Saturday, July 11, 2015

On telling young girls that they are pretty

One of the easiest, and thus most frequently-heard, compliments given to little girls is on how pretty they are. This is especially the case with girls you meet on the street or at the park, or friends' kids you're meeting for the first time, etc, since really you don't know them and so looks is all you can go on and you're trying to say something nice, right? So we tell girls they're so pretty, or how much we love their dress or their shoes, and we tell boys they are handsome or tough or some other variation of our preferred masculine traits. As a feminist I bristle at this, and yet I've been known to do it, too. It's automatic, it's ingrained.

The internet has been awash with talk today about Serena Williams after her win at Wimbledon. I don't know much about tennis, but from what I've gathered it sounds like Williams is basically among the most badass athletes we have ever known. And so of course, a lot of the talk about her has been about her incredible accomplishments on the tennis court how her body is "too masculine," too bulky, how she isn't pretty enough, how she "looks like a man." It's awesome to see the great take-downs of many of these horrible comments, but it is still maddening and so very frustrating to see how even this incredible person, who is capable of more than the majority of the rest of us, male or female or any other gender inbetween, is still reduced to her looks. Because our bodies and how pretty our faces are, the clothes we wear and fitting into our oh-so-narrow standards of femininity and beauty, matter more than our actions or achievements.

It sucks to see this start so early, so young, when even little girls are praised for how they look, rather than their creativity, or their athleticism, or love of reading or art or gaming or anything else they may be into.

And yet....

In a world that constantly tells women we aren't good enough, that in order to have value and worth we must abide by beauty standards that are increasingly achievable only via photoshop, that clearly we must need this makeup and that undergarment and do this diet in order to be loved and accepted by others... maybe more girls and women could use people telling us we are beautiful just as we are.

For the first decade of my life I lived in Chile, in a home just blocks away from my Abuelita, my dad's mother. She was your quintessential sweet, loving, doting grandmother. Our whole family (gaggles of cousins, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces) would gather at her apartment for sunday tea every week, the one time of the week when we got to have soda and ice cream. She always had sweets at her house, too, all sorts, and we would play and watch Scooby Doo and other American shows on her tv, and it was just about the best thing ever. When she came to visit us at our house she would always bring small chocolate bars for each of us. But beyond all that, she always seemed genuinely delighted to see us, to spend time with us. I remember her often telling me how beautiful she thought I was, that I was the most beautiful girl in the whole world. She made me feel like I was her favorite. I have no idea if I really was special above any of my other cousins, or if she made each of us feel that way. She just embodied warmth and love (at least as I remember her, how she was with us as kids).

I took in her sweet words, but didn't believe them. For a long time I thought she was crazy to think I was beautiful. Me, pretty? Please. I had a funny nose, and funny teeth, and funny hair. I was odd and clumsy and dumb. But her words kept echoing inside my head, so that in my teens and beyond, years after the last time I heard her voice, I could still hear her telling me that I was the most beautiful girl in the whole world. I eventually started wondering if she might have been right, and tried to see myself through her eyes. Her words were powerful for me.

So I don't know, maybe girls do need hear that they are beautiful, just as they are. I think they need to hear it from people who love them dearly. I think they also need to feel their other qualities valued as well, whether they be strong, curious, creative, playful, passionate, nurturing, athletic, etc. It is imperative for girls to grow up knowing that they are worthy of love and respect just for being who they are. But in a world that constantly criticizes and tries to cut us down based on looks, it may be helpful or even necessary to help girls build a shield of loving compliments.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marcy, I really like this post and agree with you on all fronts here. I do think women need to be reminded that they are beautiful both inside and out, because they are, and they tend to forget it. Love the story about your grandmother. Very sweet. And she was right, you are crazy gorgeous, chica! Miss you tons.



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