Mother to daughter: “It doesn’t matter how you look, honey. You’re really good at puzzles!”
That’s the message British junior minister Jo Swinson would like parents to send to their kids, according to the Telegraph, which paraphrased her as saying, “Don’t tell your daughter she is beautiful.”
Praising a child’s looks underscores the idea that physical attractiveness is the key to success in life, Swinson suggested. Instead, she urged parents to emphasize a child’s ability to complete tasks or ask intelligent questions.
The Liberal Democrat and Women’s Minister made the comments in advance of a progress report on the British Government’s “body confidence campaign,” aimed at building self-esteem among youth.
Swinson cautioned mothers against complaining about a chubby tummy or oversized derriere in front of their kids, since “children copy, they learn.” She offered advice to fathers, too: “Perhaps they can consider what they say about women in front of their daughters, how they’re being judged.”
Her points aren’t exactly earth-shattering. But Britons aren’t taking kindly to parenting tips dispensed by a childless 33-year-old politician.
Seeing that she doesn’t have kids of her own, wrote Telegraph reader Ni7kk3i, “she is not in a position to tell other people what to say to theirs.”
Other readers insisted that Swinson was naive for downplaying the importance of physical appearance. Study after study has confirmed that individuals tend to find attractive people more intelligent, friendly and competent. Like it or not, the beauty bias – a.k.a. discrimination against poor unattractive sods – is alive and well.
In an image-obsessed culture, a child who is never praised for his or her natural beauty could grow up feeling like an ugly duckling. Swinson’s mistake was her “either/or” approach to the issue, noted Eileen Murphy, a family therapist in Britain.
Children are hard-wired, especially as they approach adolescence, to seek approval for how they look, Murphy said. If parents withhold praise, children “will waste a huge amount of time looking for validation from every Tom, Dick or Harriet,” she pointed out.
Instead of telling parents to ignore their kids’ looks, she wrote, Swinson could have said, “when you are praising your daughter or son for how beautiful or handsome they are – don’t forget to give equal importance to their commitment to studying, their kindness to others, their sense of humour.”
In other words, try a balanced approach.
Editor's Note: Jo Swinson is a junior minister (parliamentary under secretary). An earlier version of this story misidentified her as a Cabinet minister.