On beauty and a word to mothers of sons

I took Arie shopping with me this weekend to get a few new spring clothes for myself. As we browsed the racks of clothing, he reached out from the cart to tug at various shirts and dresses, all the while exclaiming, "Mama!! Mama!!"

At home when he sees my clothes on the floor hanging in the closet he does the same thing. His little brain is making connections about this new life, including the fact that he now lives in a place where certain clothes belong to specific people (something he never saw in the orphanage where clothes belong to a common closet). It's mostly cute if not somewhat annoying when you're trying to browse the blouses at Target.

After the seventeenth, "Mama!! Mama!!" I finally stopped to give him my attention and I asked him, "Should Mama wear this?"

"Yeths!" he replied.

And then I asked him something very intentionally, "Would Mama look so beautiful in this?"

He looked at me quietly and I leaned in to whisper a secret. "Arie you should always tell the women in your life how beautiful they are."

"Oh! Mama ble-lo-fu!"(It's a hard word.)

One of my mothering goals is to raise a man who knows how to make a woman feel beautiful and it's because of the way being made to feel beautiful has impacted me.

Three years ago my Opa surprised my Oma with 75 roses for her 75th birthday!
Presented by three granddaughters; setting the bar high for future spouses!
Lately there's been a video by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty floating around facebook in which a number of women are asked to describe themselves to a sketch artist. Their portrait is also drawn (by the same artist) as described by someone the women briefly met. When the women describe themselves the portraits come out harsh and pinched, a little fatter or a little sadder than they really are. In contrast, the portraits of the women drawn based on a description by a stranger come out kinder, happier, more forgiving. More beautiful. The conclusion, as stated by Dove: you're more beautiful than you think.

I thought the video was a poignant illustration of on obvious truth: women are usually too hard on themselves. I watched it, reflected for a few minutes, and went on with my day.

But then a facebook friend shared this article, citing a statistic that truly shocked me:

"Only four percent of women globally consider themselves beautiful."


Four percent? 

As in 96% of women do not consider themselves beautiful?

Even if we are looking at "the world's" perception of beauty: tall, thin, shiny hair, smooth skin, high cheekbones etc., surely more than 4% of women meet that criteria. Obviously the problem, like the Dove video suggests, is in our perception. Self perception.

When I look in the mirror I don't see the world's most stunning woman, but generally I am happy with the way I look. Sure I'd love to loose the 10 pounds I've put on in the last five years (but then again I've had a lot of really good food in the last five years and some of those pounds might be worth it...). I have good days when I'm happy with the sheen of my hair or the fullness of my lips and bad days when I'd really love to shrink my nose down a few sizes, but honestly if I had to check "yes" or "no" on a survey to answer the question, "Do you think you're beautiful?" I would check yes. I think I'm beautiful and I'm really surprised that only 4% of women are in this camp with me.

Now there's a lot to be said for inward beauty and focusing on the heart. That's where we should always start and where we should land. But you know we are physical people and it's important to feel beautiful outwardly, too.

As I've been reflecting on how I managed to get into this ridiculously small percentage of women who think they're beautiful, my thoughts keep returning to the men (boys? guys?) in my life who've told me about my beauty. I remember those ugly tween years and I remember the first time a guy ever said I was beautiful. He was the son of my mom's friend. He was much older than me and there was nothing romantic about it, but still- it changed my self perception forever.

My mom went to visit her friend Lyrinda for Christmas and took me along. As Lyrinda chatted with my mom about "boring" things, her son Donny compassionately struck up a conversation with my 13-year-old self about something non-memorable. Maybe Christmas plans or the weather.  Two days later I was sitting in the middle row of our van, when my mom suddenly told me from the passenger seat, "Oh Jillian! I talked to Lyrinda on the phone last night and she said Donny commented that you are becoming so beautiful."

Beautiful. Wow. Somebody saw the way I looked and thought I was beautiful. It was almost beyond comprehension. But it was true.

While I didn't have a long string of beaus though high school there was always a boy or two to tell me I was beautiful. I was one of the lucky ones who didn't get told that as a manipulation tactic. Mostly. As an adult I now attribute this to their mothers, but they were good boys- and now good men I'm sure- who told me from a place of genuine affection.

Today I'm married to a man who thinks I'm beautiful and has never said a negative word about those extra pounds. He thinks I'm beautiful in a grab my butt at the kitchen sink and kiss me now Song of Solomon kind of way. Thank God.

I bet there are a dozen or more tactics to take and issues to address when it comes to addressing the 96% of women who don't think they're beautiful. One of them is teaching our sons to speak honestly and truthfully about the beauty of the women around them. They will practice on us as mothers. They will learn with their sisters. Cousins. Friends. And one day, girlfriends, fiances, and wives.

I want to raise a man who knows how to make a woman feel beautiful. Some of you might read this and ask what about intelligence and personality and giftedness? I say yes! to all that as well, but nothing about being being strong and capable negates beauty. To be smart and kind and beautiful- that's what I want for myself and that's what I want for the next generation of women. 

No woman needs to be the most beautiful but we all need one person to think we are. To those of us who are raising little boys, let's raise them to be men who know how to make a woman feel beautiful. Men who know how to complement, how to make their girlfriends walk taller, fiances smile brighter, and wives want to check "yes" box in the are you beautiful survey.

It's not the whole answer, but it's a piece.

Maybe I'll age as well as my grandmothers have but if not then someday I'll be old, saggy, and gray; I hope by then I'll still feel beautiful, especially when I look in my husband's eyes. By then perhaps Arie will have married and I'll have a daughter-in-law. I hope she grows up with men speaking beauty into her life. I hope she hears about it every day from my son. Maybe I'll even get lucky and hear her tell me thank you. :-)



  1. I take it for granted that I feel that I am beautiful. My parents always tell me how nice I look and how pretty I am. I don't notice that this is not the norm until a friend complains about their appearance. Sometimes I hesitate to compliment appearance, especially with teen girls. I don't want them to think that their appearance is correlated with their worth or how much they are loved. But I do see how it has benefited me in my own life.

    1. I have the same hesitation. I might change my mind in the future but right now I think it is good for me as a confidant woman to tell little girls and older girls they are beautiful because they are longing to hear it and I think it is important for women to speak into their lives so they don't go looking for that approval in the wrong places. I do, like you, worry about the correlation between beauty and love though.

  2. Anonymous4/28/2013

    I will never forget being 10 years old and going to a company picnic with my dad ( whom passed away 3 weeks ago) and a co-worker (female ) of his told my pimply braces freckled face how beautiful I was...My heart soared and I 20 years later still remember it...I recall later sharing this story with my dad and he said he could see my face light up when she told me that and he still remembers the looks on my face...I often tell young women teen and pre teen especially how beautiful they are or how nice they look followed with a " hows school or hows the job" type comment so I can also comment on other things outside of the physical...our adopted daughter is stunning sure were bias but truly she is gorgeous at th age of three and a half and we always tell her how beautiful she is but what really makes her beautiful is on the inside and that Jesus makes her heart beautiful...she told me last night " Take off your makeup your beautiful without it" I think were getting somewhere....great post! - Heather

  3. Jill, this is an awesome post. I definitely take it for granted that I have people in my life always telling me I am beautiful. I've been dealing with health issues for the past 2 years and during that time I lost a bunch of weight and looked slightly skeletal. Looking back at pictures, I can really see how bad I did look last summer. But I still felt beautiful, thanks to my husband and some close friends. It definitely helps the self-esteem, especially when I wasn't feeling all that beautiful.

    P.S. I sent you a PM on TB. :)


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