Body image is back in the media spotlight this week. A recurring theme that ebbs and flows in and out of our dialogue because of it’s potency and proximity to our hearts.
It was highlighted recently when a gossip columnist from the Sunday Telegraph made some comments about Masterchef winner Julie Goodwin’s body. I’m fairly oblivious to what’s happening in the media (especially talk from “gossip columnists”), but I clicked on Julie Goodwin’s blog and was blown away by her eloquent and gracious response. If you haven’t already read it, ‘A Broader View of Broader People‘ is well worth a read.
Gauging from the reaction to this issue, I think the general consensus is that it’s not okay to pass judgment on another’s woman’s appearance. But my question is, is it okay to pass judgment at all, even in a positive light?
Interestingly, when I looked at the comments in response to Julie’s post, many people complimented her on ‘looking great’ (or gorgeous, or beautiful). Good people. Great intentions. Fully supportive of the fantastic points that Julie made. But, are they just as guilty for passing judgment on her looks even in a positive way? I’m not condemning them. It’s just a question.
In the comment I left on Julie’s post I said she was ‘beautiful, eloquent and gracious’. I did mean beautiful in the total sense, she is a beautiful person inside and out. But I wondered afterwards if this was appropriate.
And then I read this post by Kate from Our Little Sins. She asks us to not comment on her appearance. At all. It’s an insightful piece of writing about how women are our worst enemies when it comes to body image. She points out the insidious nature of commenting on each other’s looks.
I agree. I can see how it creates a dependency on compliments about our appearance. I can see that even good comments are a reflection that we’re focusing on something superficial instead of placing greater value on character and inner beauty. If we continue to comment on appearance, even in a good way, then we are perpetuating this obsession with the importance of looks.
Our appearance is something we have limited control over. By the luck of our genes we look the way we look. By luck of our circumstances, sometimes we can improve what we’ve got. So it seems ridiculous to highlight something that we haven’t particularly gained with any merit.
I can see that the more we comment on how people look, the more damaging it can be to our hearts. We’re fooled to believe it is the opposite. We think we’re building self-esteem when in fact we may be contributing to the problem. If someone doesn’t get the compliments, do they start to feel that they aren’t beautiful by omission?
But here’s the reality I feel: It’s hard! Damn hard. I’m so conditioned to giving and receiving compliments on beauty. It’s so deeply entrenched in my history and language that I don’t know if I can undo it.
It’s hard because I know I’m addicted to compliments. A huge chunk of my self-belief system relies on verbal approval about my looks. I admit that I crave to be told that I look beautiful. I crave to be told this by my husband. And yes, by other women. By anyone.
It’s hard because I love giving compliments. I’m aesthetically inclined, so if I see something beautiful I exclaim that it’s beautiful! I like being positive, and I do compliment people on their qualities as well as their appearance. I often say “you look stunning” to my girlfriends. I think the people in my life are beautiful – and I see their faces as a reflection of their inner beauty. When I say ‘You’re gorgeous’, it is an all-encompassing compliment. But is this the message they receive? How or should I make the distinction? It’s going to be tough.
Most of all it’s got me thinking about my 3 year old daughter. My language and influence starts now. If we follow this point to its logical conclusion, then I should stop telling my daughter she is beautiful. But this doesn’t feel right. Because my heart wants to tell her otherwise. I am filled with admiration for her. I am heady in love with her inner and outer beauty. It is the the natural response of my heart to express this. And I don’t want to live with a filter on my heart.
If my daughter never hears that she is beautiful from me, does she grow up with self-esteem issues? Is there a balance to be had? Can I tell her she’s beautiful without her being reliant on this or focusing on this? One day someone else will fill her head with notions of our culture’s emphasis on beauty, and I want to prepare her heart for it. I want to strengthen her mirror within.
I want her to know that inner beauty supersedes physical beauty every time.
There’s conflicting advice on this subject. Here’s some food for thought:
Don’t Hesitate to Tell Your Daughter She’s Beautiful – Jane Shure
Should You Tell Your Daughter She’s Beautiful? – Jordan Baker
The Best Ways to Tell Your Daughter She’s Beautiful – Jean Tracy
I like that 3rd link the best. The advice there is:
- Every time I tell my daughter that she is beautiful, I add the phrase – your inner beauty.
- When watching movies or reading books together, I talk about how the girl is beautiful because of her character and not just the external beauty or clothing.
- The small messages make big difference.
As well as the above 3 points, I believe we can strengthen our daughters’ inner mirrors by reflecting back to them our values. We can do this by not focussing on their appearance or anybody’s appearance. By not using the word ‘pretty’. And by not setting up their reliance on compliments.
One of the biggest changes we can make is to heal ourselves from our need to hear that we’re beautiful. The more secure we feel, the less we need to talk about physical appearance. The more we value inner beauty, the more our daughters will value it too.
We can do something about changing our culture’s emphasis on the physical. We hold the power to turn the tide. We can try to find the balance of being positive while not being a slave to flattery. We can stop complimenting other women on their appearance. And we can start complimenting them more on their character, fortitude and wisdom.
It’s time to start looking at our mirrors within.
*Image credit: Girl at Mirror by Norman Rockwell