Should we stop telling our children they are beautiful? Women’s minister, Jo Swinson, thinks so. At first I didn’t agree, then about a nano second later, I did. Now, I’m just unsure.
First up, telling someone they are beautiful is the ultimate compliment in our image obsessed society. But, I’m not sure that very young children have any clue of its wider implications. It’s only as children get older that they have any comprehension of how they look and their impact on the world. Being a beautiful person can mean on the inside as well as the outside and I’d hate to even have to think twice about paying that compliment. Jo Swinson’s rationale is that parents are sending the message that looks are the most important thing needed for success.
So, maybe we need to be more careful about how we call people and our children beautiful? Maybe she has a point that obsession with how you – and others – look is unhealthy. On the one hand, it is important to be well presented (and beauty has nothing to do with that – that’s about good grooming), but on the other, it’s a very harsh world if people are excluded from jobs or social groups because of how they look.
Being beautiful in looks isn’t the core of who a person is and actually it shouldn’t matter, so why as parents, do we dish out beauty as such a ready compliment?
The beauty industry is very good at knocking us down to build us back up again – I can think of many campaigns that have us too fat, too lumpy, too spotty – too anything really – but as luck would have it, they can save us! All we have to do is buy the product. And kids see this stuff too. We have a generation of children growing up thinking you need a specific deodorant to spare you from unsightly armpits, for example. They know what cellulite is; they think ageing is an enemy (they also think they’ll never be that age!) rather than natural and they think if they can have the same lip gloss as a celebrity, somehow a little bit of that celebrity beauty will rub off on them. The beauty industry has a part to play in building self-esteem from the ground up; young men and women don’t need to be constantly bashed with imagery of the ‘beautiful’ and Jo Swinson’s statistics that one in four children aged 10 to 15 is unhappy with the way they look is quite shocking. At ten, you don’t like how you look? Is being called beautiful by your mum going to change the way you feel? Probably you’d rather be called beautiful by a peer to make it stick and that’s a whole world of pain because your peers are far less likely to do so than your mum!
I’ve yet to meet the child who doesn’t like to be complimented or encouraged. But now I think about it, that’s exactly what they want – support and encouragement – everyone thrives on praise, but does it need to involve how they look? Not really.