Beauty.

Remember when I talked about how I want to stop wasting time thinking about calories and weight and pounds and grams? Well another change my daughter and I have been working on FOR awhile is to stop thinking about and commenting on certain things relating to appearance.

At first you’re like, “Of course. You should never comment on someone’s appearance!” Because your brain thinks about NEGATIVE comments like, “Ohhh, girl, those shoes do NOT go with that dress…”

No. That’s not what I’m talking about. I broke that habit almost two decades ago, THANK GOD. And hopefully I’ve raised Nikki to never start.

But she and I have both discussed for awhile now that the problem isn’t just with the negative, it’s also with the positive. “That girl has great legs!” or “Her hair is my DREAM hair!” or “UGGG…her skin is PERFECT.” Our thought is that even THOSE comments feed into this warped societal obsession with valuing appearance over anything else. We don’t have any hard and fast rules, it’s just something we’ve been thinking about lately and talking about now that she’s getting to the age where her appearance and body matter in ways she wish it didn’t.

So, do we hold a rule about NO comments EVEN POSITIVE TO SOMEONE’S FACE TO MAKE THEIR DAY? No. We don’t. The goal is that those thoughts are rare because we have trained ourself to think more about the OTHER things we encounter in the world. It’s very hard to stop thinking about physical appearance and it’s very hard not to feel like it’s a good thing to say, “You have GREAT legs!” to a running friend. I mean, what harm does that do? MY FRIENDS HAVE GREAT RUNNING LEGS!

But…why is it that we don’t feel as compelled to verbally compliment someone who is a GREAT friend? And if someone told ME that I was a great friend, why doesn’t it inspired the same pride as if someone said, “You look BEAUTIFUL in that dress?” (Especially when I was her age.) What should I be more proud of? The “good friend” or the “you look pretty” compliment? Well, we should be more proud of the FRIEND one, but we realized we would be lying sometimes if we said that was true.

So it’s something she and I are always talking about and always aware of and we are trying to create a shift in our minds. When we thinking something – even positive – about someone’s appearance…ESPECIALLY SPECIFICALLY about their body (we’ll talk about clothing compliments later) – we try to instead look at the moment and think about if there’s anything NON-appearance related we could say instead. “You have such a great sense of humor. You are SO intelligent. You are SUCH a kind person and I admire your dedication.”

And if we do not know a person well enough to compliment anything BUT their appearance? Then we definitely shouldn’t be commenting on their appearance because we can’t be positive it’s not going to trigger any sort of issue like we all kinda have. ESPECIALLY with weight loss. If you just know someone casually and recognize they’ve lost weight but don’t know HOW or WHY? It’s not something to comment on because they could be depressed and not eating, or they could have food issues (like me) and validating an unhealthy swing could cause more problems. She and I have kinda decided that we shouldn’t ever praise someone’s weight loss. Period. Because we just don’t know people’s hearts and we both recognize that our society puts too much value on size and weight and we don’t want to feed into that.

Because, here’s the thing, I do not WANT to be the person that values comments on my body/skin…things I have NO control over in terms of genetics. And in order for me not to place value in appearance, I have to train my brain to stop thinking about other people’s appearance. I’ve got to quit looking at that perfect pool Mom who I don’t even know and obsessing over how beautiful and tiny she is. I’ve got to quit noticing that 50-year old’s face who looks better than mine. I’ve got to quit lusting over that one woman’s gorgeous hair.

Instead I need to idolize my friend who knows how to engage in a conversation in a way that makes you feel HEARD. I want to emulate the hard-working friend who runs a business AND takes time to check in on friends. I want to care more about being like the friend who makes time for me in her busy life, and stop thinking about how I want a body like hers. So if I want to value INSIDE more than OUTSIDE, it takes a radical change in thinking which means GOING AGAINST MY INSTINCTS to tell someone something nice about their physical appearance.

Now, this sounds crazy. But it is working. I find myself thinking about people’s HEART way more the last few years than anything else. I compliment things that have nothing to do with whether or not you’re overweight and wrinkled. And that has really had me starting to value things differently in my own life. So my instincts aren’t as conditioned to think about appearance anymore and are more likely to watch how someone engages with their children or talks to their spouse. The things that I say matter to me but that society tends to train me to prioritize below appearance.

Nikki and I have struggled with things like clothing/shoes/purses/jewelry. BECAUSE WE LOVE THOSE THINGS. Well, she loves clothes, I love the other stuff. We still compliment that stuff because to us, that’s more about complimenting someone’s taste or style which has nothing to do with body size or wrinkles. We may change our minds on that, but right now we think that it’s avoiding commenting on something you CAN NOT REALLY CHANGE. I mean, yeah you can lose weight and wear makeup but in reality? You are born with the body you have and it should not be as important as your heart. And it seems like complimenting someone’s purse is more like complimenting the art on their walls than complimenting their “appearance.”

Like I said, this is ALL in the “work in progress” stage. We are so conditioned to value perfect bodies that it’s hard to know what NOT valuing that looks like but as she struggles with these things I’m trying to retrain my instincts. She and I want to reinforce a definition of beauty that relies on things like HEART and SOUL and EMPATHY and KINDNESS. We don’t want to define beauty in things that depend more on genetics than health or personality or style. It’s a slow transformation, and it’s uncharted territory for both of us, but I thought I’d let you in on our journey.

7 thoughts on “Beauty.”

  1. Not really related but sort of….know what I’ve changed? I’ve stopped making comments about newborns (or babies at all) along the lines of “They’re so cute!!’ “She’s so precious!” “How adorable!!’.
    I now say “Oh my goodness look at the love in those eyes!, I can tell he’s going to be so smart and compassionate”. “Look at her sleeping, I bet she has a heart of gold”.
    It often throws people off but I have also had people tell me they appreciated it.

  2. I agree with you about compliments regarding weight/appearance. You’re so right – compliments on clothing and accessories speak more to an individual’s artistic personality than their weight/hair/skin, etc… It’s better to compliment someone on something they have more control over. Also, I try to avoid compliments about intelligence too, because intelligence is largely inherited. Sometimes I’m afraid it will lead to a child believing they can’t accomplish anything if they aren’t the ones being called “smart” For example, when a child succeeds at academics/sports/music, I try to say things like, “You have fantastic work ethic, you are so dedicated and skilled at what you do” instead of using words like “smart” and “talented”. Yoire right, it’s a work in progress for me too, and we will all make mistakes with our compliments every now and then, but you’re thinking seriously about it and trying to do better which is the BEST thing you can do!

  3. I think you are so on the right track with this! Yes, even positive compliments can create issues. My husband and I have thought about this a lot over the years. Once when she was about 6 or 7 years old, I was out with our daughter and I called myself trying to show her how to look for something positive about people instead of noticing negative aspects of their appearance and I said something like, “Oh look at her hair! It’s so wavy and glossy in the light. Isn’t it pretty?” Much later at home, she was brushing her hair and said she wished hers could be wavy and glossy. I wanted a hole to swallow me up in the floor. I was very ashamed of myself.

  4. Well, now I’ve gone into a deep anxiety-provoking thought spiral about this, and one thing i realized is that most anything I could compliment somebody on might possibly hit a nerve with them. What if somebody is autistic and feels like they don’t have a good sense of humor or has never had somebody tell them they are a great friend? What if somebody has an intellectual or learning disability and can’t have great grades no matter how strong their work ethic is? What if somebody has ADHD and can’t be as focused as their friend? It’s so hard 😦 I guess we have to find solace in knowing that we are TRYING to take the other person’s feelings into account and we are trying our best to do the right thing by giving a nice compliment, even if we may still accidentally upset them. I think you and I can still give nice compliments and make a positive difference, even if we don’t always get it right.

  5. With us it’s more about addressing our strange societal framework that values appearance in women above everything else. I didn’t mean to cause anxiety, it was really just about using a body to define beauty and how we’re trying to reframe our thoughts about beauty.

  6. I think you’re absolutely on the right track, especially the comments you’ve made before about focusing on being “healthy” rather than weight loss.

    Also, It is not your fault that I have anxiety spirals. Im sorry if it seemed that way. – I accomplish that all by myself 🙂

  7. Huh. Thanks for something to think about! I myself LOVE it when friends compliment my legs (I run! I work hard!) or my outfit (I do try most of the time!) So I do say things like I love that color on you! or great outfit! or whatever. Or if they’ve done something like cut their hair or wear it a different way. For girls I’ve always tried to do the smart/talented thing, not comment on looks, but now maybe I need to focus on working hard or something like that. Hmmm.

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