The other day my mom found this newspaper clipping of my grandfather with a group of military personnel that golfed together. After studying my grandfather’s happy and confident stance, my eyes were drawn to the woman in the picture.
I always love Amelia Earhart type characters – women who don’t mold to society but rather choose to blaze their own path. Following, I thought about the character and the talent of the woman pictured. She must have been a great golfer to be included in a round of golf with men sixty years ago. But then I noticed the tight grip that one man had on her, and I wondered was that really the story?
The men were listed with their titles, and she was listed as the “Beauty among the Beasts.” Maybe she was a beautiful woman, but was she also an incredible putter? Did she have a good golfing handicap?(non-golfer translation: “golfing handicap” = a measure of potential ability)
The men were not noted for being handsome, but yes, her looks were comment worthy.
How much has changed in the past 60 years?
I say not enough given that women are still fighting for equal respect and pay in sports and throughout professional industries. Current events indicate that there is room for improvement.
So, how does this old newspaper clipping connect to this?
I have two girls and one boy. I see the differences in expectations society places on my children, and I ponder this deeply. I wonder how often boys get a good feel or a bad feel dependent on their appearance compared to girls? I think about how boys buzz their hair or grow it long and carry off the “wild and messy look.” Either way, it’s pretty low maintenance.
The Texas boy seems to have an un-written uniform: comfy clothes, athletic gear without buttons, snaps or the need to be ironed and tennis shoes or barefoot. No judgment here. My six-year-old son is the same.
Boys are ready to play. To get strong. To run at recess. That will help them socially as well as academically since research shows over and again a positive correlation between exercise and children’s health, cognitive functioning and academic performance.
What about our girls? Does the messy hair look work for girls, too? Are they dressed to run and get dirty at recess so that they can also have the health and academic benefits of exercise?
While the above does include some societal stereotypes and there are boys that get primped and girls that play tag in tennis shoes every day. And, of course, for many, looking good does lead to feeling good. There is nothing wrong with that desire or benefit. Being well kept can be seen as a sign that a person has pride in how one is representing oneself. In fact, a sign of depression can be when a person no longer takes care of her appearance (along with many other clinical features, some of which may be surprising).
I just become concerned, as I raise my two women-to-be, when I see girls’ appearances emphasized.
It’s our girls, not boys, putting duck lip pictures with filters on Instagram. It’s girls, not boys, that are most commonly seen in eating disorder clinics.
I also wonder if this societal emphasis on appearance leads to the judgment of others and the bullying of children that may have a disability or are under/overweight or are an early/late bloomer or somehow don’t fit the typical look in their peer group.
How can we go Mama Bear and change this?
Maybe the next time we are tempted to refer to a child’s physical attributes we instead complement their effort, their strength, their generosity, their creativity, their helpfulness, their respectfulness, their independence, their ability to problem solve, their kindness, their persistence – anything but their looks.
And, when she looks just so beautiful that we can’t keep it in, can we move swiftly from “You look very pretty” to emphasizing other things that are not skin deep? “You really carry that outfit well.” “You have an amazing eye for color and how to put things together.” “What a happy smile!” “You stand up so confidently.”
Can we emphasize something that children can feel proud of should their appearances suddenly change? After all, looks can be abruptly altered by hormones, illness, an unfortunate accident or too many bags of chips and not enough fruit.
It doesn’t seem fair to have a child’s self-esteem highly dependent on something that is unpredictable or uncontrollable.
Maybe WE are the Mama Bears (and the Papa Bears) who can do what hasn’t completely been done thus far for Women’s Rights, the way that girls are viewed by society and how they view themselves.
Yes, let our girls look good, feel good! Our challenge is if we can we make the next generation feel MORE proud of what they do, how they think, what they say, how they treat people, and how hard they work than something that is only skin deep.
Together let’s build up our women-to-be and change the captions that our grandchildren will read.
Dr. Allison Hall, PT, MPT, DPT is part of tight knit party of five plus two rescue dogs. All three of her children were born in London, England during her family’s great decade abroad. She and her husband both grew up in Texas and returned in 2014 after purchasing a home after seeing it only via webcam. She finds joy in walking in nature, traveling almost anywhere, learning new things, pondering life intensely, caring for others deeply and doing anything that makes for a good laugh with family and friends. She works as a pediatric physical therapist and is the founder of bloom (mykidblooms.com), an eLearning platform for healthcare professionals to provide information for parents & caregivers about supporting natural development.