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Girl Talk
Mom with a View

Girl Talk

Is complimenting a girl on her looks so bad?


“Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and [breast implants] at 17 and Botox at 23.” That’s Lisa Bloom’s theory and part of the motivation for her recent book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World.

Of course I understand and empathize – but I wonder if it’s really true…

It’s certainly important for girls (and boys) to be valued for something much deeper than their appearance, their physical prowess or even their minds. Ms. Bloom is quite focused on respecting girls’ brains.

But I think we should all go a little deeper. We should respect their character.

Brains are a gift. Looks are a gift. Athletic ability is also innate. Some people waste their talents; we can applaud those who make the most of them.

But the real mark of a man – or woman – is who they are. Do they work on being patient, kind and understanding? Do they try to control their temper, roll with the punches and accept life’s frustrations? Are they focused on what’s best for those they love – helping their spouses, siblings, children, friends achieve their unique potential?

Those are the real things we want to teach our girls – and, in the interest of being non-sexist, our boys as well.

But I am still left with a question. In that context (and perhaps only in that context), is complimenting a girl on her looks so bad? Is it really a slippery slope whose only possible end results are plastic surgery?

I think there is a middle ground. I believe that we all – little girls and big girls alike – want to look good. And we want someone to notice. Looking nice is NOT the same as looking provocative. The early and over-sexualization of young girls is very troubling.

But when our daughters get dressed up – at 2 or 22 – they want us to appreciate how they look. It’s in the hardwiring – and not the socialization. Makeup, jewelry and perfume were in use in Biblical times, long before Madison Avenue and Vogue magazine.

The real problem occurs when the physical is the only thing that is valued, when other accomplishments are minimized and when, in its worst incarnation, it’s used to sell cars and beer (but we already commented on the inappropriate use of sexual appeal).

We want to raise our children to do their best and be their best. That means trying their hardest at school, at sports, at character development and even at looking presentable.

Frequently with girls we have to slightly de-emphasize their looks while boys require the opposite touch (I try to aim for the basics like tooth brushing and showering!).

But everyone wants to be appreciated when they make an effort on their appearance – girls in a nice outfit, even boys in a suit and tie. We just need to keep it in perspective, in its proper place, way below character and internal beauty. It’s a fine line but good parenting and good judgment requires us to walk it.

Ms Bloom advises us to “Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.” I would alter that advice. I think we should model what a righteous and dignified woman says and does. And I don’t think it can be forced or artificial. It needs to be a natural reflection of who we are. We have to work on our own values and character traits in order to communicate these ideas to our daughters.

We have to develop our positive qualities – our giving muscles, our loyalty, and our inner selves. And when we (hopefully) model these desirable attributes, it doesn’t hurt if we look nice at the same time. In fact, I think it helps.

July 9, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 12

(9) Nancy, June 25, 2017 4:55 PM

Lisa Bloom's book has changed my life!

While I don't agree with EVERYTHING she says, there are statements that made me sit up become more curious about the world. All of us, male and female want to look attractive. Yes, we women want to be complimented on our looks, but we are much more than a dress size. IMO it is possible to be intelligent, attractive and a person of good character. Kol tuv.

(8) Anonymous, July 22, 2011 12:38 AM

Mom always comments in looks

My mom lives pretty far away and we only see each other 4 or 5 times a year. When we meet, the first thing she notices are my looks: my hair, my weight, my outfit, my complexion...Only after she vocalizes her appraisal of my appearance does she ask me how I am feeling, how is my job, et cetera. It is maddening!

(7) Frank Adam, July 13, 2011 9:47 AM

Those who forget the past are damned to repeat it

As was written over the Delphic oracle temple doorway, "Nothing in excess" and "Know thyself." For most of history congratulating men for being handsome and gracious was par for the course, and the household records of the great show men spent more on their wardrobes than their wives in the two centuries before the (French) Revolution - possibly one of the reasons for it. What needs analysis is why congratulating male beauty and turnout in the 20th century, has rigorously reduced after childhood when mothers can have their way dressing their sons without objections; while making a lot of female beauty has remained and so relatively increased in intensity creating an accelerating spiral. Meanwhile playing peacock has not entirely disappeared if one notes how - discreetly all the same - troops and schoolboys do note if generals and teachers are dandy; while the camera and the car have since Kennedy served notice that if you are bald you have no chance of running for president of the USA. Perhaps the answers are in that daughters took an extra generation before climbing onto the educational meritocracy - assisted by the arrival of effective contraception even before the pill. What has been obvious even without being a fashion maven is that as women have climbed the career ladder their business / public suits whether skirt and jacket or trousers and jacket, or plain dress, have all become plainer, darker and assumed more austere cut than prior to the sixties. In this sense the ladies have followed what the gentlemen did by going into sub fusc in the 19th century. It is no longer necessary to signal you are somebody by showing material wealth nor physical beauty because that distracts from talking turkey and what matters is your mastery of the subject - wealth of business knowledge which will enable you to enjoy wealth but as De Toqueville pointed out in Democracy in America that is something to do discreetly and not excite jealousies.

(6) Elizabeth, July 12, 2011 7:01 PM

Excellent advice

I completely agree with Ms. Braverman. Whilst physical beauty is not the most important thing about anyone, women and girls do need to feel appreciated and valued, and to know their loved ones think they are attractive. My parents were afraid I would become vain, so when I was growing up all their comments were negative - your hair is a mess, you're getting too plump, your face is nothing special, and so on. As a teenager and a young woman, I became very neurotic about my looks and developed an eating disorder. Balance is necessary here.

(5) Anonymous, July 12, 2011 5:55 PM

Thumbs up

You are absolutely so right!!!! Thanks so much!

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