Sasha is only 9 and all of a sudden she’s obsessed about her appearance. She asked to wear makeup to school every day! She says only the geeks aren’t wearing makeup. I know that’s not true. But what concerns me is that she’s putting so much time and energy into worrying about how she looks and trying to look exactly like everyone else. She’s a great kid and has so much to feel good about. How can we counter society’s focus on superficial appearance? Nicholas
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Things to Consider
Our culture places a very high value on appearance. We often judge people by how they look and dress. This focus can be harmful to girls when they get the idea that they need to look a certain way for people to like them or care about them. It tells girls that how they look is more important than who they are or what they do. It’s a false and superficial standard for judging character and worthiness. We parents have a key role to play in opposing the messages about appearance that our daughters get. We need to teach them about their Inner Beauty and its value.
One of the most insidious ways appearance obsession hurts girls is by the vast amount of time and effort that goes into perfecting and worrying about appearance as she gets older. This is time and psychic energy that she could use to develop her interests and explore the world around her. Focusing all that energy on criticizing her own appearance is counterproductive and doesn’t help her feel more competent or valued. Because girls are exposed to so many messages about perfecting their appearance, they can come to think it’s actually possible to do. And then they feel like failures if they don’t match the images of unreal perfection that surround us every day. When we help her value her unique beauty, we give her a priceless gift.
What to Say and Do
1-7 years old
Tell her that she’s beautiful when she’s full of energy or radiating pride.
- You look beautiful when you’re singing.
Describe all kinds of people as pretty and beautiful.
- You and Krissy are very different and you’re both pretty.
8-13 years old
Limit how much you comment on appearance. Focus instead on someone’s character and actions.
- I want to be as interesting as Leonore when I’m old. She’s always learning new things.
- Our new neighbors are so welcoming and warm—I like being around them.
Respond to her concerns and questions about her appearance with reassurance and perspective. She may focus on her appearance when the real issue is something deeper and harder to talk about.
- Going to a new school I know you want to feel as good as possible on the first day. Wearing clothes you feel comfortable in is part of that but it’s not the most important part.
- You’re not happy with your hair today. I think there’s probably something else going on, too. Any thoughts what the other things are?
14 and up
Talk regularly about society’s focus on appearance and how it can be harmful.
- It’s really hard not to buy into all the messages about how you should look. I struggle with it, too.
- When I’m feeling tired, I worry more about how I look.
Notice when she expresses her true self in her appearance.
- When you wear that shirt I know you’re feeling good. It’s you!
- You look so jazzy in purple. It suits you.
Words, Phrases and Actions to Use
· Inner beauty
· Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
What Not to Say and Do
Don’t judge your own or others’ appearance. Don’t say things like:
- Ugh—I look awful today.
- She looks terrible—doesn’t she care?
Don’t let if pass uncommented if she puts her appearance down.
Don’t buy into society’s narrow definition of attractiveness.
Words, Phrases and Actions To Avoid
· There’s just a few truly beautiful people.
The Beauty Issue, Free online from NewMoon.com
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg
You Are not Your Buttocks by Kaz Cooke
Turn Beauty Inside Out www.tbio.org