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Shut your mouth

November 18th, 2010

I don’t know a single woman who is completely happy with her body. 

“She” thinks her butt is too small or her thighs are too big. She wants to be skinnier or fill out a bigger bra size or just to be better looking in general. Oh, no, she just spotted cellulite, and she really wishes she skipped dessert today. 

I can’t remember the exact moment when I became self-conscious about my appearance, but it probably happened before sixth grade. 

In the past week alone, I’ve experienced two instances of heartbreak when young girls confessed, in their own ways, to feeling less than pretty and slightly inadequate. 

The first instance occurred in an exchange between two little girls and me. 

 The younger one told me proudly that she has a school friend who is “brown” like her. Her slightly older sister corrected her by saying that they are not “brown” but “tan.” I told them I wished my skin was tan all the time like their’s. Mine is pale. The older sister said with a hint of sadness, “I wish I was pale.”

It was pretty clear that something had already made this little girl feel self-conscious about her skin tone. She hasn’t even reached the third grade. 

A couple of days later, I heard a fifth-grader talk about how she wishes all dances were the type where the girls are supposed to ask the boys because when it’s the other way around the boys only want to ask the prettiest girls in school. “And, that’s not me,” she said. 

It seemed to me that this girl believed that boys don’t care about girls who are smart, funny, athletic or kind, if they aren’t also beautiful. And, the girl who made the comment happens to be a beautiful little girl.

The people who will read this column are probably those who are already affected by the pressure to be beautiful. You are already (probably) self-critical and overly body-conscious. It’s too late for us.

But, we can play a role in preventing, or at least delaying, the same effects on the young girls with whom we interact and influence. 

Instead of talking about being fat, let’s talk about being healthy. Save the comments about too-tight skinny jeans, calorie counting and feeling fat or ugly for your friends who are your own age. 

Stop talking about being pretty, and encourage girls to be great. Encourage them to find their talents and develop them. Make them believe that attractiveness encompasses far more than perfect hair, teeth or skin – even if you don’t believe it yourself. 

Let’s explain airbrushing and Photoshop and how they help the women on TV and on magazine covers appear that much more perfect. And, while we are at it, let’s also explain that while some people are beautiful, others are great artists, and others are accomplished athletes. Some people have it all, and aren’t they lucky. 

Women devote a lot of words to complimenting the appearance of other women – their clothes, their shoes, their bodies. While we are at it, let’s compliment each other on our achievements in other areas more often. Little girls should hear adults give and receive commendations about work, school, hobbies and behavior. 

It’s too late for us, but we’re in a position where we can help little girls be less critical of their physical appearance and more confident about themselves. Save the self-deprecation for people your own age.