I came a little late to this one, but I finally got around to reading an article from huffington post on one woman’s quest to make little girls not quite so obsessed with their physical appearance. I think we all can agree that is no mean feat these days. She mentions a number of tactics: asking girls about books they are reading, about their opinions on world events, anything other than telling them how cute they are.
She seems to be on the right track, but it got me thinking: I like to be told I am cute, or I am pretty. Is there something wrong with me for liking this? I don’t think there is. It is our nature to want to be pleasing to others; I have heard aspects of love described as delighting in another’s delight of oneself. We want to be attractive to people, in whatever form that may take.
So I don’t think that we should never tell girls or women that their appearances are pleasing to us. I think we should teach them what that really means.
The images of women that we exalt as “pretty” (or more accurately, “hot”) do not look pretty. They look easy. They look f**kable. I know that is crass, but after hearing an author use the term recently I realized it is the only term crass enough to describe the images with which we are bombarded. So the problem perhaps is not mommy and daddy letting their child know that by looking at her they delight in her, but the child learning that being pretty means being titillating.
(this is where, if I weren’t so tired, I would insert a rant about how some women dress for church. If you look in the mirror and think “damn I look sexy” that is probably not the right look for mass. I’ll save the rest of the rant for another time and just say this: there is a difference between elegant and sexy)
We engage in easy lament over teenagers with implants and toddlers with tiaras, but it’s just that: easy. We don’t get into the real issue of what it means to be attractive and what our self-manipulation does to us and others. If I am my best self: funny, clever, loving, and enthusiastic, and also happen to look well put together, I will be attractive and that will be pleasing to me. If I change myself: wear too much makeup at bars late at night, or finally starve myself down to a culturally acceptable weight, I may also attract people, but they will be attracted to a shallow lie, and I will have lost myself in the process.
It’s not just that girls don’t ever learn who they are, but that most kids don’t. Most humans don’t, and there are powerful forces keeping us from getting to know ourselves. Because if we know who we truly are, we don’t need to buy the crap they’re selling us to make us the people we want to be. We already are who we want to be, by being who we are meant to be, and accepting that our truest selves are what inspires the truest delight.
Behold God beholding you…and smiling. -Anthony de Mello, SJ.