written by Cameron Russell, a veteran model. In it, she refers to the talk she gave for Ted, titled, "Looks Aren't Everything. Believe Me, I'm a Model." Her talk centered on the fact that even though she has worked hard to be a model, much of her success is due to enormous luck of her genetics--her height, slender frame, and white skin--and timing, because currently her look is considered ideal. Russell admits that her looks have allowed her to be treated much more generously and to be judged much less harshly than other women and men.
After listening to Russell's speech, a few thoughts came to mind: 1) My obsession with models when I was in college and how I compared myself to them incessantly. 2) Lisa Bloom's post, How to Talk to Little Girls, which discourages adults from commenting on a little girl's appearance 3) My little, chubby, ethnic Munchkin.
My little Munchkin is 15 months old right now and I've wondered since she was born, how I will teach her to be strong and feminine (no the two are not mutually exclusive), to feel attractive and confident, to be healthy and to eat well without her ever hearing the word "diet" fall from my lips or "I'm fat" fall from hers.
But as much as I want Munchkin to be book-smart, independent, athletic and many other non-looks related things, I, deep down, also want her to be pretty. It's embarrassing to admit that I'm even concerned about that, but I am. I've mentioned before that I want my children to have life easier than I did, but not just in appearance, but in overall confidence and opportunities.
I'm not sure how to reconcile my desire for Munchkin to develop a myriad of skills along with my desire for her to be attractive, over which she has no control. I don't aspire to be a stage mom and have my children on TV or a reality show. I harbor no dreams about them entering beauty pageants. I don't want them to learn that the only valuable currency is beauty. Yet, I've read study after study that demonstrate that attractive people are given the benefit of the doubt and are treated better than those who are considered average. Is it so terrible that I want my children to have that benefit, to have just a little more insurance that they'll be treated well? Is it wrong to admit that boys and men often can make up for attractiveness with money and power in a way not equally afforded to girls and women?
Lisa Bloom's piece recommends to refrain from telling girls how pretty they are and instead asking them what they're reading. Her piece really resonates with me, yet I struggle to know what to say to--or about--kids who are not yet verbal or I don't know well. I also recognize that even though Munchkin is already mischievous, observant, and smart, I do enjoy hearing that she is also cute as a button.
I wonder how my little Munchkin will be judged in the world in the future. Unlike Russell, she will likely not be tall, not be a size zero and probably only considered white by those who don't recognize her Hispanic and South Asian heritage. But as I trudge along in the swirling muddy waters of guilt and contradictions in my head, I will continue to help Munchkin develop her voice and her confidence. I hope that she will always--always--be safe in the knowledge that her mother will forever consider her brilliant and beautiful in every sense of the word.