Telling A Child She's Beautiful Could Be Sending The Wrong Message

In today's Times of London, fashion editor Lisa Armstrong dissects what she deems our egregiously-lookist society. "Increasingly, looks are used to define women who never set out to compete by those rules," Armstrong points out. "The entire female flank of the French Cabinet has recently had their wardrobes pored over as if they were auditioning to fill in for Cate Blanchett on the red carpet while she takes a spot of maternity leave." Armstrong also quotes Fay Weldon, writer and insane-o, who, for once, makes a good point. "Nowadays, all little girls are told that they're beautiful by their mothers, even when they're not," Weldon says. "We're terribly conflicted. We don't want appearance to be important, but almost everything we do reinforces that they are."

At first I thought Weldon was just being an asshole, because all children are beautiful to their parents, but then it got me thinking — how often do you hear a mother tell her son that he's handsome? Very rarely. Strangers hardly ever come up to a male child and comment on his looks, while a female child, nearly from the day of her birth, will have all manner of people chattering about her appearance (true story: a total stranger once came up to my aunt and told her my 3-year-old cousin was "unfortunate looking."). [True story: At a wedding last year, during a post-ceremony toast, the father of the bride went on and on about how lucky his son-in-law was because his daughter is "so beautiful". -Ed.]

Are parents just making their daughters narcissistic by telling her she's attractive? Are they setting her up for disappointment if she's not that attractive in reality? Or are they buffeting her against possible future low self-esteem?

Looks Aren't Everything? Don't Kid Yourself [Times of London]