Lately, I've caught myself telling my not-yet 2 1/2-year-old daughter things like "you look so beautiful in that dress," and "let me brush your hair so you look pretty."
These seem like harmless remarks, until I realize that I virtually never say anything to my son about his appearance. If he wants to wear the same T-shirt and shorts two days in a row, fine. Combing his hair is completely optional.
I would love it if my children grew up to value themselves and others for who they are, not what they look like. I think this may be easier for boys than it is for girls, since so much advertising is directed towards girls and women with the aim to create a feeling of dissatisfaction with one's body in order to sell cosmetics, clothes and other products.
A world where people are indifferent to physical characteristics like the color of someone's skin, hair and eyes, height and weight, and style of clothing would be a better world. We would judge ourselves and others by looking for truly important characteristics such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, courage, cooperativeness, patience, respectfulness, tolerance and self-respect, instead of appearance.
A few years ago, the company that makes Dove soap surveyed women around the world, and found that women have very low levels of satisfaction with their appearance. The report says "only five percent feel comfortable describing themselves as pretty and a mere nine percent feel comfortable describing themselves as attractive. Additionally, just 13 percent of women say they are very satisfied with their beauty; 12 percent say they are very satisfied with their physical attractiveness; 17 percent are very satisfied with their facial attractiveness; and only 13 percent are very satisfied with their body weight and shape."
The same study found that 68 percent of women believe that "the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can't ever achieve."
I once had a roommate who subscribed to Cosmopolitan, Glamour and other women's magazines and spent hours each month reading every word. She was beautiful - but she was also one of the unhappiest people I've ever known, forever trying new diets and spending more money than she had on clothes and make-up. Had she put this energy into studying, she might have a college degree now.
The reality is that we live today in a world where looks matter. To some, they matter a lot. The best we can do is teach children to do their best to look beyond physical appearance at the human characteristics that matter the most.
For parents and caregivers, it's important to serve as role models and show children that appearance does not matter as much as behavior.
Here is some good advice from (www.campaignforrealbeauty.com):
? Don't make comments about anyone's size or weight, especially as a "joke."
? Make sure that your child knows that you love them regardless of their size or weight.
? Treat fat and thin, tall and short, dark and fair (etc.) children the same.
? Build self-confidence and self-esteem through a range of activities, both physical and non-physical.
? Build good self-esteem in all children for who they are and what they do, not how they look.
? Feel proud of your child, regardless of their size or weight.
? Be creative and assertive in finding the right clothing and equipment for your child.
? Encourage healthy eating and physical activity for the entire family.
? Don't feel guilty or ashamed if you or your child is fat.
? Be aware of advertising and toys aimed at children. Notice how they reinforce gender stereotypes and body dissatisfaction. Encourage a conversation about how the child in your care views the advertisement or the toy. Foster critical thinking ... and playfulness.
? Work toward identifying and resisting all forms of discrimination. Remember that prejudice against size and body relates to prejudice based on sex, race, sexuality, class and physical ability.
Kathryn B. Brown worked as a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner before coming to work for the East Oregonian, sister paper to the Chinook Observer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.