Yesterday, a video circulated around the internet showcasing an emotional Dustin Hoffman being interviewed about his 1982 movie, Tootsie. I know, it sounds pretty strange for the guy to get choked up over a comedy about a struggling actor who disguises himself as a woman and lands a role on a soap opera.
In the video, Hoffman acknowledges that he did not transform into the most attractive woman. He explains, “If I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have to ask them out… There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.”
Watch the whole video here:
Now I can sit here and discuss how the media “brainwashes” us with the trope of a wife who is far more attractive than her husband (it’s been a constant theme on television from “The Honeymooners” to “Modern Family,”) or how we are exposed to lists upon lists, ranking the attractiveness of celebrities (Maxim’s Hot 100, People’s Sexiest Man Alive). But, as a parent, changing the landscape of the entertainment industry isn’t going to happen overnight, and it probably won’t happen by the time my now 8-month-old daughter understands the meaning of “beauty.” So, what can I do now? What can I do to counterbalance this “brainwashing?”
I will start by letting my daughter know that she is loved for what’s on the inside first and foremost. I will thank her when she is thoughtful and offers to clear the dinner table (even when she breaks a glass on the way to the dishwasher). I will applaud her when she is kind and gives me wet sloppy kisses when I inevitably bang my knee on the corner of the bookshelf. And I will appreciate when she is generous and wants to share her half-chewed food with me.
Children are going to notice things; it’s how they learn. The bird is red. The window is square. The bread is filled with complex carbohydrates. And these observations will inevitably extend to people: She has glasses. He’s bigger than me. Her hair is curly. But it is my job as a parent to ensure that these observations do not turn into criticisms or taunting points in the hopes that my child isn’t the one saying she won’t sit next to her classmate on the school bus because he or she is fat, gross, or wearing the wrong jeans. I have to be the one to set good examples, not only telling my daughter what she shouldn’t do or say, but doing my best to compliment family members’ spirit, coworkers’ tenacity, and friends’ loyalty.
I will continue reading my little one stories like Lisa McCourt’s I Love You Stinky Face or Debi Glioi’s No Matter What, instilling in my daughter the idea that I love her under any and all circumstances and regardless of what she looks like (whether it’s a swamp creature with slimy, smelly seaweed hanging from their body or a grumpy grizzly bear).
I will expose my daughter to different cultures, encouraging her to eliminate the idea that appearances are a judge of character. She will understand that some people wear saris or turbans or robes or kippahs; people have various skin colors and speak numerous languages. I will urge my child to learn about and embrace what makes us all unique.
I will set a good example. I know this is a hard one for me. I don’t want my daughter to grow up feeling any kind of physical inadequacies. So, I need to do my best to stop groaning at myself in the mirror and saying aloud, “Ugh, I look fat.” Or, as I sit in my PJs for the third day in a row, with my hair unwashed, I shouldn’t ask my husband, “How could you love THIS?”
When my daughter was born, my aunt sent me this fantastic article which discussed how we shouldn’t JUST tell little girls that they are pretty. Instead, we should discuss their various interests, what they created in art class, or what books they’re reading.
Am I saying that I am never going to tell my daughter she’s a pretty princess or that she looks adorable? She’s 8 months old; I tell her daily. She is the most gorgeous child I’ve ever seen in my life. But I thought that she was gorgeous when she was covered in placenta and her face was squished like a little old man. My daughter is and always will be beautiful. She is beautiful because she laughs when I play peek-a-boo. She is beautiful because she grabs my nose with a smile. She is beautiful because she is mine. Hopefully we can all do our part to raise our daughters AND sons to truly understand that beauty is more than skin deep.