We recently celebrated Alumni Weekend at Boys Town and we are always so happy to welcome our beloved alumni home. It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a small group of Boys Town alumni, including one female alum, Shanda. Shanda was told by one of her peers that she was looking good.
Shanda responded, “Well, thank you! I give God the glory. I've been blessed." Statistically speaking, she's not wrong about the blessed part. Studies show that conventionally attractive people are perceived by others as healthier, smarter, and more social and they also get better grades, make more money, and get more dates than the rest of us normal-looking people.
As the conversation continued, Shanda went on to share that as she ages, she has noticed that she gets less compliments on her looks and is given less preferential treatment. She said that she even considered getting some drastic plastic surgery to restore her looks, but decided against it after studying the possible side effects. She said, “I'm sticking with what God gave me!" Like the wise farmer in the Gospel of Matthew, Shanda realized that trying to “pull up the weeds" sown by the “enemy" of time and gravity might also harm the “wheat" of her attractiveness and good health.
This is a message that our kids at Boys Town need to hear. Our popular culture of body shaming is destructive to both boys and girls. Some kids are tempted to use steroids to build muscle and strength, and this can lead to acne, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, problems with their sex organ development and suicide.
Other kids are tempted to starve themselves to lose weight, leading to anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia. Some kids even talk their parents into paying for cosmetic alterations to their bodies that can lead to infection, blood clots, nerve damage and scarring. In their rush to pull out the “weeds" of their perceived bodily inadequacies, many teens are destroying the “wheat" of their God-given health and beauty.
So, what is a concerned parent to do in response to these cultural pressures? Here are some strategies:
- Teach your kids about the algorithms and apps that “touch up" the looks of influencers, celebrities and even senior pictures. Remind them that the “beautiful people" get a lot of digital help to look like they do.
- Compliment your kids on their internal qualities instead of their external appearance. Instead of introducing your “beautiful daughter," talk about her creativity, strength, intelligence, caring or curiosity.
- Limit the placement of mirrors and bathroom scales in your home that subtly send the message that what really matters is how you look and what you weigh.
- When you talk with your kids about their bodies, focus not on looks, but on physical health. Help them focus on what their bodies can do and how they feel.
- Help your children to choose clothing that is comfortable and appropriate for the activity in which they are engaged, and that best suits their natural body type and tastes.
- Educate kids that people come in all shapes and sizes and to embrace their natural body type.
- Promote diverse body images in the lives of your kids by helping them connect to dolls, movie stars, pop singers and friends who don't fit the cultural construct of physical beauty.
- Don't spend so much time talking about your own appearance. Start a tradition of “Sloppy Saturdays." Skip putting on your makeup occasionally. Have some ice cream on special occasions.
- Teach your kids that true beauty is way more than physical appearance – that the inner beauty of their mind, heart and soul are what really matter.
We are all blessed by God with gifts and talents that we need to share freely with the world. It would be a shame if the unrealistic ideals of physical beauty for most people stopped our kids and everyone else from seeing and sharing these gifts. Shanda was right. She is blessed – to have learned that true beauty is more than skin deep!