We’d all like to think that appearances don’t matter as much as what’s on the inside does. But if you haven’t heard, even researchers have to sadly admit that better looking people get better jobs and make more money in those jobs than their less attractive counterparts, even if they’re less qualified. Alarmingly, current research is showing that kids are becoming more and more concerned about their appearances earlier and earlier. The connection between self esteem and appearance is becoming more pronounced, and it’s not just teenage girls that are feeling the pinch – boys and tween are also becoming less and less content with what they see in the mirror.
Unfortunately, while we as parents may be giving lip service to the notion that looks don’t mean as much as kindness, smarts, or empathy, we may be inadvertently sending mixed messages ourselves. If we’re paying undue attention to our own appearance (or theirs), or commenting regularly on how attractive other people are, or behaving differently toward the better looking people we come across, our kids pick up on the fact that while we would like for looks not to matter, we know deep down that they really do.
So how do we not get sucked into the vicious cycle of rewarding beauty and ignoring ugliness ourselves? A conversation with your kids is, as usual, a great place to start. They may have already noticed that the prettier or better looking kids in the class get more attention and favours, so don’t try to tell them that looks don’t matter. They’ll see right through that, and you’ll just come across as being completely out of touch with reality. Instead, talk about the unfairness, and how things will never change if we all continue to buy into the myth that beauty matters most. Have a conversation about the pressures they feel and how fabricated the images they look at are. (The Dove beauty campaign has a great video on the making of a print ad – right down to digitally altering the model’s features. Take a look, if you haven’t already seen it, it’s called “Evolution.”)
Acknowledge and encourage all of the great things your kids do, not just their appearances. Physical activity and healthy eating are two loving things your kids can do for themselves that have a positive impact on their mental and physical health, as well as their self esteem. Speaking of self esteem, keep in mind this definition by Dr. Jane Nelsen: The belief that I count, I am capable, and I can control what happens to me or how I respond. Notice that there isn’t a single mention in there about appearance. We need to work at separating how we feel about our looks from how we feel about ourselves – and then we need to help our kids do the same.