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Treacherous waters of raising daughters- thoughts on beauty and intelligence
June 12, 2012 - Jamie O'Hare
I'll admit it. The thought of raising girls stresses me out! The pitfalls are all too numerous, and their effects are often lasting.
There is a duality of narcissism and inferiority that threatens our children's stability and happiness. If my daughter puts her confidence in being a pretty girl, will that stunt the development of her character? If she puts her confidence in her intelligence, will she become lazy and shy away from anything that requires hard work and discipline, or might she shy away from demonstrating her intelligence in front of boys? If she feels unattractive, will she be potential prey to the man or boy who makes her feel beautiful? If she is made to feel stupid, will she rely on the judgment of others rather than developing her own ideas?
The cultural phenomena of children's fashion, beauty contests, and popular TV shows are symptoms of a society that values the thin and the cosmetically perfect, along with the wealth and fame that these traits supposedly bring. I worry that kids are learning that if they are not wealthy and famous, it's because they are not thin enough or beautiful enough. If fame, wealth, beauty, and thin-ness are my daughter's goals, where will that take her? What kind of person will she become? My faith teaches that the pursuit of beauty leads to deception, vanity, and indiscretion. Definitely not the path I wish to steer my girls toward! I want to teach them to care for their bodies and their inner and outer beauty as gifts from God. I don't want them to choose their playmates based upon which ones are the prettiest and risk falling into harmful company. If my daughter puts her confidence in her beauty, it's just a short leap to putting it in her possessions or to being treated as someone's possession, a dehumanizing prospect indeed.
I also mentioned intelligence as one of the traits I'm also uncomfortable with praising. Why? Intelligence is partially genetic and partially environmental, but what the person DOES with their intelligence is their actual accomplishment. When I praise a child for being smart, they hear and internalize it. When a task is difficult later, they may come to the conclusion that they are not smart, that they no longer have this trait that I praised them for, and that I am a liar. Instead, I praise my children for their hard work and problem solving; in other words, I praise them for USING their intelligence.
For these reasons, I am resisting the tendency to emphasize these traits of brains and beauty, which my daughters have plenty of, in favor of emphasizing more lasting and beneficial qualities. If my daughters are kind, confident, resourceful, and hard-working, I will be proud of their accomplishments. My preschool daughter enjoys dressing up and playing princess games and putting huge bows in her hair, and I am happy to give her the opportunity to play in the girly-girl realm, as much as it's not my thing. She's also happy with oatmeal in her hair and sitting in the sandbox building forts all day, so I think she'll turn out just fine!
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