Thursday, October 15, 2015

If Looks Could Kill

This topic has been simmering inside for a long time now, and today it boiled over. The "straw" was an article on my Facebook feed re: how women shouldn't wear bras because recent studies show they cause loss of tone. My first thought was "I only wear one in public to minimize body-shaming." I believe an awful lot of us whip those bras off the moment we're home. My second thought was "How pitiful is that, and how dare anyone judge me for where my breasts point?"

Crap like this makes regular appearances on the web:
Celebrities who've aged badly

Fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, wrinkles-shaming, beer-belly-shaming. We're bombarded with it.

Human obsession with appearance is out of control. I have close friends and family members who have been told their whole lives how beautiful they are, like sisters where one is The Pretty One and the others something else. The inherent danger here, of course, is if you're told something enough times, you come to believe it about yourself, and it becomes a large part of your identity. You start to believe that's where your value lies, that's all you are. My own (admittedly beautiful) granddaughter may be in danger of this, at only 7 years old. No sign of it yet, but I regularly am told how gorgeous she is, as is she.

I was 9 when a relative began abusing me sexually, 16 when it stopped. Not until my early 30s was I able to begin to erase the hard-wired message in my brain that my looks were my primary asset. To this day, I get a white-hot stab of anger when a man compliments me on some physical aspect of my appearance. Naturally,  at 62 that's happening quite rarely, LOL! Years of abusing my health have begun to pay off in that respect! I finally learned to just say "Thanks" and let it go, unless I know the person well enough to explain how I feel about physical compliments.

Appearance is NOTHING in the grand scheme. Skin-deep and transitory. It absolutely WILL go away in time, and you better hope there's self-worth underneath it.

Starting with children, how much better for them to hear "What a fantastic reader you are! You must have worked really hard to be that good!" than "Oh, you're going to be breaking hearts all over with those eyes!"

Compliment their effort, generosity, kindness, sportsmanship, devotion. Qualities that matter. 

I know some of you don't get it. What's wrong with telling a pretty child she's pretty? Nothing, unless she hears only that, and her self-worth depends on hearing it. Then there are 7 year-olds obsessed with dieting and thinness, 15 year-olds wanting botox and plastic surgery. Sexual acting out, seeking validation. Absolute belief that they must be sexy or alluring at all times. Trust me. I have at least 4 close adult friends or family members that post at least one provocative selfie of themselves WEEKLY.

And a segue here: false praise can backfire as well. If all a child hears is how smart they are, what happens in college when it turns out everyone else is just as smart, or smarter? Or the child who's told he's the best hitter in baseball ever. Self-esteem earned through achievement is the goal, not a trophy for showing up. A more specific compliment might be "Great job on your math quiz, your hard work really shows!" rather than "You are SO smart!". To set a high goal, to work hard to achieve it and to succeed: that's where self-worth comes from.