It’s a terrible thing for a child to be told they’re unattractive in some way, whether by kids at school, or their own parents. You might not think a parent could be capable of such a thing, but believe me, they are.
In Julia Baird’s opinion piece for The New York Times titled “Being Honest About Ugliness,” she talks about Australian author Robert Hoge, who calls himself “the ugliest person you’ve never met.” Now that may sound like an awful way to think of oneself, but Hoge doesn’t see it like that. He came to terms with his ugliness very early in life, and decided that he would not let it be his one defining characteristic, even though his parents initially refused to take him home from the hospital because of it.
As such, he says, while it may feel like the right thing to do in the moment, it’s dangerous for parents to tell their children that looks don’t matter, because that’s simply not true. If they’re disillusioned like that, they’ll have to learn the hard way once they’re out in the unforgiving world. “Don’t tell kids they’re all beautiful; tell them it’s O.K. to look different,” Hoge told The New York Times.
Now while I agree with Hoge’s notion that you should be honest with children about what the world has in store for them, I think kindness and support from your family should always be given freely. Having people who give you positive reinforcement helps make you a stronger person when you come into your own. However, there is something to be said for giving too much, and thus making your child think they’re perfect and capable of anything.
I grew up being told almost every day by my parents that I was beautiful. It didn’t matter if I was dressed for the prom, or wearing my retainer and pimple cream and ready for bed — they always made me feel like I was the prettiest thing on earth.
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Now I’m not saying that all this positive reinforcement made me impervious to the usual teenage frustrations one feels over their body. I wanted smaller thighs, bigger boobs and a lot fewer pimples, but I was pretty certain I’d come out beautiful on the other end of adolescence. Especially because I had dreams of being an actress.
Sure enough, once I made it to high school, I started looking good. Boys noticed me, I wore clothes well, and I began starring in all the school plays. I gained confidence, which probably helped me look even more attractive. So finally I thought I was ready to start going on professional auditions.
And everything changed. It was like the color in the world had drained away to reveal a starkness I had never known before. All the girls auditioning alongside me were prettier, thinner and better dressed than I was. They walked with an air of haughtiness that was levels beyond my natural confidence. I felt like a random wildflower in a room full of perfect roses. I didn’t know what I was doing there, but I knew I didn’t belong.
I didn’t let the shock of reality beat me though. Over the years, my confidence came slowly back, and I started booking roles. However, I never fully got away from that feeling that I’m not pretty enough to be a professional actress. And while I love my parents for telling me I’m beautiful, I think their support left me ill-equipped to deal with the idea that there will always be prettier people in the entertainment business.
I have reconciled with that now, just as Hoge reconciled with his appearance. Today, I still think I’m beautiful, but more importantly, I recognize that’s only a small part of what I have to offer. So parents, never be stingy with your love for your kids, but don’t shield them from the expectations of the world either. It’s better they learn what they’re up against while they’re in your arms rather than on a casting call line.