Speaking as a resident of northeastern America, I can say with confidence that beauty is overemphasized in women in this culture. One of my students talked to me today about her problems with self-esteem--though clearly she IS attractive, by any objective standard, she has low self-esteem about her appearance.

Her boyfriend has told her repeatedly and sincerely that she is beautiful. But here's the problem--and this applies to all praise, really--the more he tells her she's beautiful, the more he sends the message that beauty is important. Admittedly, he's ALSO sending the message that she's doing well in that department, so it seems okay. But it seems to be the case that, so long as attention is paid to this aspect of her life, anything less than perceived perfection will seem to her like a failure, and she will always perceive herself to be less than perfect.

So, my advice to the men out there is to be clear, not so much in words, but in deeds, that attractiveness is like wallpaper rather than lighting--nice, but not critical to the mission of the room. I also recommend dating women who value appearances less than most--they are often wonderful people, who deserve a chance to impress you. You can still tell her she has pretty eyes, though--that's the sort of thing she has no control over, and so it involves no pressure. You tell a woman she's got a nice body, now she thinks it's important to you, and she needs to work to keep her body better-looking than the body of anyone else you might consider dating.

The same principle applies to all praise--if you congratulate a child whenever s/he succeeds, rather than whenever the strategy employed was a creative one, you suggest that creativity is less important than results.


Later update: this node is an overstatement, but it helps to accentuate the message--if you have a problem with the literal meanings herein, I'm okay with that. I don't avoid telling people they're beautiful, really--in fact, whenever it occurs to me to appreciate a positive aspect of someone, I try to let them know. It's sort of the converse of, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all,"--when I have the opportunity to give a sincere compliment, I like to take it. But I override this desire in any case where my actions haven't made it fairly clear what my priorities are, in order that I avoid sending the wrong message. It helps that I have had a number of amicably-ended relationships with women of whom I still think and speak highly who are relatively unconcerned with and do not try to conform to conventional standards of beauty.

In particular response to Katyana, I can't deny that the world values appearances. I dislike that facet of reality, and so I try to live in a way which expresses that opinion and models a way I would prefer for the world to be. Whether this actually changes the way things are or not isn't terribly relevant to me--I can't think of a better way to deal with the behavior patterns of people that I oppose than simply to avoid embodying them.
Obviously you've never gone out with any of my ex-girlfriends. I can just see it now...

EVIL, VENGEFUL, PSYCHOTIC COW : "Darling, am I pretty?"
ME : "No comment."
EVPC : "Eh?"
ME : "By commenting on your beauty I would be perpetuating a set of standards that are designed to keep you enslaved and undermine your ability to develop as an individual."
EVPC : "Fine. Cool. But am I pretty?"
ME : "You are a nice person. That's all I'm saying."
EVPC : "Well, may I say that that's a very mature and enlightened attitude. May I also say, that your testicles are chains that forever bind you to a patriarchal society and stopping you getting in touch with your true feelings. By removing them thus -"
ME : "Eeep!"
EVPC : "- I am liberating you and allowing you to develop as an individual."
ME : {insert sound of person bleeding to death}
If a girl is beautiful you should tell her so.

If both you and said girl are mature enough to appreciate true beauty there should be no problem. The comment is just what it means: "I looked at you just now and thought that God must be a fucking genius to have created you and placed you on this Earth." No more, no less.

If you are with a woman but you are afraid to tell her you think she is beautiful, perhaps you are not with the one you should be. If she cannot appreciate the fact that you think she is pretty, and rather automatically believes that you are with her solely for this reason, then this isn't a relationship that needs any more of your attention.

While I agree with kelrin's original node in theory, the malodorous fact is that beauty is important. Much like the statement "I love you." should never need to be parroted by the reciever. The statement itself is in fact a question, "Do you love me?" If the reciever doesn't say "I Love you too." We are left feeling empty and anxious. We need to hear that affirmation, "I love you too." Similarily we need to hear that we are beautiful even though it shouldn't be important.

We are a superficial society. Physical beauty does matter. In fact, aesthetics may matter more than anyone cares to admit. We all want to act like it’s the personality that we are drawn to, but regrettably personality without physical attraction is an equation that leads you directly to Friendville.

Sure we can blame television or model magazines, but even babies know what is attractive and what isn't. Just yesterday I remarked to my husband, "That is my favorite bird out here." Why you might ask? Not because the bird was not selfish at the feeder or had a magnificent swoop, but because it was brilliantly coloured. It was pleasing to the eye.

I, more that most, would be thrilled if wit, charm and grace were of utmost importance in pair bonding or any other part of society for that matter. However, physical appearance draws people together. People who are considered attractive are also assumed to be friendlier, better workers, and more intelligent. Not to mention the fact that more people want to fuck them.

Therefore, women and men both need to be told that they are attractive. We all want to feel desireable. Whether or not it makes them more conscious of their body, or if it is a downright lie, it is a compliment. Compliments feel good. Compliments make people feel happy. If reinforced enough, one might actually begin to believe them. So go on, tell your significant other you think they are beautiful. Tell your friends. Tell your children. Teach them not to argue compliments, just to accept them graciously. It will raise their self esteem.

Until every human pokes out their eyeballs with a sharp stick, beauty will remain extremely important. Luckily, beauty is in the eye of the head up the ass of the beholder. Attractiveness is mostly subjective. Else wise, only 10% of the population would be dating. Some will find you beautiful, more won’t. You will find people beautiful that others may not. Tell them. I bet they would like to hear it.
Most of the girls I've met who have problems with their appearance realize they are beautiful, but haven't accepted it yet. Whether it is for personal reasons ( they don't know if they are capable of acting out the role of a beautiful woman in society) or whether their definition of beauty may be slightly different from what they see in the mirror, most women who are genuinely attractive seem to know it at some level or other. Speaking from personal experience, telling a girl that she is beautiful just when you meet her ( depending of course on circumstances ) is a very nice thing to do. It will at least get you a smile, and if you say it as sincerely as you feel, probably a blush as well.

That being said, it does make the girl very concious of herself, and perhaps start to question her own beauty later. Which has been mentioned above. This is bad, obviously, and it is wise in those cases to hang around, change the subject, and talk of other things. Its a good way to get to know her anyway.

Friendships, and girlfriends are a bit different. The person you are complimenting is obviously more than a two dimensional image on the street, on in the bar. For this reason if you mention beauty often as something you admire in them, it will make them incredibly self-concious, and also wonder why, in light of all their other qualities, you only fix on their beauty? This is something women do wonder about occasionally and guys as far as I can tell, don't. A genuine compliment, repeated from the heart, once every few days, can seem very shallow, and fixated to a woman if it becomes predictable. It makes her feel painted into a corner, boxed in. Caged...

I speak of course from the personal experience of losing several girlfriends this way. Time, and wounded hearts, lead to sophistication, and also to better climes. I learned if not to make the same mistake twice, at least to know when I was making a mistake and stop, and backtrack. Then later not to make it at all. Which was another mistake, because if you don't mention beauty at all, a girl starts wondering what the matter is with her. Then after a few more years, I realised that you only bring beauty up when she draws attention to it, compliment her, when she dresses up, changes hairstyles, or even when the light changes considerably. women love to be adored. At least that's what I think. Beauty is a part of that, we shouldn't make her feel ashamed of her beauty, but accept it as part of herself. It may not last long, so enjoy it. Both of you, while it lasts.

As a girl myself, I would re-title this whole node "don't only tell a girl she's beautiful" because I think that's where the problem lies. It's a matter of what really matters, and if all we emphasize is beauty, the results can be very destabilizing.

I'll even provide an example, and I'll even admit it's about me, as much as I hate to. I have a friend that I've known for a whole bunch of years, a friend who is very talented and who I really respect. The possibility of us dating has always been non-existent since I've been happily committed to someone else since before we met. He's a poet, and a particularly good one whose work I really admire, and whose company I cherish. But invariably, when we get together, he tells me how beautiful he thinks I am.

Yes, everyone here is right, it does make me smile, and it does make me blush, but it also makes me wonder. He has heard my poetry too, which although nowhere near on par with his, is sometimes quite good, and we've had long philosophical and political debates that stretch into the wee hours of dawn, but he has never told me that he like my writing, or that he thinks I'm intelligent, interesting, anything but beautiful.

I tell him these things. I tell him how much I enjoy our long conversations, his company, and these are more fitting with the kind of person he is. He writes over and over again about how our beauty-obsessed society has made him feel like he was never good enough. He writes about escaping from a world that values us based only on the way we look, but he always tells me I'm beautiful.

Don't get me wrong, he is a wonderful friend, but he does remind me of how rarely we emphasize the things that matter. I'm training to be a secondary school teacher right now, and when my peers give me feedback on presentations I give, I keep hearing about how I'll make a good teacher because of my voice. My voice. Not my passion for working with young people, not my carefully thought out pedagogical foundations, not my ability to provoke critical thought, but my voice.

It's just all a matter of emphasis, and although it's easier to glance at someone and respond to how they look, I'm going to make a point of listening to someone today, and responding to what they have to say. I'm going to spend my attention on what I think is important.

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