Monday, September 19, 2011

Smart? Pretty? Or Both?

Author Lisa Bloom recently posted an article in the Huffington Post entitled: How To Talk To Little Girls in which she expressed her disdain for speaking to girls about how lovely they are or how pretty they look upon first impression. She claims this action further provides unnecessary emphasis on appearance and contributes to our cultural idea where being beautiful is much more important than being smart.

From her post:
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

Woah.

I do agree our current culture does put an unhealthy emphasis on physical beauty. Every where you look - from the clothes racks in little girl boutiques, to the front pages of magazines, our daughters run the risk of falling prey to the sensualistic versions of youth where being "hot" trumps all. Some outfits look more suited to club hopping than to school going. Girls are wearing make up younger and younger; Teens are seeking out dangerous means to lose weight and acquiring body altering surgeries before they are even finished developing. We do make celebrities and role models out of women who are only famous for being pretty, when women who have achieved success in areas of business, education, medicine or politics are overlooked. 

However.

Does me telling my daughter or one of her friends that she looks really pretty today actually contribute to such mindset?

No.

It is my responsibility, not only as a mother,  but as a woman, to bestow these types of compliments upon all girls alike. In this world where voices scream they are not pretty enough - my voice of truth needs to be heard. Girls need to hear they are lovely. Girls need to hear they are beautiful. Girls need the women in their circles to condone self confidence and contradict the poor messages they absorb through television, internet and the school building hallways. Girls who lack these kinds of messages  are the ones who search for something or someone to make them feel pretty. It is our job to ensure they know it.

Are these compliments of outwardly appearance the only thing they should hear from us? Of course not. We should go out of our way to admire the things they do well - be it athletics or academics or personality. Girls need to hear they are smart. Girls need to hear they are funny. Girls need to hear they are talented. It is our duty to encourage them to fulfill their greatest potential. Our daughters have decades of hard fought opportunity at their fingertips and must be encouraged to take advantage of everything their fore-sisters secured for their futures.

 But.

Why must it be one or the other? Smart OR Pretty?

We must find balance.

A young lady who is exceptionally bright grows up only hearing how smart she is will also grow up with a poor self image, constantly doubting her appearance as a grown woman. A little girl who grows up only hearing how pretty she is will also doubt her intellectual capabilities as a adult.

We personally have to provide an environment where we recognize the intelligence and ambition of   our daughters while not devaluing the importance admiring their beauty. We may not be able to change the culture as a whole, but we can influence the young ladies in our own homes and backyards.

You can be smart AND pretty.