Posted on | June 10, 2016 | 3 Comments
“I have a girlfriend,” my six year old son told me one day. I sort of rolled my eyes, because he’s six and him having a girlfriend is ridiculous. But then he said something that made me pay attention.
“It’s okay though,” he shrugged and grinned. “She’s pretty.”
It was the “she’s pretty” that did it.
I sat him down at the table and had the first of what I’m sure will be a number of talks about boys and girls. Because, as I told him, boys and girls should always strive to be people of accomplishment. And boys and girls should also strive to date people of accomplishment: funny, smart, kind, good at sports, a good writer. Any number of things come to mind… things that are accomplished through hard work, practice, good study habits. Things that show that a person IS something.
Being “pretty” is not an accomplishment, I told my son. Because it isn’t. We either fit society’s ideal of pretty or we don’t… through no fault or accomplishment of our own. So why would I ever want my son to tell me first that a girl he likes is “pretty.” Who cares if she’s pretty? Who cares if she was blessed with an exceptional genetic code? That doesn’t tell me anything about who she is. Just the same as having someone tell me my son is handsome isn’t exactly what I want to hear. Don’t get me wrong, I think J is adorable. But who really cares? What does being adorable say about him as a person?
The thing is, I want my son to aim higher than “pretty” or “handsome”. I want him to aim for “Kind”. For “Funny”. I want to hear him talking about a girl he likes because she’s “smart” or “clever” or “well-read”. I want to teach him to aim for something that shows worth, for someone who shows diligence, who reveals a love of something more than the skin they were given. All too often I catch myself saying “Oh how adorable!” when I meet a little girl or boy for the first time. All too often, I hear myself tell J that this or that person is “cute” or “looks handsome” or “has great hair.” And there’s nothing wrong with those things… but man do I wish I could go back and compliment the important things just as often.
“Wow that kid is funny!”
“Hey she’s really smart!”
“He’s an exceptional reader!”
I want to teach my son to view “pretty” is an afterthought, that a woman is more than her face and figure, that HE is more than his face and figure. I want to teach him to ignore the surface and search for what’s beneath… to embrace the talents that make us all unique.
So I’m changing the way I talk about people… especially myself. No more “I look awful.” No more “I am fat.” No more off-handed comments about anyone’s appearance. Because it starts with me, I think. It starts with me saying “Man, you were really smart at work today” instead of “You look really nice.” It starts with me complimenting another attorney’s theory of the case, not her handbag or haircut.
It starts with me. Recognizing that I am more than my face and figure. Recognizing that I am smart and kind and funny. Recognizing that I am a person of accomplishment regardless of what size I wear or how my hair frizzes up in the summer.
I looked at J carefully to be sure he was listening.
“Never have any friends, boy or girl, if all you have to say about them is that they are pretty or handsome,” I told my son. “And never have any friends, boy or girl, who don’t have anything to say about you other than that you’re handsome. Because how you look isn’t something you’ve worked for… and it’s the things you work for that make you who you REALLY are.”
I honestly don’t know if it sank in. This time.
But I know that I will continue to remind him, again and again, that “pretty” isn’t an accomplishment, until the day I first hear him describe a new friend with words that tell me more about his heart than his face.