Who doesn’t like to look good? It makes you feel great but why? Are we born like it or is it something society creates?
I do not see the desire to look attractive as something feminine as I know many men who also try to keep themselves in shape or groomed its just different terms for women: diet and made-up. Yes as females we tend to have a lot more socially acceptable options to groom ourselves: nails, hair removal, makeup… but men can also now have beauty treatments, go to hair salons rather than the barber, or have plastic surgery. Men just don’t make such a big deal of it as trying to look good is often seen as unmanly.
There is the anti beauty side of things too: those who don’t want to look like models or pinups but then they also try to create a certain look that makes them feel good about how they dress; attractive to likeminded individuals. Wanting to look good isn’t about being sexually attractive but rather making anyone more disposed to liking you, be it friend, partner, client or even your boss.
My little girl has always wanted to wear my makeup – not to look good but rather because it looks like a fun toy. It is only recently that I think she has associated it with looking pretty. I wonder if I am to blame for this. I do tell her she looks pretty, everyone does! She is a little blonde, blue-eyed, ringleted creature in a mainly dark-haired, brown-eyed population and so she stands out. If someone doesn’t comment on how she is dressed when she is wearing a new outfit she will stick her chest out at them until they notice and say how lovely it looks (to which she nods knowingly). Confidence isn’t really her issue on that point; E “knows” she looks good.
Her new favourite activity is to get her nails done. I rarely have my nails done but I decided to make a bit of an effort last year to get a bit more preened and went to visit a new salon in town that does the semi-permenant varnishes. I am so useless with my nails – hence I rarely have them done – the only thing that lasts over a few days is the “2 weeks” ones (and they only last about a week for me). During one of my trips I saw that in this new salon they do “princess” manicures. They have a special varnish for young children which is non-toxic and comes off in hot water. My hubby also likes to get his hands seen to from time to time as it stops him biting his nails if there is nothing left to bite. I suggested they E and him go together and see how they get along. E, at 2 years of age, was an angel for all of 40 minutes sitting perfectly still and taking the whole thing very seriously. Since that moment, as a special treat, we take her to get her nails done.
Last week we went to see my friend in Montreux, who had her beautiful baby boy finally by the way, and as a special “new mummy” pampering session we all headed off to the nail bar. It was lovely being the three girls having our nails seen to and E loves to be a big girl.
It does bother me a little: I always wanted to make sure she didn’t end up too princessy. I do have a feminist side in that I want both sexes to be equal and have equal opportunities. Am I stunting her in giving her these girly moments? I don’t think so. I think if M wanted to have his nails done I would let him too. They have the same toys and both have their dolly days or car days. E’s dress up choices go from princess to doctor, dinosaur to mummy, wonderwoman to spiderman. I expect M’s will too. At the end of the day they just want to try everything that their parents do and its not necessarily associated with male or female roles yet (and I hope to keep it that way).
Back to the issue of looking good. When do I need to watch out for making my children worry about needing to look good? E certainly likes prettier things but M does already too (sometimes our perception of pretty does differs dramatically though). E has always had her own ideas on fashion too or how she wants her hair styled and has always done since I first started putting clips in her hair (she would wear one colour but not another). Konrad Lorenz studied bonding between humans and attractiveness as early as 1943. It also appears that children play with prettier toys for longer (Langlois, Roggman, & Reiser-Danner, 1990) and even very young children perceive better-looking teachers as more intelligent (Goebel & Cashen, 1979; Zebrowitz et al., 2002). I’m tending towards innate here as it must be an evolutionary trait to want to look more attractive to others as we are generally survive best in groups.
It is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this week. Like many I have suffered with eating problems in the past but I see myself as cured as I can be: I don’t think I look bad the whole time (I have moments like most people), I can follow a diet carefully without getting obsessed, and I don’t feel a compulsion towards certain food behaviours. I know it is in there somewhere but so long as I pay attention everything is fine. My fear is that I will pass on my problem to my children as it often carries through families. I guess this is why I am sensitive about the looking good issue (as for me it is linked to eating disorders). Are my children disposed to taking the feeling of wanting to look good to the next obsessing level?
I guess we will have to take it as it comes, as parents we can never be perfect but we can try our best. I will try to remain relaxed about food and my appearance focusing on heathy eating without pressure. This is why we did BLW (baby led weaning) as it takes puts the control of eating in the hands of the child. I will try to make sure the children develop their own sense of how they want to look and try to make sure they know they look good the way they are. I will stop using gender specific terms of beauty. And finally I will try to stop staring at myself in the mirror in front of the children.
Do you have similar experiences? Do you worry that we live in a beauty-centric world? Do you agree with my conclusion that wanting to look attractive is innate? Please let me know.
Lorenz, K.Z. (1943). “The Innate Forms of Possible Experience”. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie.
Zebrowitz, L. A., Hall, J. A., Murphy, N. A., & Rhodes, G. (2002). Looking smart and looking good: Facial cues to intelligence and their origins. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 238–249.