“There isn’t a person in this room — and it would be hard to find one walking down the street — who doesn’t care about what they look like.” This statement, made by a dermatologist at a skincare event I recently attended, got me thinking. There has to be someone who isn’t burdened by their appearance. “My son!” I thought triumphantly. I know she was referring to adults but in my head I’d solved the riddle. I mean, the kid has worn a shirt inside out to school arguing with me that no one will notice. He prefers long, broken, dirt-laced fingernails over a quick trim and would rather sport a tuft of hair sticking straight up than be subjected to a little water and brush.
I worry about the impact beauty-obsessed culture has on kids but I confess I’ve reserved most of that concern for little girls. Females have, after all, traditionally been more affected by image-related pressures. I was an overweight child and went through a pretty extreme awkward phase. I remember feeling defeated and depressed despite the fact that I was smart, funny, and kind. 30 years later, the pressure to look “good” has only increased, perhaps multiplied. What do our kids think about all this focus on outer beauty?
To find out, I decided to talk to my 7-year-old son about beauty and encouraged my friends to do the same. I shared a number of questions to start the conversation, some serious and others intentionally a bit silly. Some responses were hilarious, others were quite thoughtful, and there were plenty of surprises. Hint: according to kids, your appearance has a lot to do with your fashion choices, girls are finding positive role models, and my boy — the one I wasn’t so worried about — shared insecurities I had no idea he was harboring.
The questions, along with answers from kids ranging in age from 3 to 10, are below. I hope this post inspires you to talk with your kids about these topics. I was really glad I did.
1. What does the word beauty mean to you?
“It just reminds me of nail polish and pretty stuff.” — Stella, age 6
“Skin texture and hair.” — Zoe, age 10
“There are three meanings, the first one is looks, like if you are beautiful or ugly. The second is how you are on the inside, like if you are mean or electric, smart, or quick. The third is like music or art, like something someone makes that is beautiful.” — Sylvie, age 8
“To me it means everything is beautiful.” — Lincoln, age 5
2. What do you think makes a person attractive?
“Dresses and bracelets.” — Lila, age 5
“Inside; their love.” — Scarlet, age 6
“Personality, a bit of looks … not that much though, not really. It’s more about who you are and how you treat people.” — Sylvie, age 8
“Wearing a beautiful dress.” — Jackson, age 5
“Blue eyes, creamy skin (pointing at his own arm), and brown hair.” — Cian, age 4
“Exercise.” — Carlos, age 6
3. Can you name someone you think is attractive and tell me why?
“Dogs!!! Because they’re very furry and very cute.” — Stella, age 6
“Mommy and Daddy because they are my parents.” — Scarlet, age 6
“[A classmate] because she’s bossy and pretty.” — Julian, age 7
“Izzy (the dog) because she’s funny.” — Harper, age 6
“Simone (a friend). She is so fast!” — Carlos, age 6
“Sophia (a classmate). She’s always nice to everyone.” — Owen, age 8
4. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
“Cole,” a classmate, “says nice things to me and we call each other dude and that makes me happy and Cole happy and that makes us laugh.” — Lincoln, age 5
“That I’m very cute and smart.” — Stella, age 6
“Strangers tell me that my eyes look beautiful. It makes me feel good … and embarrassed.” — Scarlet, age 6
“I love your eyes” and “You are getting so tall.” — Sylvie, age 8
“I love your outfit or I love your hair.” — Zoe, age 10
5. Do you like it when people tell you that you are beautiful/handsome?
“Yeah. I just feel good that I’m beautiful.” — Stella, age 6
“Yes I do because I like being pretty but also I think what matters most is, you know, personality and stuff.” — Sylvie, age 8
“Yes, because I am.” — Cian, age 4
“No, because I don’t want anyone at school to make fun of me.” — Julian, age 7
“Yes, because I WANT to be handsome.” — Owen, age 8
“Yes because it just makes me feel happy and cared for.” — Ada, age 7
“No because I am not handsome; I am awesome.” — Lincoln, age 5
6. Do you like the way you look?
“Yes, especially that I’m part cat.” — Carlos, age 6
“Yeah … like that song, ‘I’m All About That Bass’ [says], it doesn’t matter if you are big or skinny, just be proud of who you are.” — Sylvie, age 8
“Sometimes when I look in the mirror I do but not right now.” — Lila, age 5
“No. I don’t look like other people.” — Julian, age 7
7. Do you like getting haircuts or having your hair brushed/styled/braided/put up?
“No. People laugh and say, ‘Look at your hair.’” — Julian, age 7
“Yes, put up and braided.” — Ada, age 7
“Yes. I want to get a ponytail so I can’t cut it now.” — Cian, age 4
“Not usually. I don’t do it usually.” — Stella, age 6
“I don’t like getting my hair cut or brushed. I don’t remember the rest.” — Lila, age 5
8. What do you think it means when people say that beauty comes from the inside?
“I think it comes from the outside.” — Lincoln, age 5
“Beauty isn’t just the way you look, it’s how your feel and how you care about each other.” — Scarlet, age 6
“I think it means if you have a nice personality, if you are generous, and you have a good sense of humor. Basically how you treat other people.” — Sylvie, age 8
“What? Inside?” covering his eyes with his hand, “No.” — Cian, age 4
“It means that you don’t have to look nice on the outside. What you are is what’s inside.” — Ada, age 7
9. Which Barbie do you like better? Why? (After being shown images of artist Nickolay Lamm’s 3D models of a classic Barbie and one recreated with the dimensions of an average woman)
“I like both of them the same. One is really skinny and really pretty but the other one is more like a normal person.” — Zoe, age 10
“Probably the taller one because sometimes taller people are kind of attractive.” — Owen, age 8
“They both look the same.” — Jackson, age 5
“I don’t care which doll I play with because you don’t get to choose what looks you have in real life. You are stuck with what you have so be happy with it.” — Sylvie, age 8
“The bigger one because her face is different and it looks more beautiful because her eyeliner is curved.” — Scarlet, age 6
“The real life Barbie. She has a longer skirt.” — Lila, age 5
10. Do you think that Barbie dolls, Disney princesses, and superheroes give little boys and girls unrealistic body expectations?
“Yeah, they make people wanna be strong. They don’t want to be a loser.” — Julian, age 7
“No. I want to be who I am.” — Lila, age 5
“No. Their bodies are not normal bodies since their arms only do like this,” holding arms straight, “and our arms do like this,” bending his arms. — Lincoln, age 5
“No! I don’t think I should look like a Barbie because beauty isn’t outside. It is inside.” — Scarlet, age 6
“Superheroes are not real except Spiderman because Peter Parker is real.” — Jackson, age 5
“Yeah.” — Owen, age 8
“Yes, definitely. There are no fat princesses; they’re all super skinny and fit and their complexion is just so.” — Zoe, age 10
11. Do you prefer it when your mom wears makeup?
“She looks prettier without it but I like when she does.” — Zoe, age 10
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.” — Owen, age 8
“Yes. Makeup.” — Jackson, age 5
“Depends, sometimes I like it when she has a little eye makeup and mascara but if she wears too much, maybe turn it down a bit. When [my sister] wears too much makeup, I just say, ‘Pipe it down, sister.’” — Sylvie, age 8
“No, because I like her just the way she is.” — Scarlet, age 6
“No. It makes her look weird.” — Julian, age 7
12. How old do you think a girl should be before she’s allowed to wear makeup?
“Probably six.” — Lila, age 5
“Three or four.” — Stella, age 6
“Five. No, Three. No Four. Six to wear it to school.” — Scarlet, age 6
“Over 20. Wait — over 13.” — Julian, age 7
“I think the parent should be in charge of that but I would say when you are about to reach double digits or nearing 13, maybe 12. I really think kids should have freedom with what they wear.” — Sylvie, age 8
“Ten hundred and thirty.” — Jackson, age 5
“Six years old. Boys don’t get to wear makeup.” — Cian, age 5
“Sixteen? Or probably 11.” — Owen, age 8More On