So I love clothes. And I love books. I have friends who can’t stand to read a page of literature and would much rather spend hours pouring over an article in Vogue. And then I have another group of friends who consider clothing as nothing more than an obligatory part of waking up in the morning and don’t find the least bit of interest in fashion as they do in spending hours on end reading every kind of book on the planet.
The fashionistas think that the bookworms are socially inept hermits, and the bookworms think that the fashionistas are shallow airheads. But hey! I love clothes and I love books, goddammit! I care about my looks and my brain, so what the hell am I?
Not only that but I can tell you with complete confidence that I’ve had long and deep conversations about the most philosophical subjects with my fashionista girls and that I’ve shared the most insanely adventurous and stupid-yet-awesome moments of my life with my bookworm friends.
My point being that there is no exclusive importance that needs to be placed on either looks or brains in order for a woman to feel truly unique and beautiful. There just isn’t.
So apparently the author of this article (Lisa Bloom) thinks we should just annihilate any and all forms of praise for physical attributes that a little girl may have so that we don’t unintentionally contribute to her developing a self-image issue in her psyche. Instead of focusing our compliments on how pretty a little girl looks in a dress, we should shower her with encouraging comments about the books she reads or hobbies she enjoys. Anything but tell her that she looks pretty darn cute in her first real pair of big-girl shoes.
According to her advice, leaving out all these remarks on a girl’s physical and external beauty will lead to “one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains.”
Which, hey, I am absolutely and wholeheartedly down for. Anything that can be done to help remove the insane and extremely harmful social standards of physical beauty and self-worth is a great and noble cause in my book.
But I still don’t think that erasing the topic of fashion or physical beauty altogether is going to lead to a whole lot of improvement.
I’ve got a particular friend back in Kuwait who comes to mind here. She’s someone who cares so much about the fashion industry and about keeping up with the latest trends that grace the pages of Vogue magazine that, sometimes, it can be ridiculous. Fashion is, by all means, her true ambition in this life. But yet she has suffered some very hurtful experiences while growing up because of the fact that fashion was her passion. She was immediately discounted by her teachers, her employers, and sometimes even her own family as being “stupid,” “shallow,” and “self-centered.” Yet this girl graduated in my class with a Magna Cum Laude honors and a sky-high GPA.
She was not stupid nor was she, by any means, self-centered or superficial.
And this is the mistake that people make when they opt for the whole “books not looks” praise philosophy. With the best of intentions people make this mistake under the impression that we are promoting something healthy and good but, actually, all we end up doing is substituting one complex for another.
We’re letting girls think that they can either be praised for their looks or their brains, but not both.
And, of course, we need to remind little girls and young women that, in a world where there is so much emphasis being placed on the pressure to look a certain way, that their minds matter too. It’s important for women to talk to other women (and little girls) about books, art, politics, and ideas. But those great efforts don’t erase the fact that there still is a lot of pressure on body image that’s waiting for little girls just beyond their doorsteps. They are going to be bombarded with all kinds of confusing messages about how a girl should externally look and behave no matter what. And it’ll be downright irresponsible of us to leave them with those confusing messages and not address them along with every other “intellectual” thing.
When we don’t talk to girls about clothes or makeup we give them the WRONG AND HARMFUL impression that these things are unimportant and signs of vanity. And when we only ever compliment them about their looks we instill the equally WRONG AND HARMFUL impression that looks are all that matters.
So, what’s to be done here? Compliment girls on how they look AS WELL AS other topics of interest. Let them know that its essentially important to have an appreciation for physical as well as intellectual beauty. AS IN BOTH. AT THE SAME TIME.
As for me, not a single day is going to pass by that I’m not going to tell my little niece how beautiful she looks when I see her. And the more she grows the more I’m going to talk to her about every subject under the sun. I’m going to read to her and then I’m going to go help her pick out her outfit.
Because I want her to take after her auntie: I want her to love clothes and love books.
All my love!