Beautiful Like Me: Conformity is a Trap
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.
- One of my very favorite “in-real-life” moms has jumped on board. Stop by Danielle’s at Boys R Us
- WickedStepMom: Life and Times of a Wicked Step Mom
- Amy at Five Flower Mom
- Cate at Nature’s Child
- Lisa – Use Your Wisdom
- Jen- Sprite’s Keeper
- Shaye – Miller Memories
- Saffa Chick - Wanderings of a Saffa Chick
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?