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Talking to your daughter about beauty

Talking to your daughter about beauty

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Published by: GoodMenProject on Mar 24, 2011
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Brought to you byThe Good Men Project
Talking to Your
Daughter About
‘I still remember the namesof two girls my father identi-ed as pretty in a fth-gradeclass picture.’
- Emily HeistMoss
If you’re trying to be a good dad (and you’re reading this site, so I think you are), you know that your childrenare sponges. We soak up everything we hear you say, everything we see you do, and many of the things you
thought we didn’t noce.I sll remember the names of two girls my father idened as “prey” in a h-grade class picture. My dadtaught me a lot of things: how to nd the North Star, how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich, how todrive in a New England winter. He taught me to value diversity of opinion and honesty of expression, to choose
good, smart people to be in my life, to believe that I can do and be anything I want. But from the comment on
the class picture 13 years ago? From that, I learned beauty maers.Although boys must also navigate the tricky waters of body image and beauty, I will sck to daughters for tworeasons. First, I can’t apply any parcular experse to the father-son relaonship (being a daughter and all),
and second, the consequences for girls when health and beauty get distorted tend to be much more severe (10
mes as many women bale eang disorders than men).No maer how old your daughter is she is receiv-
ing messages from every angle that tell her that her
primary path to success is being beauful. Be it Bratzdolls, princess paraphernalia, Miley Cyrus, Gossip Girl,E! Red Carpet specials, Miss America pageants, SarahPalin, or Lindsay Vonn in Sports Illustrated, women
are judged and rated based on their looks. Our intel
-lectual, athlec, arsc, or social successes are inevi-tably predicated on and qualied by our appearance.Even CBS correspondent Lara Logan, vicm of assaultwhile covering the situaon in Egypt, is discussed as a“Warzone ‘It Girl’ ” and a “gutsy stunner”—rather thansimply “reporter.”So how is a good dad to avoid adding to the barrage of corrupng messages your daughter receives every day?Start close to home. Think about what she hears from adult women around her. Do her mother, older sisters,or aunts discuss looking fat in front of her? Do they pinch themselves, complain about how they look, or crashdiet? Does her grandmother tell her that she needs to watch her gure? Girls’ and women’s bodies are unfor-tunately considered open to “construcve cricism” from strangers and loved ones alike. I was 11 the rst mea saleslady volunteered that I was blessed and cursed with a “bubble bu.”
But it’s not just women that your daughter hears. It may be her mother that she emulates (or other adult
women in her life), but it’s her father’s compliments that she’s looking for. Last week, GMPM columnist HugoSchwyzer wrote about how simple compliments like “you look prey!” reinforce a paern that teaches girls toseek aesthec approval:Five-year-olds in princess costumes are cute. But the problem is that the compliments we give as fathers,uncles, and coaches have an impact on the self-esteem of lile girls. As they grow up, they realize quickly (cer-tainly by age 8 or 9) that Cinderella costumes won’t cut it anymore.
When the cute costumes don’t work, girls look around to see what women do to get recognion. And what dothey nd? Fake breasts, ny clothes, sexy poses. The phoniness of these Barbie-ed images might actually be
easier to combat than the more insidious forms of beauty worship. You can talk to your daughter about air
-brushing and the dierence between magazine pictures and real life. But imagine you’re sing on the couchwatching Wimbledon and your daughter hears you say that Anna Kournikova looks good. Maybe you mean shelooks strong, or her serve is on today, or she’s quick o the line, but what your daughter hears is that the tallblonde woman in the mini-skirt “looks good.” If what you meant was that she’s a great tennis player, then say
that. If what you meant was that she’s hot, well, save it for your buddies.
The conaon of beauty with other posive qualies, or the lack of it with negave ones, is where the realconfusion begins. Make sure the women that you admire out loud, be they policians, movie stars, musicians,
or athletes, are being admired for what they do, not how they look.
The ipside is true as well: Hillary Clinton’s “frumpy” haircut has zero to do with her diplomac skills, so leaveit out of the conversaon. This is how you teach your daughter that judging by the cover may be part of our
society, and something she will encounter on a daily basis, but it isn’t part of your family’s values.
My dad will read this arcle and he will wonder if his comment scarred me (it didn’t) or if I’ve been hangingonto it for years (I haven’t). The truth is, that comment is easily and readily dwarfed by the tens of thousandsof posive, condence-boosng conversaons we’ve had. In thinking about how dads talk to their daugh-
ters, his comment stands out only because it was such an anomaly. I was at a friend’s house once when she
emerged from her room in a new dress and her father, from the couch, shrugged and said, “At least you don’tlook fat.” I was blown away, but my friend barely blinked; this was par for course in her home.That sort of acve negavity is easy enough to avoid. What’s more challenging as parents is to train yourself away from commenng on beauty at all, even in what may feel like the most posive and innocuous of ways.The world will tell her everyday that for women, beauty is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and it’syour job to counter that by oering beer metrics of success.

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