Other people have thought and expressed this concern before me. And other folks have taken action to change their behavior about it, as have I.
Yet it persists:
The troublesome way we teach female children to calculate their value.
With boys, we talk about their intelligence, charm, cleverness, and strength. We rarely address their looks, unless talking about the messes they’ve made or their need to wash their faces and hands. “Boys will be boys,” we say, with exasperated affection.
With females, from infancy forward, we comment on cuteness, prettiness, and beauty, whether regarding their physical features or their clothes and accessories.
When appearance becomes the most valuable currency for females, positioned more highly than intelligence, education, and critical thinking, the resulting women can experience insecurity that cripples their chances at happiness, fulfillment, and healthful relationships. Further, when we put weight on how a young female looks rather than what she does and how she thinks, we direct her away from learning and achieving toward beauty products, fad diets, and plastic surgery.
No one could truly consider that a life fulfilled.
I read with horror an article in The New York Times, “Tell Me What You See, Even if It Hurts Me,” about a phenomenon of girls predominantly aged thirteen to fifteen posting videos on-line asking viewers to rate their prettiness. This action implies that strangers’ estimations of their beauty matters more to their self-esteem than anything else possibly could.
And if you’ve ever read YouTube comments, no matter how mundane the video, you can imagine the potential for psychological damage in asking the site's users for candid opinions—especially on something as personal as your looks. As a fully-fledged adult fairly secure in her self-estimation, I’d never jump into that lion’s den. The World Wide Web provides a fantastic outlet for cruelty.
I’d thought the subjects of an article I’d read in the same publication, “’No Body Talk’ Summer Camps,” a bit over the top until I read the “prettiness video” article. Perhaps the camps the article describes make more sense than I’d realized. Maybe more places—other camps, workplaces, schools, homes—should forbid anyone to comment in any way about how he, she, or anyone else looks.
Sadly, our culture has trained us to talk appearance with females.
Though I have no children of my own and rarely spend time with girls as a result, even I find myself starting to say something about a girl’s dress, hairdo, or pretty smile when I encounter one. I have to consciously change tack before the words exit my mouth.
So, to help us all change our ways, I’ve listed a few topics of conversation for adults to have with young females that just might help these budding women realize that their value stems from far more than how they look:
What are you reading? Tell me about it.
What movie did you see last? What did you like about it?
Acknowledge something—anything—smart, interesting, or kind that she said or did.
Through these questions and your thoughtful attention to their answers, you teach young females that what they think and do matter and have value. Appearance? That should come dead last—if at all.
How else can we change the conversation with girls?