Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Am I wrong to tell my daughters they're beautiful?

raising confident children

I happen to have two very beautiful daughters and I tell them how beautiful they are all the time.

Well, when I say all the time I don't mean I am constantly shouting affirmations at them. No, I do it quite matter of factly, in a 'you're such a beautiful girl' sort of way. No fuss, no sarcasm, no emotional grandstanding.

However, according to Jo Swinson, the Women's Minister, I'm getting it all wrong. In an interview with The Telegraph last week and speaking ahead of the Body Confidence campaign report, she said that parents who tell their children they are beautiful are sending them the wrong message.

According to her research  25% of all 11 to 15 year old boys and girls are unhappy about their appearance. 70% of girls think there is too much emphasis on how celebrities look and Ms Swinson was quoted as saying:
"Parents that praise their sons and daughters for looking “beautiful”, wearing a pretty outfit or having a nice hair do risk sending the wrong message to children that looks are the most important thing to succeed in life."
And yesterday the Body Confidence Campaign published their report which found the following :
Evidence shows that popular culture places burdens on people’s wellbeing and self esteem, often resulting in low confidence and self-consciousness. This can contribute to lowered aspirations and psychological wellbeing and heightened vulnerability to risky behaviours. Boys and men are affected as well as girls and women, but there is a particularly marked impact on women’s choices and life chances.
Well, here's the thing: I agree with most of what Ms Swinson said and the findings of the report.  I also whole-heartedly agree with their decision to launch a teaching pack for primary school children to teach them how media images are doctored.  It's sad that today's children are obsessed with appearance and are conditioned daily by the media perception of how women 'should' look, but I also disagree that it's wrong to tell your children they are beautiful.

I used to work with someone with three daughters who said he would never dream of telling his girls they were pretty because he didn't want them to be 'big-headed'. Yes, okay he was a bit of a prat, but if your own parents can't tell you then who can?

Going up as I did with little self-esteem, I was determined it would be different for my own daughters. And I believe that one of the ways building self-esteem is to let them know that they're beautiful - which they are, obviously.  I didn't want them to become teenagers and to have their heads turned by the first boy who told them they were pretty, I wanted them to already be confident about that.

Of course I don't just say it about their looks. I tell them how smart they are; I tell them how proud I am if they've worked hard at something, handled a difficult situation well, or when they get good school reports; and I praise their achievements and efforts.

But of course if you're going to praise them there also has to be constructive feedback too, and I let them know if I think they could have done something differently, or worked harder, etc. And it's a two-way conversation, they are happy to give their views on things that I might have done better - which hardly ever happens of course.*cough*.

I remember an interview Dawn French did years ago where she explained how she owed her self confidence to her father:
 “It was my father who taught me to value myself. He told me that I was uncommonly beautiful and that I was the most precious thing in his life.”
How utterly perfect to hear those words from your own parent. That's what I want for my girls, and even though they don't always believe me I'm still going to say it. Because they are beautiful.

Over to you, do you tell your children they're beautiful? Or do you think it panders to media and society's view of what's important in life?