How many times have you said, or heard someone else say, the following?
I hate my hair.
I’ve got to lose weight.
This makes me look fat.
I can’t believe how wrinkled I am.
My skin is the worst.
Granted, these comments can be made by men and women both, but it’s usually women who are so self-critical about their appearances. Ironically, we teach Young Women about individual worth and divine nature, then undermine the message with comments that would indicate appearances are everything.
Several factors contribute to the problem. One, we live in an ocean of media messages emphasizing celebrity and supermodel looks (and we ignore the fact that photos are wildly retouched). Two, we see ads for plastic surgery-and people who’ve “had work done”-more than ever before. Third, women are aware, from a very young age, that men are attracted primarily with their eyes. Many males give us the message that, to be popular, to date, to marry, you have to look good. Even in grade school, little boys begin to tease girls about their looks. And we take notes.
But, imagine with me that you’ve actually said these same lines to someone else: I hate your hair. You’ve got to lose weight. This makes you look fat. I can’t believe how wrinkled you are. Your skin is the worst. Suddenly these comments are the height of rudeness-lines we’d never say in a million years! So why is it wrong to say them to someone else, but perfectly alright to say them to ourselves?
Here’s my solution, in several parts. First, we need to stop being Self Rude. Maybe I’m coining a phrase here, but it’s one I want women to remember. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. I look back at how many times my daughter must have heard me complain about my appearance in one way or another, as she grew up. And I wish I could turn back the clock, rewind the tape, and swallow every disparaging comment. What a ridiculous, shallow message I gave her, every time I looked in the mirror and sighed about something, or pointed out an unflattering photo. We are all so much more than the sum of our makeup and accessories!
Think of the people you most admire, and notice that it never has anything to do with looks. A recently published play of mine was about this very thing. I used slides of Mother Theresa and other admirable women in history, to make the point. I also urged audience members to think of a favorite teacher, a beloved aunt-anyone who touched your life for good. And could you even imagine them worrying about getting in shape for the upcoming swimsuit season? Preposterous! Do we want to be remembered for a hairdo or for how we made others feel about themselves? For being skinny, or for being kind?
I also want boys to listen up, and start complimenting girls on their virtues and inner qualities, their brains, and their personalities, instead of always their physical traits. Parents can encourage young boys to do this, and catch them when they perpetuate the stereotype that makes girls feel undesirable as they are.
For one week, keep a notepad handy, and jot down every time you say something Self Rude. Most of us will be amazed, because we’ve become so unaware of the running monologue about our flaws. And each time you have to write down a criticism, come up with a compliment. “I’m too heavy to wear that,” can become “I am a genuinely loving Primary teacher.” Or “When did I start looking so old?” can become “I can always get Sister Jones laughing when I visit her.” Focus upon the things (the far more important things) that are actually advancing you in the gospel-the things you do that build the kingdom, the generous gestures, the sacrifices.
It’s okay to commend yourself for a job well done, a comfort given, a bit of wisdom shared, a tongue held at the right moment! Resist comparisons and try to see yourself the way God sees you-as his actual, adorable daughter. Do you make mistakes? Of course. But you also make progress. Really believe that He loves you, don’t just hope it. See media messages for what they are: Priority distorters. When you find yourself feeling discouraged or unattractive, see if you’ve been watching the wrong TV shows or reading the wrong magazines.
Last, let’s start showing our Young Women, by the examples we live, that we accept our bodies and our faces. Not only that, we like how we look. We care about good grooming, hygiene, and looking our best, but we aren’t obsessed with every extra pound or wrinkle.
We are content in the containers that hold our marvelous spirits, and we want Young Women to grow into women with that same outlook. It frees them to focus upon far more important things. It teaches them to be women of substance, not just women who approximate the form of loveliness, yet are empty inside. To borrow a term from accounting: Substance over form, Sisters. Substance over form.
Just in time for Christmas shopping-order Hilton’s new book, “Wishes for an LDS Child” at http://amzn.to/17OYHem
Joni Hilton is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills at http://bit.ly/YourYouTubeMom
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.