The Problem with “Beautiful”

I am generally all for the overall expansion of our culture’s idea of what is “beautiful.”  It’s fantastic that we are seeing a greater acceptance of various body types and stylistic preferences within our concept of beauty.

That being said, when I saw this on Facebook the other night, a small part of me sighed in exasperation.[1]

Cancer Barbie

Now, I understand where this person is coming from.  Showing girls with cancer bald Barbies and telling them, “look!  Barbie doesn’t have hair either, just like you!  That means that you can be beautiful even without hair!” might yield some positive results in the short term. There’s a good chance that some of them would really enjoy this and would feel better about their situation.

The problem that I have with this is that doing so reinforces for them the idea that beauty is the ultimate goal and a major source of a person’s worth.[2]

Nowadays, it seems like when we as a culture want to convey the idea that something is “good”, we do so by calling it “beautiful.”[3]  Unfortunately, it’s easy to then follow that linguistic trajectory to the understanding that, for something to be good, it must be beautiful.[4]

I do not have a child with cancer, nor do I know any children who are going through cancer treatment.  But, if I did, I believe that I would prefer to take this approach with them while dealing with the issue of self-worth:

You is Kind

I’m of the opinion that believing this about yourself does more for your self-esteem than believing yourself to be beautiful ever could.

I think that, in a situation when you’re dealing with a child who is going through an ordeal that makes them feel different and undesirable, what they really need is honesty and perspective, not a Barbie doll.  No, they do not currently fit the beauty standards of their culture.

You could deny to them that this is the case.  Or, alternately, you can impress upon them the understanding that they are not made worse by that fact.

Disconnecting a child’s sense of self-worth from their physical appearance is probably one of the best things you can do for them.  As cliché as it sounds, beauty is fleeting.  And if that’s where they find their worth as a human being, they’re going to be pretty miserable when they don’t match up to the cultural standard.

Would it not be better for someone who is naturally outside the cultural definition of beauty to spend more time growing and developing as a person and less time counting calories, applying cosmetics, and exercising at the gym?  For that matter, wouldn’t it be better if we all used as least as much time to better ourselves mentally, spiritually, and emotionally as we do focusing on our appearance?

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’d much rather have a coffee with a person who was interesting, or clever, or funny, or imaginative, or intelligent, or insightful than I would with someone who was just beautiful.

Over the years, I have been privileged to know several people whom I honestly could not describe in terms of physical attractiveness.  I haven’t a clue how physically beautiful they are because they have such vibrant, radiant spirits that my mind literally cannot think of them as anything but attractive.  “Attractiveness” is not, after all, synonymous with “beauty.”  An attractive person simply has something about them that makes other people want to be around them.

Feeling beautiful is undeniably nice.  Feeling the opposite is something that we all have experienced and can probably agree is not particularly enjoyable.  But maybe if we stopped using “beautiful” as the highest (and, often times, default) praise for anything and everything, feeling physically unattractive, whether because of chemotherapy or for other reasons, wouldn’t seem like such a big deal.

[1] Small, but vocal and opinionated.

[2] Equating Barbie with beauty in this way can also lead to body image issues down the road, but I digress.

[3] Seriously, keep an ear out for this word.  Everything is “beautiful,” nowadays.  I’ve even heard it used as an interjection in the same way someone might use the word, “great!”

[4] My original title for this post was, “What Else is There?” a la Swan Princess, but I decided that it might be a little too lighthearted for the subject matter.


Xboxes are for Everyone

Historically speaking, I have not spent much time around children.[1]  My family lives in a very rural area and most of my neighbors are old enough that their kids are either grown up and moved away or in their later high school years.  I do like kids, though, so when I encounter one, I tend to take notice.[2]

Such was the case last week, while I was at work.  I work at Best Buy, specifically with the Geek Squad.  Not many kids come in needing computer help, though I have very much enjoyed assisting those few who have.  Usually, when there is a child in the store, they are either grumpily playing with their smartphones[3], screaming because everything in the world is terrible[4], or running around while their parents attempt to keep them from getting into too much trouble.[5]

I happened upon a little girl and her mother while walking to the back of the store the other day.  She was probably a little less than one year old and was toddling around a few feet ahead of her mother.  When I saw her, she was pointing at the Xbox display and giggling.

My immediate thought was something along the lines of “Awww, good choice, kid!”  I smiled and walked on past, but nearly tripped when I heard what her mother said next:

“Those are for boys, sweetie!  Can you say that?  ‘For boys!’

This was said in a singsong voice, as if she was explaining to her daughter what a duck was.  It was pointing out the obvious, instructing her as to the simple facts of life.

Naturally, I was horrified.  In the interest of being professional, I didn’t attempt to reeducate the woman, but I couldn’t help but look back in shock after I heard this.  She did a bit of a double-take when she saw me in my uniform, but that was the extent of our interaction.

Now, I’m not going to make the argument that this little girl was obviously interested in video games and her mother was shutting down her hopes and dreams.  She’s one.  The Xbox display was colorful and shiny.  That is what caught her interest, not what was actually being advertised.

While this is adorable, she’s probably playing “Jump Start Preschool,” not World of Warcraft.

I am going to say that I truly pity this little girl because she has a parent who so obviously has very strict opinions on what is and what isn’t a suitable interest for a woman to pursue.  If this is a woman who is teaching her daughter from this age that video games are exclusively for boys, I shudder to think of what else this child will be raised with.

The world is a huge and wonderful place with countless amazing things that are worth pursuing.  We are blessed with the opportunity to follow what catches our interests, to chase after them and experience the joy of learning and exploring that which we consider to be important and appealing.

I don’t understand taking a child, a tiny human being with limitless potential, and imposing such a limit on them before they can even tie their shoes.  Placing restraints on what it is and isn’t okay to like is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster.

Suppose this little girl is the perfect image of femininity, according to her parents.  If so, great!  Everyone is happy.  But, if she isn’t, that is going to cause some trouble, within the family and/or within herself.  What if she has the potential to be an amazing programmer?  Or what if she’s gifted in math and would be happy and successful as a physicist?  Would she even realize her potential in this area if she has been told since birth that that kind of thing is “for boys”?

Or would she spend her life trying to fit into a mold that is unnatural and uncomfortable for her, either being miserable in the role in which she has been cast or eventually rebelling against it, potentially harming familial relationships because of the family’s expectations of her?

I’m of the opinion that people have the right to decide who they are.  Parental guidance is, of course, important, but so is respect for one’s child.  They are people, too – just smaller, inexperienced, and significantly clumsier.  It isn’t fair or, frankly, realistic for anyone to decide what another person is or will be in the future.

So, no, little one.  Xboxes are not just for boys.  Xboxes are for people who like video games.  And it’s okay for both boys and girls to like to play video games.  Heck, it’s even okay for them to like to play those games together!

But, you know what?  It’s also okay for you to not like video games.  There is no rule that says that girls must like A, B, and C and boys must like X, Y, and Z.  And, if there is, it’s a rule that people have made up in order for them to make sense of their world and has nothing to do with you.  If you do like A, B, and C, rock on!  Those things can be interesting and worthy of pursuit!  But don’t be afraid of your interest in Y, either.

Even if you are a girl who likes shoes, makeup, and romantic comedies, that doesn’t mean that you can’t also like Xboxes.  Because Xboxes are for everyone.


[1] My little sisters don’t count, as I was a child alongside them.

[2] At least, I think I like kids.  Like I said, I haven’t collected that much data on the subject.

[3] These are usually the older kids, though not exclusively.

[4] These are usually the very young kids, though not exclusively.

[5] …or while their wives attempt to keep them from getting in too much trouble.