As a former teacher, babysitter and lifelong lover of interesting conversations with children, I gain a lot of insight from little people and their expanding minds. My favorite part of being a classroom teacher was when a few kids would want to stick around with me during lunch and have meaningful, inquisitive and sometimes batshit crazy conversations about life. You can learn a lot about the world from a roundtable with elementary school kids, trust me (I mean, if you’ve seen these commercials you already know).
One topic of conversation that I remember struggling with time and time again while teaching happened to show up again in a conversation I had with a couple little girls last week. This conversation is the über-sensitive, well-debated and controversial topic of body image and young girls. In my opinion, “I’m fat” has no place in a little girl’s repertoire of statements. “She’s prettier than me because she is skinnier” or “I’m ugly because I have a fat belly” are only examples of what I have heard little girls say to me or amongst one another. I’m sure this is old news to any mothers of young girls, but even though we know this problem exists, it still rocks me when I hear comments like these spoken from the mouths of little girls. It’s heartbreaking to think that girls, especially at a young age, are feeling so inferior.
We must collectively, as women, mothers, sisters, and girlfriends work to create environments where girls of all ages are valued for their spirit, their intelligence, their wit, their leadership qualities and so much more than the eye can see. We must invite and encourage the men and boys in our lives to do the same. Of course there is a certain media generated version of what “pretty” is, and yes, I agree that a lot of women in the media appear to be pretty. I also believe that (I know it’s cliché) beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We must create a culture in which we are accepting of beauty in various forms, not one that is prescribed by magazines, television and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have Jen Selter’s booty, Kate Upton’s chest and Beyonce’s, uhm, everything-but there is so much more to value in women and we must set that example for young girls.
Let’s magnify the qualities that cannot be seen. Let’s acknowledge women and girls for qualities that we must dig a little deeper to recognize and let’s truly let beauty be in the eye of the beholder and accept that this is different for everyone. Whether you fancy a physical appearance of long flowing golden blonde hair, or a well-kept Mohawk, tan skin or tattooed-skin is not the point. We must create environments where all forms of beauty are accepted without judgment and where we compliment the beauty within rather than the variable exterior.
I challenge you to be aware of how you define beauty in your home and amongst the women in your lives. Do you insult women because their idea of beauty does not align to yours? Do you catch yourself judging other women because they are more or less beautiful than you? We’re all guilty of this from time to time but real change begins with awareness. Next time you compliment your mom, your friends, your daughters and especially any little ladies in your life, be aware. Are you complimenting them on looks alone, or are you complimenting them for something more? Instead of “Your hair is so pretty” let’s shift our compliments to something like: “I love the way you handled that situation” or “You are so creative and that’s such an awesome quality”. I’m not saying to cease all compliments of someone’s physical self, but I am saying to amp up on the compliments that dig deeper. Valuing one another for more than physical qualities and setting this example for our daughters is essential to creating more love and acceptance in our families, our schools and our communities. No girl should feel inadequate or feel unworthy of being defined as “pretty” whether she is five or fifty-five.
"You fix your make up, just so
Guess you don't know, that you're beautiful."
-John Legend, You & I (click to watch the video!)