Is “Beauty” A Bad Word?

“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 boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”
— Lisa Bloom, on Huffington Post

File:Beauty is forever.jpg
Photo via Wiki commons

My sister shared this article on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. Lisa Bloom suggests that we should not use the “standard icebreaker” of a compliment on appearance when we greet young girls. I found myself nodding as I read the article, yet something in me held back from wholeheartedly jumping on the bandwagon.

When my sister came to visit a week later, we got to talking about it. “I don’t know,” I said. “We all like to be complimented, adult or child. We all like to be recognized when we make the effort to look nice.”

“Because we’ve been taught to,” she emphasized.

We didn’t have time to dig into the subject, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It seems a no-brainer for me, who has railed on the objectification of women and unreasonable standards of beauty.

But here’s the thing. Beauty is not a bad thing. As human persons, we long for it. Our eyes seek it out. We try to surround ourselves with it, in the home, in museums, in flower beds and formal gardens and parks. We seek it in artwork and in music, and yes, in people, too.

Beauty and The Beast 2007
Image via Wikipedia

Beauty is not a universal standard, of course. I remember being roundly taken down a few pegs by a composition student who objected to the words I used when talking about Schoenberg’s serial works, and people are always bickering within religious circles about what constitutes beauty, some holding firmly that only the oldest forms of art and music can be called beautiful, and others finding it in every time and culture. And I’m sure everyone has experienced the transformation when someone you meet and find to be repulsively unattractive mysteriously becomes beautiful or handsome when you get to know them. We’re prone to define beauty with far too narrow a lens.

And yet, beauty is a natural longing of our hearts. It’s how we are put together. The search for beauty, and the fulfillment of that search, is what gives life richness.

So I can’t buy into the notion that we must stop talking about beauty altogether. The problems Lisa Bloom sees are real, and they need solutions. We do need to be conscious of what we teach the next generation about appearance. But another unfortunate tendency of the human condition is to see a problem and react by going to the opposite extreme, which causes at least as many problems as the original did.

Your turn: what do you think we can and should do to achieve a proper balance for our children?