Recently I started to notice how often we discuss your looks. You’re a really cute kid and I realize it’s become a sort of habit to constantly comment on the fact. With that in mind, I started to wonder whether I was guilty of placing too much emphasis on your appearance, as if it was a quality of character rather than something you’ve just been blessed with. I recently came across an article by Latina Fatale that addressed this issue in reference to young girls and how often we try to connect with them based on their appearance – “Aren’t you adorable.” “Look at your pretty dress.” “You have the most gorgeous hair.” – as if their aesthetic was the only thing worthy of note. I found the article thought provoking and it occurred to me that perhaps it was something that might also be happening with you.
I realize boys, by nature, are not defined by their looks the way girls are. They aren’t judged or commodified in the same way. You won’t go through life trying to live up to the same beauty ideal or struggle with the same body issues women do, but modern men are under more scrutiny than ever before. In the past 20 years I’ve watched the men’s section of drug and department stores increase exponentially. There’s manscaping and body envy and more products than ever before, and though I believe you will never reach the level of self improvement/self loathing women deal with (freaking out over bathing suit season or constantly fighting the uphill battle to hold onto your youth) modern man is no longer removed from the pressure and insecurities that surround appearance.
The problem (and I realize it’s a champagne one) is that so far your looks have garnered you a fair amount of attention and caused people (myself included) to make constant reference to them. Look, I love fashion, I love beautiful things, and since I have little money to dress myself or design our home how I’d like, I get my aesthetic kicks dressing you. So far you could care less what you wear so I’m able to doll you up without complaint. The end result being that you look adorable, people mention it and we both feel proud. I’ve started to wonder however, that even if I continue to dress you like an winsome, little prepster, if I shouldn’t be making a more concerted effort to shift my remarks to better celebrate your qualities of worth rather than appearance.
Baby, you’re cute. Your face slays me. That smattering of freckles across your nose. Your gorgeous auburn hair that shines red in the sun. That adorable, little upturned nose. You’re something else kid, but I think it’s time for me to take a break from mentioning it so much. You were signed by FORD Models at 4-years old for Pete sakes. People pay you to be cute and you’re getting to the age where, if I’m not careful, you could develop the very unattractive quality of vanity and I’ll serve you best if I help you avoid it.
With this goal in hand I devised a game for us to play that would sort out the qualities on which we should focus to ensure we were good people, and what qualities were simply nice byproducts achieved simply by luck. After collecting rocks together on the beach at the cottage I painted them with 5 qualities I deemed important and one extra to represent looks. Ultimately I was looking for a tangible way to express that even though being attractive is nice, at the end of the day it belongs at the bottom of the list. The qualities I included were:
KIND: Someone who looks out for other people (includes: thoughtful, loving, giving)
Ask yourself: Am I a good person?
SMART: Someone who uses their mind to better themselves and others (includes: ingenuity, cleverness)
Ask yourself: Am I an intelligent person?
CONFIDENCE: Someone with a justifiable faith in themselves and their talents. Not afraid to try new things or forge their own path. (includes: ambition)
Ask yourself: Do I believe in myself?
STRENGTH: Someone who has the ability and courage to deal with adversity. (includes: perseverance)
Ask yourself: Can I handle it when things don’t go my way?
HONOR: Someone with humility, honesty, and good manners. (includes: being a gentleman)
Ask yourself: Do people trust me?
APPEARANCE: Someone attractive.
Ask yourself: Am I good looking?
When the stones were ready I laid them out in front of you and we talked about what each one meant. To your credit you were attentive and engaged and took the exercise very seriously. When I was finished explaining I asked you to put the qualities into their order of importance. You were very conscientious taking your time deciding as you put the rocks in order beside you. This was the order you chose:
KIND, CONFIDENCE, SMART, STRENGTH, HONOR
You left ATTRACTIVE off the list.
Though I know this is just the beginning of a far deeper and more intense conversation, it felt like a great beginning for both of us to understand what the most important things are for being (and raising) a person. What’s qualities are key and what are not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of taking pride in your appearance. I believe it’s a sign of confidence. I think it shows you have a strong sense of self awareness and a healthy dose of self worth. Taking care of yourself is a good thing. Having a good body shows you’re healthy, value exercise and good eating habits. Nice hair and skin reflect good grooming and illustrate your self respect. Dressing well proves you’re willing to make an effort to present yourself properly to the world. These are all worthy endeavors. I’m just trying to help you understand that all the attention we pay to our outer shell, though important, is essentially irrelevant when it comes to being a Quality Person.
Our culture worships beauty and youth and people deemed attractive by our society would be hard pressed to convince you their looks didn’t have value or hadn’t played some part in acquiring them something of desire. At the end of the day people like attractive people and if looks didn’t matter, we wouldn’t work so hard to hold onto them. Attractiveness is a tangible quality. Terrible behavior is often forgiven based solely on the perpetrator’s looks. Attractiveness is not worthless, it just holds no weight to who you are as a person. Beautiful packaging sells many a product but it doesn’t make the product good. It’s the difference between a beautiful, ornately decorated cake made with way too much salt and a plain cake made to perfection. Which one would you choose to eat?
Lochie, God willing you’ll always be attractive. It’s a nice way to go though life. But as we move forward together, I want you to know there are so many other qualities I value above your appearance. Who you are will always be more important that how you look, especially if how you look is the first thing everyone notices.
Be kind, be confident, be strong, be wise, be trusted and know, above all, you will always be loved.