Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

Beautiful Like Me: Conformity is a Trap

Beautiful Like Me

It’s 6:10 AM and I’m sitting here still trying to decide what to write about for the bi-weekly Beautiful Like Me post, so please bear with me as I ramble a bit. Today’s article is supposed to address the question, What features/qualities would we like today’s children to see as beautiful?

As usual, I’ve been thinking about this since WickedStepMom gave us the topic two weeks ago, but I’m still struggling. There are so many things I want Aaron to think of as beautiful-courage, empathy, intelligence, compassion, humility, family, feminism, love and health all come to mind, but I’m not sure how to tie them into the project’s main focus of helping children create a positive self esteem and body image without writing a book here. I’m quite positive that I want Aaron to regard these qualities as more important than external beauty—his or anyone else’s. I also know that how I answer this question through my own actions will significantly influence how he regards himself and the women he’ll encounter throughout his life.

Parenting a son gives me a unique opportunity to help change the dialogue about old stereotypes, male/female relationships, gender rolls and social conformity. I don’t actually know how to change the dialogue, but I’m working on it. I don’t think we can abandon the ideas of traditional beauty, or that we need to. I’m not going to stop all the mixed messages our children are bombarded with regarding what’s supposed to be the perfect body or how to define beauty, but I hope to influence how Aaron processes those messages and the importance he places on them.

Saturday I took Aaron for a hair cut and sitting in the chair next to him was a 14-year-old girl. She was having her bangs trimmed and it was quite a production between her and her mother. The mom kept saying, It’s your hair, I don’t have an opinion. Do whatever you want to do. And although she was saying the words, her body language was providing the real conversation. Huffs and twitches every time the girl asked the stylist to take just a tiny bit more from her bangs, awkward silences when she repeatedly asked her mom for an opinion, and everyone in the room could feel the tension—the mom’s anger and the girl’s sadness, frustration and uncertainty. At one point the young girl said, “But Mom, I asked my friends and they all said I’d look better with shorter bangs.”

Just then, the stylist cutting Aaron’s hair turned to me and said, “How’s this Mom? Are his bangs short enough or do you want me to take more off?” I almost said, They’re perfect-don’t cut any more. Instead I said, “Let’s ask him. Aaron, how do your bangs feel? Do you like them or do you want her to cut them shorter?” He looked at himself in the mirror, ran his hands through his hair, turned to the stylist and asked, “Can you make them smaller? I don’t like it when they grow big.”  And so she did.

My wonderful sister-in-law shared the following story with me, which I think speaks volumes about all the little messages we give daily, often without awareness or intent, and how recognizing these messages helps us to re frame experiences and set new goals. Thanks for sharing Auntie Em.

Over the past few months it’s become more and more apparent to me how easily influenced kids really are. I don’t think of myself as a girly girl by any means, but I do wear a bit of makeup and jewelry for work. Like most 3-year- olds, this process intrigues Anna and after a few weeks of watching me, she asked one morning if she too could use some colors. I didn’t see the harm, and humored her by letting her pick out an eye shadow color, I then pretend to put a little on her eye lids. Saturday night when driving to a friend’s house for a surprise party, I endured a 20 minute tantrum about lipstick. Anna was convinced that without lipstick she would not be beautiful, a fact that I was completely shocked by. She has one fake tube of lipstick, and I haven’t used lipstick since my wedding day almost 5 years ago. I offered other solutions such as red Chap Stick, pretending to use lipstick and any other form of reason I could come up with. Nothing would work, she just wasn’t beautiful. A side trip to her favorite hotspot, the grocery store, and all was forgotten. I know as she gets older it won’t be so easy to distract her or find a way around issues. If she was older, she probably would have just gone and bought lipstick herself when I wasn’t looking. I am not sure how she is already associating beauty with things like lipstick, but my conclusion is that even when we don’t mean to, we are influencing our kids. This time is was harmless, and there will probably be fifty more incidents like this before one becomes an issue. However, it’s taught me that even when you think you’re doing something harmless, it can have a negative impact down the road.

In my first Beautiful Like Me project post, I wrote about how I think it’s important to develop a passion, something you love to do and want to excel in. When you find a passion, something you can lose yourself to, believe in…the idea of being just like everyone else, looking like everyone else thinks you should look becomes less appealing, and that’s the core of the internal dialogue I want to help Aaron develop, for himself and the people he chooses to surround himself with—conformity is not a goal, it’s a trap.

If you have a little time, stop by and read posts from other bloggers who are tackling this topic, and if you’ve joined in and written a post today but aren’t listed below, please let us know.

For more on the Beautiful Like Me Project, please visit the main project page. and consider joining in for the next post, May 18th when we’ll banter around on the question, In your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem?

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18 comments to Beautiful Like Me: Conformity is a Trap

  • Wow, wow, wow! I wish the mom of the girl in the other chair could read your post today! Excellent job. I love it and I love how you were able to recognize what was happening and not repeat the mistake. Would you have been thinking about it without this project on your mind? I wonder. This project is helping me, a person who normally brags of being observant, to take in experiences I’d been completely overlooking before.

    Lisa Ps last blog post..The Questions Get Harder

  • It seems we all want our children to cherish their individuality. That’s fantastic, because the more we encourage that, the more accepting they will be of others.
    Good for you for giving Aaron the freedom of his own opinion. That shows him how much you respect him.
    It also sounds like your SIL is doing just fine with her daughter. Yes, she may worry about the influence of makeup on the girl’s idea of beauty, but she’s reflective and responsive enough that she is already doing a great job addressing it!

    Cates last blog post..Beautiful Like Me: Strength in Self

  • Tricia

    @Lisa: You’re absolutely right! I wouldn’t have noticed this as a teachable moment AT ALL, nor would I have thought to give a 5-year-old control of his hair cut if it wasn’t for all the topic chewing I’ve been doing for this project.

    @Cate: It’s true isn’t it that to teach respect, we have to give it. I’m a big believer in this one, but sometimes I forget that it needs to apply to our children. My SIL is a great mom, thanks for your comment.

  • Jan

    I learned a long, long time ago to pick your battles with kids. The battles over hair and clothes are not the ones you want to pick, as long as the hair and the clothes are clean and the clothes in reasonably good shape (considering the last few years’ fashion trend of “distressed” clothing, particularly jeans, that point is a bit blurred). Battles over ethics, morals, behavior, right and wrong are FAR more important – don’t waste your time on the fights you will NOT win.

    Besides, my mother constantly nagged me about my weight while I was growing up, and while I was always a plump child, I was not fat by any means (that didn’t happen until adulthood). I had an absolutely crappy body image as a result. Looking back at pictures of myself, I was so pretty but I thought I was hideous and huge – and I’ve never forgiven my mother for that. As my kids grew up, I made sure I never EVER criticized them for their weight or looks and made sure that I appreciated them for the qualities that make them the people they are – their intelligence, wit, talents, compassion, morals.

    The awkward middle school years aside, my kids are far more self-confident than I ever was, at any of their ages. They rejoice in and embrace differences in people. And I’m damn proud of them.

    Jans last blog post..Beef and Cheese Enchiladas

  • Can I just say, me too? As mothers of sons it can be unclear (to me at least) just how much my worda and actions influence their perception of beauty, normalcy, etc. I find that I am considering my words more carefully than ever for fear of sending the wrong messages. Without a dounbt, I do not want them to feel the need to conform and I certainly do not want to covertly indicate otherwise. It’s serious business, this mommy thing!!

    Danielles last blog post..Beautiful Like Me

  • I think beauty is in a person who has a healthy and positive outlook. That and a big smile is what the world needs, and will take anyone anywhere they wanna go!

    garys last blog post..THE WINNER IS….

  • Knowing body language can be really helpful when you have kids. That, an knowing how to manage difficult conversations.
    I recently learned that our nose also becomes bigger when we lie. It’s known as the PInocchio resposne:

    ciels last blog post..The color red makes men feel more amorous toward women

  • I spent the bulk of my life trying to conform so I’d blend in and not stand out. Now I look back on those years as wasted misspent youth. I’ve tried to teach my children to be different….be themselves but apparently they’ve learned a different message from my actions. Oh how I wish we could have do-overs in life.

    Midlife Slicess last blog post..O.k. Here’s The Deal That’s NO Big Deal

  • I hear you … which is why my seven year old is sporting a mohawk!!!

    Great post! As parents we are always learning, and let me say that with each child I have to learn something new!!!!

    Aaron is so lucky to have a mommy like you!

    Amy @ Five Flower Moms last blog post..Beautiful Like Me: Kindness

  • Tricia

    @Jan: I agree on the idea that you have to pick your battles, or at least that the battles you mention are really the ones most worthy, and I think Aaron started teaching me that before he turned a year old!! I love how you take your own experiences, grow with them and use them to shape the life you want for you and your children. You have lots to be proud of!!

    @Danielle: It’s unclear to me too. I keep thinking about it, muddling it over, but I keep coming back to wonder if how our son’s see the men in our lives treat us will in fact provide a message with more impact about acceptance and beauty and strength. I have no clue, really, but I do think little boys want to be like their dads, so even though it’s important we moms are aware, I think dads need to really be thinking about it as well. I wonder if they do? I wish we had some dads weighing in on all of this and I wonder if I way over think everything (I’ve been known to do it), and is over thinking everything a mom phenomenon, or a general parenting phenomenon.

    @Gary: I love big smiles too…giving and receiving.

    @Ciel: Ahhhh….I”m still working on the difficult conversations piece, and suspect it’ll get much more complicated as my little guy continues to mature. Lately my son has been asking a ton of questions about death and violence and bad guys, and I’m struggling with these concepts and a 5-year-old.

    @Midlife Slices: I bet you set tons of good examples for your kids, and continue to do so for your grandchildren.

    @Amy: I’m not sure how lucky Aaron is, but thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m quite sure he’ll need many years of therapy and will blame me for all sorts of things. I’m not sure I’d let him have a Mohawk. Seriously, it brings up an interesting point. There’s conformity, which on its face is dull and pandering, and then there are things that would make me jump up and down…like a Mohawk. I’m a hypocrite I realize, but there are certain things that contain messages in themselves…like pierced lips and Mohawks I associate with anti-social or deviant behavior, so although I don’t want Aaron to be a conformist, or any child, I have obvious prejudices about appearances. And then I wonder how much of those prejudices have to do with other people’s perceptions of me as a parent. Would I “worry” about what people would think of me if Aaron was walking around with a Mohawk, or a pierced lip, nose and cheek, as well as worry about what automatic, negative, assumptions they’d make about him? Humm…maybe you just gave me my Wondering on Wednesday post.

  • I am so behind today!

    Tricia, your story of the girl at the hair salon is all too common. I see it all the time. And it makes me so sad for those poor children who’s parents are tearing them down without realizing it.

    WickedStepMoms last blog post..Beautiful Like Me: What should be beautiful?

  • I can definitely see where you’re coming from! Conformity can definitely be a trap. It’s a fine line to let your child explore their own personality without pushing your own agenda on them.

    Sprite’s Keepers last blog post..HASAY: I am beautiful, no matter what I say.

  • Please forgive me for commenting and not reading yet. I left a little something for you over at my place. I’ll be back later to read. MHS is starting Jack on the DVR. Gotta go.

    Smart Mouth Broads last blog post..I’D LIKE TO THANK THE ACADEMY

  • donna

    Great blog Tricia.
    I must tell you of the story of a friend who has a boy, and this young boy wanted to do what all the kids were doing, color the tips of his hair blond. His father came in to the store and talked to me about it and was adamant about not letting his son color the tips of his hair. Then he asked me my opinion (just what I was waiting for). I told him that it was only hair, it grows out very quickly and that it was “just hair”. The father went home and thought about this, then came back to me and said I was right. I told the father that if he would like I would do it for him and it wouldn’t have to cost him a thing. We did it. The young man loved it for about a week and then decided that it really wasn’t him and he cut it all out. So, the moral of this story is to let them find their own likes and dislikes. It is “only hair”. Good for you Amy for letting him experience this, it is not a harmful way to express himself. The father has thanked me many times now, he realized it was a harmless thing to do. Kids need to find their own identities, not ours. We have already found ours. If it is not harmful let them do it. How else will they learn who they are. Any way.

  • Tricia

    @WickedStepMom: It’s the unawareness that baffles me the most.

    @Spirte’s Keeper: Absolutely true. We all have our own set of expectations for our kids, big and small, it’s hard to separate ours from theirs and give theirs wings.

    @Smart Mouth Broad: How could I ever hold anything against you :o )

    @Donna: I love this story and that you actually colored the boy’s hair for him. I know you’re right, the principle is dead-on, in my opinion, and I freely admit to being a hypocrite about this. I still think there are certain looks that unintentionally speak to attitude and values…like Mohawks or face piercings and I associate them with deviant behavior. I don’t want my child to portray those characteristics, and I’m really not sure what I’ll do if we have to cross that bridge. I realize this is my own prejudice, or really it’s a larger societal prejudice, but I’m fully guilty on this one.

  • Great post here! The haircut story was bothersome. I’d have to remind myself to breath deeply if I were there. To this day I usually get my hair cut by my husband and I keep my hair VERY simple. It’s all the same length so that a quick snip, snip, snip around the ends is all I need. If I color my hair, I do it myself. I simply cannot stand all that I see in the beauty shop (or the costs involved). I’ll occasionally have to get something done there, but I avoid it when possible. I guess I’m totally weird that way. Er, um, that way and many others, of course. ;)

  • Bravo! So much to accomplish here and you did it beautifully!

    Smart Mouth Broads last blog post..THE MAKING OF A BIKER CHICK – Cody, Wyoming

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