Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

You Are Beautiful

17 Comments

Sugar here.

Wow, I am not sure Facebook is at all good for me.  My FB friends seem to curate a lot of articles that are about parenting, NONE of which is a good idea to read (change it! fix it! make it better! you suck, btw!) and then there was that tear-jerker IKEA ad in Spanish today about how all kids want for Christmas is for you to spend more time with them.  Dude, Ikea, I know that, and I would love to, but I have this job thing.  Thanks for making me feel super guilty about not being rich enough to stay home.

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about is this other thing I saw today that pops up on Facebook on a regular basis.  It’s about how to talk to your daughter about her body.  You’ve probably seen it.  It goes a little like this:

“How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works. Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight. If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that…Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one….Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter…”

While I don’t want to troll well-meaning friends on Facebook, or to post an entire essay in FB comments, I want to say somewhere that I really disagree with this.  Really.  Very much disagree.

I do not find this to be an inspiring message, but rather one that erases joy.

Imagine how this would play out in real life.  Negative messages are pouring in from all sides.  Possibly the child herself is hearing from other actual people at school or on the street that she looks bad, wrong, or ugly.  Even if not, the whole world is telling her she isn’t good enough and doesn’t look perfect through the pervasive images and messages on every billboard, television program, and magazine ad. In this poisonous atmosphere, how is the silence of your closest family to be interpreted? As support?  Probably not.  More likely as disapproval, hesitance to voice the awful truth, shame, or disgust.

I think that much more to the point would be a countervaling and voiced opinion that the child is beautiful.  Period.

I am not saying that being beautiful should be the only thing or the main thing that a parent complements about a girl.  It would be best to mostly talk about other things — how strong, or smart, or fast, or whatever, that she is — but that sometimes, not too infrequently, it would also be nice to tell her that she is beautiful.  Beauty is something that our culture values a great deal.  One way to change everyone’s perception of what falls into that category would be to talk about a lot more kinds of people and bodies as beautiful.  With words.  Out loud.

I feel strongly about this issue because I don’t have to imagine how parental silence on this topic would play out in real life, I know.  I was “the ugly girl” starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.  To be jeered at in the halls, to be the butt of jokes, and to be certain myself of how completely awful I looked was a basic fact of my life.  I don’t know what my parents thought of my appearance. They never said.  I didn’t ask.  I assumed that compliments they gave me in other areas stemmed from their ideals (I was smart, I was good at art) but also covered up the big unmentionable dreadful thing, which was my completely unacceptable appearance.

As an adult I now realize that my parents probably had no idea of what I experienced in school.  But that is my point.  You don’t necessarily know what everyone else is saying to a kid, and silence is so vague, so hard to account for, and so easy to assign an unintended meaning to.

Now that I am nearly forty I usually feel that I am over the bullying I experienced in school.  I’ve been surprised to find that mentioning the whole “ugly girl” thing is fairly taboo.  Twice recently I mentioned (in a normal conversational context about high school, or whatever) that this happened to me, only to be met with horrified silence and a quick change of topic.  I don’t know what that is, but it feels related to the persistent assertion that if you are the right sort of person, then the best way to deal with the body and how it looks to NOT TO DISCUSS IT.  Why?  If it’s so important to the world that people be beautiful, and it seems to be, let’s try to take charge of the conversation by participating in it.  Otherwise the only voices out there are the wrong ones.

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17 thoughts on “You Are Beautiful

  1. Wow. I haven’t been reading blogs at all, and I decided to check my reader today after many months. This was my most recent post, and it is so incredibly profound.

    I really don’t believe in that shit, but I think I was meant to read this. I’ve read all those other posts you were talking about, and I never thought about this.

    I don’t think this should just be here on your blog. I think you should publicly post it, share it, proliferate it. I think this is a counterpoint that needs to be heard. I needed to hear it. I was that girl, too, and it still didn’t click. Thanks for this post.

  2. Beauty, sigh.

    I have done my best to destroy every picture of me from the 6th and 7th grade, except for one I keep in my house to look at when things get really bad. Because nothing, nothing at all, can be as bad as I looked and felt in those years. I don’t believe people who say we should just “get over” this kind of trauma–and let me be clear, when for 7 hours a day, five days a week, one is being bullied in some fashion, it is trauma. I’m turning 50 next week, I still remember the one day in high school, one whole day, where nobody picked on me. I’m sorry people are shutting you down, because I think you should just speak louder.

    Tell your daughter she is beautiful every single day. And Sugar, honestly, I would never have guessed you were the “ugly girl” because that is so NOT who you are now. For real.

  3. I’ve seen the article, though I haven’t read it, but really hadn’t given any thought to it. This is a lovely and important analysis– thanks.

  4. Not american, so I don’t really know what it must be to live on a continent that in my eyes seems obsessed with this. What I remember from school is that I was picked on because I was smart and getting the highest grades.
    Is it old school to teach to take care of your body, to love and nurture it, keep it healthy? To explain that commercials aren’t real, and that we value real people for who they are?

    It does not seem natural to avoid talking about sudden weight gain or loss, it seems there might be emotions or reasons that go with it? That a child or teenager should not have to go through alone?

    I couldn’t agree more with you than ” to talk about a lot more kinds of people and bodies as beautiful”

  5. So very true. I agree with pomegranate that this needs to be shared more widely. Facebook it too? Xx

  6. Thanks everyone. I just put this up (not very changed) on Medium and shared on Facebook. Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. I definitely agree. I also don’t know how it would play out when my daughter asks me directly if she looks pretty. Do I look pretty, mommy? *crickets*. Yeah, no. I look back at pictures of myself as a child, where I felt so ugly, and seeing them now I was so beautiful. I don’t know how it will be down the line when people look at her and don’t see it, but it breaks my heart to think that she wouldn’t be able to come home in the middle of that and have us telling her she is the loveliest thing that we have ever laid eyes upon. Which is the absolute truth, even if she won’t believe it when we tell her.

  8. Thank you. I’m so sorry about your experience. Mine was more that of being bullied for being smart, but I also remember feeling unpretty. And I don’t want my kids to experience either, although obviously my control is limited.

  9. My step-Dad used to call me fat and ugly. My aunts were always on at me to do something with my hair and oh, dear, spots, and maybe lose weight (actually, they haven’t changed) and people were always remarking on how very pretty my sisters were… So I assumed I was the ugly one. My mother was HORRIFIED when we discussed this as adults and I matter of factly said something about my role as the ‘ugly sister’. Of COURSE I wasn’t the ugly one. ‘So why did you let everyone say I was ugly and never tell me I looked just fine?’ My mother squirmed. ‘Because that would be spoiling you and making you vain…’ And we looked at each other, the woman who had reached her 40s under the impression her own mother thought she was the lumpy potato of all her daughters, and the woman who was so convinced it was obvious her daughter was lovely that she didn’t dare tell her so in case she became one of those obnoxious vain little queen bee bullies…

  10. This is the most insightful thing I’ve read in months.

    Sugar, I’ve seen photos and you are beautiful.

  11. I tell my children they are beautiful now, so it makes sense that I shouldn’t stop doing so. I also agree that there have to be positive ways to talk about weight changes and the various shapes that beautiful comes in. I’m thinking about the messages I got from my parents…that I was too skinny, that I was frumpy, that looks aren’t important, that making an effort to be pretty was a waste of time… All a bit confusing and unhelpful. My spouse doesn’t tell me I’m beautiful and I definitely conclude that he doesn’t think I am… Anyway, very good stuff.

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