How many times in your life have you seen a little girl and instinctively cooed, “wow, she’s so adorable,” or, “aren’t you just the prettiest?”
It’s nearly impossible to avoid falling into this trap, but be mindful, these praises, no matter how well-intentioned and complimentary, can crack the foundation of a young woman’s confidence. When physical image is constantly remarked upon, it gradually lends the impression that looks take precedence over actions or behaviors. This continuous stream of commentary on outward appearance can ultimately harm self-esteem.
Some may disagree with this idea, dismissing it as too radical or overly-sensitive. Besides, many argue that complimenting someone’s appearance boosts their self-esteem, and this is true to some extent. In no way is it a crime to assure your bestie that she’s a total smoke show, or inform your daughter that she’s a stunning individual; I personally would feel like a horrible person if I refused to tell my friends how beautiful they all are.
However, telling a female that she’s pretty is not the problem at stake. The issue is that female appearance is often the first thing we comment on. We very rarely hear boys greet one another with, “Wow, you look amazing, did you lose weight? New diet?” or, “Your eyelashes are insane–are those fake?” Remarks like these compel young girls to think that appearance is way more important than it actually is, and American pop-culture only further perpetuates these ideals. As author, attorney, and legal analyst Lisa Bloom notes in her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, 23% of women would rather lose their ability to read than their figures.
The truth is that physical beauty is not a skill, or something you truly control. In reality, whether or not your facial features are aligned in an aesthetically-pleasing manner is not indicative of your work ethic. The length of your eyelashes or curve of your hips is not a result of intelligence or honor or courage. Your flawless skin did not occur after hours of studying. Simply put, beauty is not an accomplishment.
What happens when young girls grow up under the impression that it is? What happens when time causes wrinkles and sagging, or when an accident scars one’s perfect skin? What happens when we praise women for their image and not their talent? The reality is that youth and external beauty fade with time, and when someone is valued for their physical looks instead of their accomplishments or thoughts, their self-contentedness and security will disappear along with their youthful looks.
So what’s the solution? Praise the next girl you meet for being inquisitive or athletic. Admire her bravery, her independence, and her wit. No, you’re not going to give your little cousin a complex by telling her she’s adorable, but try not to make her appearance the only thing that you comment on. By applauding the actions and behaviors that she controls, you’ll set the stage for a strong, independent, and truly confident female. HCXO!