Pant Suits & Misogyny: Don’t Let Election Ugliness Stop Our Daughters From Feeling Beautiful

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In response to all the conversations about beauty, pant suits and femininity in this election, writer and producer, Alli Joseph, wrote a thought-provoking article about beauty and raising girls.   Joseph doesn’t so much dwell on sensational elections talk, though.  Instead she pushes us, parents, to rethink how we teach our daughters about the importance of valuing beauty.

To raise independent, powerful girls, she explains that we should encourage our daughters to explore and enjoy their beauty.  Now that may seem totally counter to what we are all feeling right now.   After all, look at how women are demeaned by people like Donald Trump who seem to value our appearance over all other traits.   And there’s no question we are all applauding Michelle Obama right now for her speech about our girls being WAY more than just pretty faces, and they need to be protected from beliefs and behaviors of people like Trump.

But Joseph advises us NOT to eschew conversations and behaviors around beauty with our daughters.  In fact, we MUST have them.  And in spite of the climate, I feel the same way.

This story reminded me of a post I wrote a number of years ago after chatting with Sheila Kelly, actress and founder of the S Factor — essentially pole dancing for exercise and feminine awakening.  I was telling Sheila how impressed I was with author and TV personality, Lisa Bloom‘s post from 2011, “How to Talk to Little Girls” and I how I wrote a post about it.  Lisa was urging us all not to fall into the common trap of telling girls how pretty they look when we first meet them — something culture has ingrained into us.  I wrote the following:

…Bloom recognizes the inclination we all have to compliment little girls on how adorable they look. But this act affects them in deep and not always positive ways.

How so?  There are stats showing how young girls are increasingly more concerned with being fat and wearing make-up to make themselves more beautiful than ever before.

Now, I’m not disparaging looking nice, or adults recognizing this, but if our first encounters with girls are all about how they look, of course they are going to think that their appearance is their most critical asset!

Bloom recommends we begin our conversations with little girls not with talking about their clothes but, instead, with questions about what they’re currently reading or their favorite books. Not only does this type of talk get them off the beauty talk but it shows that we value their brains first and foremost.

I was pretty pretty satisfied with my pov until Sheila set me straight.  She said we should celebrate our girls’ beauty otherwise they don’t know how to handle it as they age.  Ignoring this topic  could lead to bad consequences.  In a follow-up post, “What Shelia Taught Me”, I explained Sheila’s words:

Of course we should embrace the many different sides of girls. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ALSO compliment them on their beauty. In fact, we should instill a sense of confidence and ownership of our girls’ beauty. We shouldn’t ignore or downplay it but rather teach them how to live with it with pride and love.

Being beautiful isn’t shameful.  So why should beauty be downplayed versus other characteristics? It’s certainly not MORE important than other aspects of their personalities, but if we ignore their beauty or push it to the side our girls won’t know how to handle it. They may feel it’s not worthwhile. Or, as they age, they may not have the ability deal maturely and confidently with the positive attention they eventually do receive from others.

Like what Joseph realizes, if we DON’T embrace our daughters’ beauty, along with their other traits, we may be leading them down a confusing path later in life.  I’m not saying we should just remind our girls they are beautiful but truly address the topic and how they feel about if.  If we don’t, they may grow up relying solely on the impressions of others, like those of Donald Trump, or determine their beauty in potentially screwy ways because we haven’t set the right attitude.  Think about it, we teach our kids the difference between healthy and unhealthy eating habits, the difference between right and wrong, or to tell the truth vs lie.  Why?  So when they age and encounter challenges on their own, they know the best road to take.  So too, we should do the same with regards to their beauty.  We should make girls feel beautiful and encourage them to explore and express their beauty in safe and encouraging ways EARLY on.  That way they will feel more secure in how they see themselves later in life.

I have a daughter.  And there is no way I want her taken advantage of, degraded or abused in ANY way for her beauty.  But I also want her to cherish ALL the sides of herself. I want her to learn that beauty is just another wonderful way — along with being curious, strong, smart, friendly, etc — of being human.

Weekend Observations: Speak Out, It Can Help Those Later in Life

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I have a friend, let’s call her Sara, who has led a dramatic life.
She was raised in a very religious Jewish community where women don’t tend to pursue challenging careers, and are taught to appear modest both in terms of attire and make-up.  She married young and had a child, but her marriage soon soured thanks to an overbearing and manipulative husband.  She gathered the strength to leave and go out on her own.  But she didn’t stop there.  She studied to become a mental health therapist and created her own practice.
At 41 she’s one amazing, beautiful and powerful woman.
Given her background she’s also had to come to terms with her womanhood and, as you could imagine, is hyper-aware of anything or anyone who demeans women.
Sara and I have become friends over the past few years while sitting next to each other in the back of synagogue.  She and I discuss anything from our kids, to her latest boyfriend, to our looks.  Sara dresses nicely and used to wear the barest hint of make-up.  Every now and then she would ask about my make-up or skin care routine.  Any chance for me to talk beauty gets me going, and I go into great detail talking about what techniques I use, my latest and greatest products, and who advises me. She surprised me one day a year ago and announced she was going to get her make-up done as a birthday gift for herself.  It was fascinating for me to see her slowly blossom and get excited about her appearance.  Perhaps because of her upbringing and then the usual conflicts we all go through as modern women, i.e., to care or not to care about our appearances and the signals both strategies give off, she has come to putting emphasis on her beauty a bit later in life.  Since our first beauty discussions, every so often we chat about what else we’ve learned that makes us look and beautiful.  As she said to me most emphatically just yesterday,  “I look at myself in the mirror, and I want to look good.”
I am happy that she feels free to indulge and go in this direction.  Though I can’t take too much credit for this shift in Sara, I think seeing a high-achieving (well, at least some of time ;)) woman, like myself, talk unabashedly about make-up or skin care regimens may have given her the boost to start putting more effort, no LOVE,  into her appearance.  And I feel great about that.  Not only is it fun to talk about make-up, but if it can encourage some of our late-bloomer-friends to embrace their own beauty, even better.
So the next time you have the urge to gush over some new lipstick you found or hairstyle you’re looking forward to try, don’t hold back.  Yes, you may get some eye rolling from a few ladies out there, but I bet you’ll also get a lot of dames leaning in to get a bit of extra encouragement.