Friday, July 1, 2011

Elements of Style: Does Beauty Matter?

Earlier this week, I was drafting a post on exploring/cultivating my style, when I came across this article on how to talk to little girls.

The gist of the article is that, in general, our first impulse when meeting a little girl is to tell her how very cute/pretty/princessy/adorable/etc she is, and that this teaches girls that how they look is more important in society than any other aspect of who they are - their intelligence, talents or personality. The author connects the dots between this early focus on appearance and our cultural fixation on and pursuit of unrealistic beauty ideals and all of the self esteem issues and other problems associated with it.

Even Dora the Explorer caved to Disney Princess Mania

This got me thinking about looks - whether they matter, why they matter and where to draw a line between vanity, cultural expectations/societal pressures, and good self esteem. I'm not 100% in agreement with the author. I think that strong parenting can do a lot to counter-balance cultural pressures and develop healthy self esteem in both girls and boys. But I do get her point. When Dora the Explorer adds "Princess" to her name and Bratz Dolls are popular for young girls, well, that's a lot of pressures to contend with. 

Bratz Dolls: At least Barbie's lip liner matched her lip stick.

Case in point: I have a niece who I am close with - Miss J - who just turned 13. Miss J is an A student who has a nice group of friends (all "good girls") and a range of activities including chorus and lacrosse. She is currently fighting with her mom over getting a push-up bra. Despite being a normal, healthy weight, she's also shown an increased concern with dieting and her weight lately. 

All of this got me thinking about women and beauty and whether looks are important. I care about my appearance and, generally speaking, I'm happy with the reflection in the mirror. I can't deny it: I do own a push up bra or two, along with many others. For me, taking care of my appearance is part of caring about my person, which is part of how I maintain good self-esteem. And at the end of the day, how we present ourselves to the world affects not only how we are perceived in both social and professional spheres, but often indicates how we feel about ourselves.What kind of role model does this make me?

For little girls, playing with makeup is fun, but where is the line between little girls playing grown up and little girls actually wearing makeup and believing this is something that they need to do to look pretty? Or, that they need push up bras? How do we protect girls from thinking that their looks are the most important thing about them, while at the same time helping them to embrace the reflection in the mirror and care for themselves? How do you teach a girl that the definition of beauty is far too narrow and too artificial?  Where is the healthy balance?

Harmless, girly fun?

Perhaps I was sheltered from much of this because of my own mother. She could have been an "Ivory Girl". During my childhood she didn't wear any cosmetics, jewelry or high heels. She always told me and my sisters how pretty we were, but she did not allow us to grow up fast. I remember the year long campaign my sister, Calliope, and I had to wage before we were allowed to get our ears pierced.

There were times when I had wished that my mom was a better role model and teacher for how to dress or put together an outfit, how to do my makeup and hair, and so on. But, in retrospect, I think perhaps she may have been an even better role model for not teaching me these things; for not placing an outsized importance on appearance. Even as an awkward and chubby teen, in most regards my self esteem was pretty good. I was smart, I had great friends, I excelled academically and I had lots of activities that I was good at.

It wasn't until my early 20's that I began to have a sneaking suspicion that I might perhaps actually be pretty. To be perfectly honest, I think I went away to college an ugly duckling and came home a bit more swan-like. I was a late bloomer that way. And now I feel like I've really hit my stride beauty-wise in my 30's. It would be a lie for me to say that I don't like the skin I'm in. However, feeling like I am an accomplished person with interesting hobbies (sewing! baking!) and that I am strong and fit (running! yoga!) probably has more to do with feeling beautiful, than how I actually look does. I think I project what's inside. 

So, this brings me back to where I stared this post - personal style and the image I want to project. There is no question that I think more about my appearance since I began sewing. But I didn't come to sewing because of any insecurity with my looks. If anything, I am more comfortable and confident in my looks, and I think I deserve clothing that fits me beautifully and reflects how I feel about myself. Only it seems more complicated now. How do I be beautiful and be a good role model for loving oneself as is?

Readers, I'm not sure where I'm going with this. But I welcome your own thoughts on it - beauty, little girls, sewing and how this all affects us. (And you are free to disagree with me and tell me I'm a hag. My self esteem can take it. Ha!)


Kimbersew said...

yes, yes, yes! [w big rock-show hands-in-the-air whooping]

Kimbersew said...

[I'd just like to clarify that I'm cheering for you, not answering the question in the post-title] you go!

Clio said...

ROFL - Got it. And thanks! Women, and girls, should cheer for each other more, don't you think? That's one thing I like about the sewing community.

Marie-Christine said...

Thank you for that great article! I realize that it's all too easy to start a conversation with how cute a little girl is (and which one isn't?). My previous strategy had been to comment enthusiastically about how cute little boys are :-), but that's clearly not enough. I'll do better in the future.

As to your personal style, don't worry about it too much. You seems to have plenty to me :-). Perhaps it's seeming an issue because you're at a point in your life where things are changing, and that you're feeling some slight disconnect between what your clothes say now and what you deliberately want to say? That's normal, it'd be sad if we didn't evolve, so this will come up again and again. Don't see it as an all-or-nothing proposition, just keep tweaking as you go.

Mar-Mar said...

LOve your post!
Wanted to know, when are the muses venturing out to see Harry Potter?

Please take pictures! I don't think that Voldemorte and I will be venturing out until later this weekend(the earliest)...I want pics! I want reviews! :)

aka bellatrix

Tanit-Isis said...

Great post! I have eight and eleven-year-old girls, so this is something I think about a lot, especially as I am a wee bit vain and do like to look nice. My hope is that my own effort to have a realistic body image---acknowledging both good and bad and not obsessing over either---and healthy lifestyle (which I don't always achieve) will be what leaves a lasting impression.

Elizabeth said...

Hi I just found your blog through sewing reviews.I read the article and I think she missed an important point ,In that the media and culture is trying to force our little girls to grow up way too fast.It used to be that girls played with baby dolls and now they are playing with Bratz, who look like thay have boob jobs and all that junk.If thats what they see as the standard they will feel they need to join in too.I have 2 girls ages 9 and 1 and I just bought a book called 6 ways to keep the little in your girl and it talks about that in depth. Overall I don't think there is anything wrong with looking nice but do it age appropriatly.