever, "smart thinking!" or "good memory!" or whatever. It's hard, because I want to just reflexively say, "you're so smart!" since that was what everybody said to me (although I think my problem wasn't so much being objectified as thinking that if I was smart, I never had to put any effort in, and it took me a long time to work past that).
posted by joannemerriam at 12:42 PM on November 16, 2012


I read somewhere about how to talk to little girls and that most people comment on their physical appearance and how pretty they look. Instead, we should be commenting on their smarts, asking about what they're learning in school, and what fun things they've done lately. The girls were actually more responsive to these types of questions and it helped to emphasize to them the importance of "being and doing" rather than having their looks be the first thing people talk to them about.

Previously.
posted by asnider at 12:52 PM on November 16, 2012


boo_radley: Melismata: "People are so goddamn dishonest(...)"

Well that's just not true.
I see what you did there....
posted by IAmBroom at 1:13 PM on November 16, 2012


it seems like focusing on what your girls accomplish rather than what they are given at birth is a better way towards a healthy life.

I think there's a little more nuance than this that some of the other comments have mentioned, without specifically pointing it out. Even emphasizing accomplishments can be really hard on a kid, because they learn that they are only worth what they can produce or accomplish. They think they have to succeed at a task to earn love. Perhaps success is a bit more under their control than physical beauty, because they can work hard and practice to get better, but a lot of it still comes down to genes and luck.

Now, I'd like to think there's a way of praising kids that helps them understand that they have intrinsic worth, that they are valuable and loved just the way they are, no matter what they look like or what they are good at. But I can't figure out how we would say those things to kids without devaluing the things they are lucky enough to be doing well at, whether it's having good skin or being good at math or becoming the best soccer player on the team. Refusing to praise kids for their accomplishments doesn't seem particularly healthy, either.

I've heard, and believe based on my own experience growing up with the opposite, that it would be best to praise effort and tenacity and willingness to deal with frustration, rather than innate talent/beauty OR accomplishments. I'm not congratulating you for making it across the monkey bars, I'm congratulating you for practicing for days, for being willing to try again after failure, for believing in yourself when other people thought you wouldn't make it. I'm excited that you're happy about your accomplishment, and I'm proud of you. No matter what, I'm proud of you.

It's what I'm hoping to do someday when I have kids of my own. And it's what I'm trying to do for myself, as an adult woman, right now.
posted by vytae at 1:27 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love my wife conspicuously, quite conscious that my kids are watching. I want my girls to grow up to expect that their men will love them for who they are.

What I tell them is that they are not objects, so they should not stand for being objectified (or objectifying themselves) in the name of "beauty." They are not a collection of parts that can be compared and ranked with others'. Their bodies are expressions of their unique selves that, when presented with integrity, are uniquely beautiful.

When my kids see a "hot" woman on TV (I always wait for them to notice first) I ask if that woman is presenting her real self. Or is she using a few parts of herself for a purpose other than communicating who she is? Could she be selling something? Could she be trying to meet someone else's standards of what she thinks she should look like?

Then I say, while she may be very pretty, nobody is beautiful like (not as) mommy. Which they know I believe because it is true.

When I compliment Heidi, I let her know how what I see attracts me to her authentic self. That and what affect it has on me. I love her thick mane of wavy hair which speaks to me about the abundant way she loves everyone. When I see her gray all I see is the many years she has loved me and I marvel at her steadfastness in putting up with me. The crinkles around her eyes and mouth are from millions of her warm smiles. Her embrace is like home for me, and has only gotten warmer and more welcoming (so yeah, she’s a little larger, but so am I) over the years. And when we are alone I can tell her the various places that seems like God made just for my hand and how I am compelled to have them there. She is a rose in full bloom, not a dainty rosebud which is, at its essence, the promise of a rose in full bloom. She is a promise realized -- God’s promise -- to me.

Guys, do not compliment your wife on her objective beauty, because that objective part of her is ever-changing, repeatable, and replaceable. There will always be someone who comes along with “better” legs, eyes, breasts, whatever. And she knows it. For many women, body part or surface beauty compliments can make them uneasy. Speak of what you see coming from inside her and what it does to you.

Husbands if you pray, try praying (or contemplating if you don’t pray) this way over your wife’s beauty. What do her best features today, head to toe, speak to you about her authentic self? What effect does it have on you?

Beauty makes no sense outside of the relationships between the beholder and the creator.
posted by cross_impact at 1:36 PM on November 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


The one thing I decided to do when my oldest (a girl) was born that I actually have managed to do is this: stop the negative self-talk. I do not disparage my body or looks out loud in front of my children. In fact, I do not do it out loud anymore at ALL. I can't say it doesn't come from that rotten judging voice in my head sometimes, but it does not come our of my mouth. I also do not make negative comments about other people's bodies or looks. I might snark on wardrobe choices sometimes, but I'm working on that.

Now, remember, I'm fat. In fact, I am OMGDEATHFATZ. And I dieted from the time I was 13 until I was 33, pretty much. So I've got all the scripts of how to talk ugly to and about myself fully memorized. Many of them were handed down from my mother. I will not have my daughter - or my sons, for that matter - treat themselves so unkindly. I will model self-kindness for my children. And if it is the only lesson I manage to leave them with, I'll have done my job.

Maybe I don't tell my kids I'm beautiful, like this mama. I'm not that far advanced. Maybe I should try it.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


My mother and I always had trouble relating on intellectual matters, politics, values or interests, but we share the exact same body type. By acting like she was beautiful, desirable and worthy of a great partner, even when she no doubt didn't feel like it, even if it wasn't always true, she provided the most valuable model she ever gave me.
She was a live demonstration that men will find a variety of things attractive, that beauty is just a part of the package that's graded on what you do as well as what you are, that nobody has to settle for partnerships that make them unhappy, and that love is possible at any age. Her self-respect and pragmatic approach to romance is still what I cling to whenever I feel ugly or Forever Alone (tm).
posted by Freyja at 2:25 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."
-Francis Bacon

Some of us are freakin' gorgeous. ;)

"Beauty makes no sense outside of the relationships between the beholder and the creator."

WTF?!
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I was in a serious relationship with someone who had a pre-teen daughter. One afternoon she said she wanted the three of us to to go swimming. The only bathing suit I owned at the time was a bikini that was years removed from fitting, but I said I'd be happy to hang out while and read or something while they played in the pool. Later that day he told me that she pulled him aside and asked if they could buy me a bathing suit so I could join them.

Now, I was completely secure in how my boyfriend felt about me, but it had been so long since I'd been in a bathing suit and I really didn't want to do it. It was such a sweet thing for her to think of that I couldn't say no, but I refused to model the kind of behavior that had fucked with my head growing up. I just bit the bullet, bought a bathing suit, and we all went swimming.

I'd forgotten how much I loved swimming and just playing in the pool or the ocean and I ended up joining the Y and started swimming almost every day. I really hope one day her dad will tell her what an amazing gift she gave me.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:35 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Beauty makes no sense outside of the relationships between the beholder and the creator."

WTF?!


Aesthetics, Dude. Beauty, like in a work of art, is a function of the creator and the viewer. The work conveys some intent, some message. And that message is received in some way by the beholder. Beauty is a result of communication, relationship.

I suppose if you do not believe there is a creator of people, that people just happen or something, then you would probably need to have a different theory of aesthetics.
posted by cross_impact at 8:36 PM on November 16, 2012


This reminds me of one of those signs that people supposedly put in their houses that you see on Pinterest all the time. Instead of declaring these things in such an unnatural manner why not let your actions speak for themselves? - Jess the mess

Speech is an action. Speech, and what we choose to say, is important.

I'm lucky enough that the negative scripts that go through my head are almost entirely developed thanks to the media, and the body stuff is due to the actions various medical practitioners etc. have committed against me. But I still maintain a rule - if I look in the mirror and say something bad in my head then I walk away.

This is in contrast to my three year old who gleefully stares at herself in the mirror and makes face and watches how her body works and what she looks like when she smiles or cries and I never want to take that from her. She experiences her body without judgement, secure in the concept that this is her and this is wonderful and whatever she looks like is fine.

The thing is, that acceptance is not 'okay' - if we don't think we're beautiful then we are suffering some lack, some anxiety, some self-esteem issue we need to fix. So we coat that acceptance in beauty. I'm okay with that, but it isn't how my brain works. My daughter doesn't see me calling myself beautiful, but she sees me say "my hair looks lovely today" or "wow, my hair is wild and curly" or "I feel uncomfortable and awkward in these clothes" or "check out my biceps". She tells me about being a pretty fairy, or ballerina, or her super strong jumps, or her long, long hair but as a parent I am battling an entire world, an entire society that tells her each and every day how beautiful she is, at the cost of how anything-else she is, and that will stop at some point, when she nebulously moves from toddler to little girl to big girl. It will stop, suddenly and awfully at the exact moment when it becomes more and more acceptable to judge and sexualise, and when her body is changing into something loaded with meaning and hormones and emotional upheavals.

One day she will go from beautiful in the eyes and actions and words of nearly everyone we meet and will either be ignored or leered at or awkwardly discussed or viciously judged or sold to (even more) or any of the myriad ways girls are told over and over again that we are less than because we will one day be women.

That is what my actions now are hedging against. That is my concern. I want her to have a sense of physical self that is not reliant on what others say, what others do, or even how she looks each and every moment. I want her sense of self to be more than just how she looks but the thing is that is a part of her, a part of who she is. That she is the arbiter of her body, she is the sole proprietor and she does not have to conform to what ladies should look like based on what others say. I want her to know that my pride in my biceps is because I'm proud of the work I do to get them. I want her to know that it's okay when my hair is wild, or frizzy, or flat, I want her to know that if clothes feel wrong then the clothes are wrong, not the body, and I want her to know that through it all I am still me and 'beautiful'.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:58 PM on November 16, 2012 [15 favorites]


I tell my daughters that I love my body because I can stop a Thoroughbred horse using only my abs and inner thighs.

And I tell them that I can do that because I worked really, really hard at it.
posted by rdc at 8:12 PM on November 20, 2012


Offbeat Empire - A different kind of viral post
Today, Offbeat Mama is having its highest traffic day since launching in 2009 because a post called I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful has gone viral. But it's going viral in ways I've never seen before. If you like nerding out about this kind of thing, huddle up. Let's take a look at how this post is different…

Despite no big hitters linking the post, the social media spread has been insane. It's being Liked on Facebook almost 20 times per minute. (It was up to 41,000 Facebook Likes 33 hours after publishing.)
posted by flex at 10:04 AM on December 2, 2012


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