Laura Townsend Wilson | Beauty is a Beast

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Laura lives in Belmont, MA with her husband, Dallin, and their baby daughter, Harper. She works as a portfolio analyst by day, but she is a fashionista by birth. Laura blogs about fashion at She's Come Unheeled, and has her own fashion line lolly.brand.  Laura also enjoys photography, power yoga, movie nights with her family, and searching for the perfect cupcake.


Shortly after the birth of my daughter, a friend of mine forwarded me an article on “The Right Way to Talk to Young Girls About Beauty.”  Before even clicking the link, I was already feeling defensive.  While I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a feminist, I definitely believe in strong, independent women and equal opportunity—but I also believe in beauty.  In fact, the fashion and beauty industry is something that I feel passionate about, both personally and professionally.  So I had a nagging suspicion that this article was going to tell me I was wrong, and what mother wants to hear that?

GroupcSource:  Emmaline Bride (November 2010)

The article in question, written by Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of gender studies and history at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California, was actually reaction to Lisa Bloom's 2011 article, “How to Talk to Little Girls.”  In her article, Bloom postured that little girls should be praised for everything but their looks, in an attempt to protect them from the negative body image so dominant in today’s young women.  In Bloom’s view, rather than telling my daughter that she is the prettiest girl in the world, I should instead commend her for being kind or quick-witted; for her abilities in the classroom or on the athletic field; or for her artistic or musical talents.  Granted, my daughter is still just two months old and is far from playing soccer or taking piano lessons, but I already tell her how pretty she is at least a dozen times each day—and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

When I was little, I loved playing with Barbies, giving particular care to each doll’s hairstyle and outfit.  I can remember my grandmother warning me against viewing Barbie as the ideal beauty.  Barbie’s measurements are, of course, physically impossible, and my grandmother, a mental health counselor specializing in eating disordered patients, believed that Barbie was partially to blame for society’s destructive standards of beauty.  Once, she asked to borrow one of my Barbies to use in a lecture she was giving on this very issue; I made a special effort to see that Barbie was dressed in her finest for the occasion.  Though I was barely eight years old at the time, I could plainly see the difference between wanting to be like Barbie and having fun with Barbie’s world of fashion, beauty, and fun.  What I couldn’t articulate back then was that I didn’t feel a healthy self-esteem or body image and a love for fashion and beauty had to be mutually exclusive; I still don’t.

03-09-a-barbie-1Source:  ArtsEdge (2009)

As it turns out, Schwyzer agrees with me in his article, maintaining that, while it is important to push against society’s often toxic messages about beauty, it is perhaps equally important to accept and encourage the little girls or young women who feel passionate about fashion and beauty.  After surveying his college students, Schwyzer discovered that the experience of being shamed for an interest in fashion and beauty is all too common.  It seems that the fervent backlash against beauty has caused an equally destructive message to emerge; many young women found themselves facing the stereotype that smart girls don’t care about clothes, and that girls that care about clothes aren’t smart.

My Barbies have been retired for many years now, but I remain connected to her fundamentals of fashion, beauty, and fun.  I love blogging about this season’s breathtaking Christian Louboutins; my quest for the perfect mascara; skinny jeans versus flares; whether I should get bangs or keep my long layers; and the Chanel handbag I simply must have before I turn 30.  Yet, I am the same woman that completed her undergraduate thesis on a comparative analysis of Homer and Nietzsche; who takes pride in her accomplishments as a portfolio analyst; who loves taking a long run or a rigorous power yoga class; and who wants a healthy, well-balanced life for her daughter.

Vintage-Mother-Baby1Source:  Unboxed Writers (August 2011)

Growing up, my mother always told me I was beautiful, even during my painfully awkward middle school years.  Granted, there were times when I didn’t believe her, and I have since tried to get my mother to admit that I had an undeniable awkward stage; she won’t.  Now, as I look upon my own baby girl, I get it.  She may grow up to be a champion swimmer; to win the school spelling bee; or to sing in the church choir, but my daughter is also beautiful.  She is as beautiful today as she was on the day she was born, and so I tell her—because I believe that “the right way to talk to young girls about beauty” is to to remind them of this everyday.


As I read Laura's post, I realized that I had slipped into the either/or mindset.  In fact, I quite liked Lisa Bloom's piece.  But the truth is — I may not want my daughter to be focused solely on her looks, but neglecting to care about her appearance would als be problematic.  Both ultimately profound implications for her well-being. 

What are your thoughts?  

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