Every one of these 'you are beautiful' campaigns sends women down the road to thinking more about how they look. Most people imagine that paying a woman a compliment on her appearance will make her feel better about how she looks. But anything that draws a woman's attention to the appearance of her own body or makes her feel as though her body is being evaluated can result in body shame. Even when commentary on a woman's appearance is meant to be a compliment, it still reminds her that her appearance is being monitored
Over the past few weeks, I've been borrowing books from Carleton's library. They have some of the best current reads, both fiction and nonfiction. I picked up Renee Engeln's new book last week. As a tenured professor of psychology at Northwestern, Engeln has spent her life studying how our culture's focus on beauty and appearance harms American women.
Engeln argues that because American women focus so much on appearance, they are unable to deeply engage with more important aspects of daily life. This focus on beauty to the detriment of more meaningful pursuits (such as career success or relationship building) causes depression, anxiety, disordered eating, compulsive exercising, and a shocking increase in plastic surgery among American women.
The most important take away here is that we should stop constantly praising girls' appearances. Instead, we must praise their bravery, sense of humor, athleticism, and intellect. Significant research has shown that just the act of commenting on a woman's appearance (regardless of whether the comment is positive or negative) causes her to score higher on tests of self-objectification. On that note, Engeln totally (and successfully) shits on Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign: the message should NOT BE "You are more beautiful than you think/ Everyone is beautiful." The message SHOULD BE: "INTELLECT, KINDNESS, AND HARD WORK MATTER MORE THAN BEAUTY."
If I ever have a daughter, she will read this book and we will discuss it. Until then, hoping my sisters (and some of you) might pick it up.