There’s nothing wrong with sincerely complimenting someone about their appearance; it boosts a person’s self-esteem and is generally, a kind thing to do. However, in a recent article for the Huffington Post, Lisa Bloom highlights that there is a clear gender bias when it comes this kind of compliment. Bloom argues that we ‘naturally’ bestow aesthetic appraisals on little girls rather than little boys. On the surface this doesn’t seem like a negative thing; but Bloom suggests that this aesthetic praise should always be of secondary importance when talking to the younger female generation. Is she right?
Bloom uses her experience of talking to the daughter of a close friend at a dinner party as an example. Her friend’s daughter Maya is five years old, and Bloom openly admits that she is ‘doe-eyed’ and ‘adorable’. She wants to tell her how beautiful she is, how cute her dress is, how pretty her hair is, but she consciously makes a decision to speak to her about the book she is reading for her bedtime story, and not the frills on her night-gown. To Bloom’s delight, Maya is thrilled to be talking about her favourite book and boasts about how she can read ‘all by herself’ now. Talking about a book instead of a dress may seem insignificant, but Bloom realises that this is the best way to encourage Maya’s personal development and to boost her confidence in her intellectual abilities. Bloom wants to switch the focus from the external to the internal, something which Western culture often denies or ignores with regards to women.
Western media openly scrutinises the female form. Turn to Page 3 of The Sun (Actually, don’t, it’s unnecessary and outdated, support the No More Page 3 Campaign instead). Look at the images (many of which are edited and or unnecessarily photo-shopped) in magazines aimed at women; they all promote a certain ‘type’ of woman who, if we are to take these magazines literally; is constantly on a diet and consistently considering how she can alter her body and lifestyle to satisfy the male gaze. There are very few pages in these magazines that encourage mind over body and self-esteem over following fashion trends. On a daily basis, women are encouraged to adjust their aesthetics to impress other men and women. Perhaps Lisa Bloom is right then. In her new book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, she reveals that:
“15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart.”
These are worrying statistics and proof that something needs to change. The damaging media images that young girls are consistently bombarded with are so commonplace that they often remain unquestioned and as a result, unchanged. From my own research and interpretation, much of the media aimed at women of my age (23) suggests that aesthetically we should be; slim, hairless and tanned in order to be considered attractive and successful. This is an unrealistic and intimidating expectation. This mould tells pubescent girls, who naturally gain weight and develop pubic hair, that their natural development is aesthetically unacceptable. This idea is also encouraged by the soulless internet porn industry and the ‘lads mags’ industry aimed at men and teenage boys. Why does our society promote looks before books? Why are we not asking women what they think? Why is no-one accepting that this is a big issue and that it needs to be dealt with? Thankfully, internet campaigns like ‘No More Page 3’ and ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’ are making the world aware that women’s minds are more important than their bodies. They have been met with much hostility, but also huge support.
Lisa Bloom admits that her single conversation with five-year old Maya is unlikely to change ‘the multibillion dollar beauty industry’, but for that one night at least, she encouraged Maya to consider a different perspective. Perhaps if we all make a conscious effort to praise young girls (and young boys too) about their interests instead of their aesthetics, we can drive down the unsettling statistics that Bloom highlighted in her article.