A Social Experiment: What Happens When You Tell Someone s/he is beautiful?


We are taught, and still teach, our children to look beyond people’s exteriors to truly appreciate who they are.  And I would be the first to endorse that.

But this doesn’t mean we should ignore people’s beauty.  Beauty has become such a source of conflict in our culture.  We worship and demonize it at the same time.  We see it as the holy grail or petty and shallow.   And we don’t want others to think we only appreciate them for how they look.  (See last week’s post as proof of this.)

The result? We can’t fully accept it — either in ourselves or others.  And that’s really not healthy.

There is a great independent video by teenage Chicago student, Shea Glover, that’s being circulated in social media.  One day she took her video camera to school, stopped individual kids — some she’s friends with and some she isn’t — and told them that they were beautiful.  It is a must see!  Every teenager she approached looked different.  Some were girls and some were boys.  Their skin colors, styles and facial features represented every look you can imagine.

What strikes me is how almost all of them reacted in the exact same way.

First, each is surprised, even shocked, at being called beautiful.

Second, each giggled with embarrassment by the compliment, and responded with a degree of disbelief (one of her friends even curses at her!)

Finally, they all smile — I mean REALLY smile  — with happiness and gratitude.  As one said: “That is so nice.  This has been such a great day.”

Glover explains on YouTube: “I want to clarify that my intentions were not to get a reaction out of people.  I was simply filming beauty and this is the result.”  For more on the video, “Things I find Beautiful”, read this story.

It’s a simple but powerful video.  While it only features teenagers, I bet you most of us, no matter our age, would react similarly.  It shows us that we still have a long way to go to feel confident about how we look.  And it also reminds us that we need to raise the next generation — our kids, students, loved ones — to not shy away from their beauty but appreciate it.  Not only will they feel better about themselves, but will see the amazing variety of beauty in others!  As the video concludes: “There is so much beauty in the world.  If you blink, you will miss it.”

What is also so clear to me is power of making others feel beautiful.  This few seconds of interaction with Glover gave each of these kids a wonderful boost.  Imagine if they felt this beautiful everyday!?!

What can we do?  Appreciate our own beauty for one thing.  But also help others appreciate theirs.  Think of what it would like if we told at least one person every day that we thought he or she were beautiful?  Maybe it’s a friend or total stranger.  Plus, it’s easy!  And it doesn’t cost anything.  The result is so worth it. Oh, and your kids and friends will see you do this and maybe, just maybe do the same.

Hey, we are in the middle of the holiday season, scratching our heads as to what to give are friends and loved ones.  How about whole-heartedly  complimenting them on their individual beauty?!  That’s pretty a nice gift.

Of course we are a lot more than just physical beings.  But as this video shows, appreciating all of our outward beauty can make us feel oh so beautiful on the inside too.

Boys Feel It Too: Negative Body Image

The cultural conversation on body image issues is almost always centered around girls and young women.  Rarely does the conversation point the laser on boys and what they face.  Case in point: when looking online for an image of young boys looking in the mirror, I had to scroll for 25 minutes.  But when I changed the search from boys to girls, I came across many pics with in seconds!
Unfortunately, many more boys are displaying the signs of negative body image as well, according to a post by Dr. Peggy Drexel in the Huffington Post, Beauty and the Boy:The Impact of Negative Body Image on Our Boys.  While the expectations by boys of their bodies is different from those of girls, i.e. boys seek a muscular, built up physique versus a thin toned body, the anxiety associated with them is just as apparent.  Boys feel the need to work out all the time and many thrive on the attention they receive from their bodies versus other aspects of themselves.  They see themselves as more manly because of how they look.  Drexel calls this “gender typing.”
But even more important, Drexel points out that a boy’s intense desire for a “masculine” physique manifests itself in more than just the physical realm.  It stunts their emotional growth.  She writes:
“Gender typing is believed to impede emotional development and account for violent behavior in boys. Boys who don’t feel pressured to adhere to gender roles, on the other hand, grow up to be more independent, more open-minded, and more sexually tolerant than their peers. They are more respectful of themselves, and of women.”
Wow.  I’m all for my boys getting fit, even building some muscles.  But letting them turn into neanderthals?  No way.
Not only do we have to give the same pep talks to our boys as we do to our girls about loving their bodies, but we have to ensure that they don’t focus on assuming a very strict image of how a man should look.  There’s no one ideal, just a body that’s healthy and vigorous.

Should we give our children false hopes?

I came across an interesting blog post which was a reaction to a piece in the Huffington Post.  The original piece stressed the importance of making children feel beautiful, no matter if their appearances do or don’t “comply” with cultural norms around beauty.
Who could argue with this point of view, right? First, we all think our children are beautiful because we love them. And, second, why must we assume that society’s vision of beauty should be adopted by us anyway?
But after reading the second blog post, “Beauty is more that skin deep:why don’t I believe that?” , I started seeing it another way.  The author calls bullshit on the first article saying that children learn pretty quickly whether society at large deems them beautiful. And parents’ vehement claims of their children’s beauty is not only false but even harmful.   Her answer is to urge parents not to “lie” to their children but instead downplay the importance of beauty all together.  That way, an ugly child won’t be naively shielded from reality but also not be concerned by it at the same time.  For example, I’m a terrible soccer player.  I have no coordination.  But I don’t care.  It just doesn’t matter to me.
At first, I found this argument sensible.  But then I realized that an appreciation of beauty is inherent to the human condition.  To believe that we can downplay the importance among our children is ridiculous.  Of course it shouldn’t be among the most critical traits we cultivate.  But ignoring, downplaying or, at the worst, shunning it, does no one any good.  It sets up a false reality and doesn’t prepare our children well.
Plus, I believe anyone CAN be beautiful.  Perhaps some have to work harder than others but I think we should embrace beauty and support anyone who chooses to express it.