I have called my son “beautiful” and “gorgeous” all his life. He’s beautiful inside and out, and I never thought twice about using these words with him. But now that I have a little girl, I find myself calling her beautiful and then following it with “and so smart.” And now that she walks around in her dresses and twirls her little body in a circle in front of the mirror, and says, “I’m beautiful,” I’m not sure what to make of it.
It’s important for children to have high self-esteem in terms of their appearances and their intellectual potential, and as parents, it is our job to fill their glasses with as many positive comments that will balloon their confidence. I think it’s as important to feel beautiful as much as it is to feel smart, and this goes for boys and girls.
The problem with beauty is that it is stressed more for the girls — throughout their lives. Girls as young as three are told by commercials and cartoons geared for girls that they should dress pretty, look pretty, tote around pink and glittery purses, shoes, and lip gloss. As they get older, around middle school and high school, the messages they receive include such notions as girls are not good in math and sciences and being smart is not how to get ahead. They leave their potential and abilities in math and science behind as they experience more positive reinforcement from dating, hanging out with the right cliques, and wearing the right kind of clothing. As adult women, the same commercials now geared for the adult tell her that she needs to lose weight, get married and have kids, clean the house, be a stay at home mom, and get botox to look younger.
There has to be a balance for girls in the messages they receive, and as parents, it is our obligation to foster healthy self-esteem and confidence in our girls. It’s important to be beautiful, yes, but it is equally important to be smart, if not more important since beauty fades.
The issue with girls and beauty is that if girls don’t think they are beautiful, everything else is unimportant. Girls with low self-esteem end up being more promiscuous, seeking the affection of boys and the feel-good effects of sex, and often run in danger of being used — which makes them feel worse about themselves. Other girls feel invisible, and will either cloister themselves, appearing like little turtles hiding behind their school work, art, or writing, or in a more extreme fashion, escape the bad feelings they have of themselves by acting out, masking their low self-esteem with drugs, alcohol, and/or overt sexual behavior.
The most we can do as parents is to recite daily affirmations in the ears of our children and backing them with examples from their actions. For example, “you showed great kindness today when you shared with your sister,” or “your beautiful heart shines in your eyes when you laugh.” It may sound corny, but it’s better than saying, “you’re beautiful” all the time. My favorite is, “you’re as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside,” because it demonstrates that what makes people beautiful is how they behave and how they treat others. Whatever you do, don’t go a day without saying positive things to your children — they need our voice to be louder than the voices from which they obtain most information, like television and movies, celebrity idols, and even their friends.
What about you? What positive comments do you give your kids to make them feel beautiful, cherished, and full of potential?
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