I Asked My Friends if They Think They’re Good Looking. Here Are the Results.

I had a wild hair last month while I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I asked my friends to let me know if they think they’re good looking. Weird, yes, but I was intrigued, and my friends tend to be the honest types, so I thought I’d throw it out there and see what happened. There were two main causes; a sort of aligning of two stars that day that resulted in the questions rolling around in my head. 1. I don’t know how to keep my daughter’s iTunes music from autoplaying in my car. 2. I find whatever wave of feminism we’re currently surfing completely fascinating.

A year ago, after totaling my favorite car ever, we bought a new one, and I still don’t know how it works. I mean, I know how to drive it. That part I have down. I just don’t know how to sync it because, apparently, these days cars sync to phones and wireless networks and probably satellites and Russian spy networks and the Google so all my mesmerizing moves are tracked, recorded, compiled, and sold in order to better tailor ads to my social networks. The joke’s on them, though, because instead of participating in their nefarious, big brotherly schemes, I’m playing my kid’s iTunes music on repeat. I hop in the car. I plug in my phone because I will 100% have forgotten to charge it overnight. And it auto plays my music list. Except it’s not my music list. To be fair, it’s not even my kid’s music list. Instead, it’s a randomly selected song from all the music my kid, now 21, has downloaded over the last 10 years since she started collecting music in the first place. That means there’s a lot of Glee mash-ups, friends. And some Bieber. Mariah Carey often serenades me with Christmas music in the summer. There’s John Legend, a little Beyoncé, and every song from all three High School Musicals. And the list goes on into infinity.

I apologize to people who ride in my car. 

“Something is about to happen,” I tell them. “My stereo is going to play us a song. I don’t know which one. It chooses for us. It’s one of those injustices in the universe. If we’re lucky, we can sing along to All the Single Ladies. If it goes badly, we’re stuck with Hannah Montana. I don’t know what to tell you. It is what it is.”

I’m fairly certain, if I was willing to invest the time, I could find a solution for my auto-playing car. But a) I’m definitely not willing, and b) it’s honestly pretty entertaining, so I leave it alone, and we all get to suffer equally.

Last month, though, on the Day in Question, I was serenaded by One Direction singing What Makes You Beautiful, the premise of which is, of course, the fact that you don’t know you’re beautiful is what makes you beautiful. Or, in the words of All Women Everywhere Who Live in the Wonky World of Infinite Social Dichotomies, bullshit.

World: Here’s what we’re going to need you to do. I’ll make it super simple. A) Be beautiful. B) Don’t know you’re beautiful. Got it?

Us: ???

World: Right. So, we’re going to need you to actually BE beautiful. Whatever effort, appliances, substances, time, research, self-examination, etc. that takes. But then please maintain grotesquely low self esteem ensuring you perpetually question your beauty because you’re not beautiful unless you don’t know you’re beautiful. Am I clear?

I mean, really, this is a concept that’s been roundly covered in the media, both satirically and seriously, during whatever wave of feminism we’re currently experiencing. Like this full-on brilliant schedule by Amy Schumer:

So I knew my frustration last month wasn’t anything new. And I’m grateful to be living in an era when women everywhere are roundly and unapologetically flipping off this entire concept.

But what I was curious about — what captured my attention and imagination — was how this very blatant cultural expectation that we must be but not know we’re beautiful affects real people. Like, my real people.

I wondered whether — even though we know the above expectation is complete excrement — we feel free to admit, even privately, if we know we’re beautiful. I wondered how many people allow themselves to even believe they’re beautiful. I wondered if folks would be able to quantify their beauty. And I wondered, for those who feel that they are beautiful, if it would be possible to say so without minimizing their beauty, providing disclaimers, or otherwise downplaying it.

My Facebook post read: 

Your Assistance Requested:

1. Will you please “like” this post so I know how many people saw it? Because I’m going to compare that data with the following…
2. Will you please send me a private message if you consider yourself good looking? (Just a yes is enough, but if you’re willing, you can also answer #3 via PM.)
3. If yes to #2 and if you’re willing to be super honest, a) how good looking (average, not “bad” so must be good, above average, very, extra, etc.), b) how does answering this question honestly make you feel (nervous, awesome, afraid, vulnerable, happy, etc.), c) if you somehow downplayed your looks or gave any disclaimers/caveats/etc. in any of the above, why did you feel like that was necessary… or were you tempted to downplay them but then saw this question and decided not to, and d) at what age did you start to think of yourself as good looking?

No need to private message if you feel like you’re not good looking… a “like” is sufficient so I know you saw this but didn’t message. I won’t be tallying your names or anything; just the number of views.

NOTE: I may use this information (anonymously) in an article. All answers will be kept in confidence UNLESS you give me explicit, written permission to quote you, but I reserve the right to anonymously quote you without any identifying information. ALSO, this is a judgement-free zone, just FYI.

I thought it would be an interesting social experiment. 

It was.

Here are the results: 

  • 186 people saw the post
  • 41 of those (22%) believe they’re good looking
  • Not everyone answered the quantifying question “how good looking,” but of those who did, most (more than 25) of the 41 think they’re “average” or “not bad”, and few (less than 5) of the 41 think they’re above average or “very” good looking
  • 29 of the 41 answered the question “at what age did you start thinking of yourself as good looking,” and, of those, 22 said under 18, and 7 said somewhere in their 20’s-40’s.


Now, this was an anecdotal exercise. Obviously. It lacks the scientific rigor of an actual poll. But it was FASCINATING to me nonetheless. 145 people out of 186 DO NOT consider themselves good looking. Since I didn’t ask for additional data from them, we don’t know whether that means they consider themselves OK? Fair? Poor? Ugly? Or other. We also don’t know if their self-assessed NonGoodLookingness bothers them. Maybe they couldn’t care less. But it is fair to say that 78% of people who saw this post thought about it and answered “nope” in their own heads. 

That is staggering to me!

I don’t know about you, but I find nearly everyone good looking. Classically, culturally gorgeous? Maybe not. But good looking? Absolutely. I think “good looking” is a pretty low bar. In fact, there are strikingly few people I find homely, and, when I do, it’s nearly always because they’re unkind or bigoted or bullying or otherwise treat people terribly. I’ve been accused of being more charitable than most people (which is untrue — I judge the crap out of people who treat others poorly), but I’m still going to guess that most of us find most people good looking. But that’s not true of how people feel about themselves. Fascinating!

I’m going to include a whole bunch of anonymous quotes from people’s responses below, so you can see what the 22% of people who DO think they’re good looking said, but before I do, I want to share two quick observations. 

The first I want to note because it was exactly the response I would’ve given if someone had asked me whether I consider myself good looking. And, according to others’ responses, it’s extraordinarily common. I would’ve said yes. Or, more accurately, “Yes, BUT…” or “Yes, sometimes?” Because I have moments when I see myself in a mirror or a photo and think “YOU ARE PRETTY, BETH,” but I have many more moments when I see myself and think “oh dear” or “you are VERY FAT” or another, equally unkind observation, and I would have 100% felt vulnerable answering in front of someone else because WHAT IF I SAY YES AND THEY DISAGREE? What if, in the moments when I think I’m good looking, I’m WRONG? What if my perception is WAY OFF? Which is sad, really — that so very much of what I think “counts” as “good looking” requires someone else’s analysis and buy-in. I really didn’t realize before asking this question and receiving the responses how precariously I value my physical self. And how I qualify and quantify it based on the ways I perceive others’ input. 

WOW. I must say, THIS IS NOT HOW I WANT TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT I LOOK GOOD. Comparatively. And only if others agree. 

I’d rather, during those moments when I see myself in a mirror or photo and think “YOU ARE PRETTY, BETH,” just… let myself feel that way. You know? Like I’m good with how Physical Me is represented. Like my confidence and how I feel isn’t dependent on anyone else. Like my “good looks” aren’t based on YOUR evaluation. They’re only based on MINE. And you’ll have to forgive me, because I know this is basic, but it feels revolutionary to me. I guess because I’ve KNOWN these things in my head, but I didn’t realize how very little they’d permeated my heart. 


Food for thought.

And now, after I’ve said good-lookingness (pretend that’s a word) shouldn’t depend on what others think/say/believe about me, I’m going to say that we still should tell other humans — particularly the young ones — they look great. 😉 

That’s the second observation I have. One surprise in my friends’ answers — the 22% who feel they’re good looking or at least “not bad” — is how young each was when they came to believe that.  The overwhelming majority of folks who answered said they started to believe it before age 18 which indicates that what we’re told when we’re young informs how we view ourselves going forward. 

I have to admit I’ve been uncomfortable with the “don’t tell girls they’re pretty” movement for quite some time. I understand the intention, which is to uncouple worth from looks and to send the important message to young women that their brains and ideas and inherent value are what’s important. You’ve seen the memes, right? “Don’t tell her she’s pretty. Ask her what she’s reading.” And I get it. I really do. I think those things are important, too. Definitely more important than cultural expectations for physical appearance.

At the same time, we tend to get sucked into Either/Or thinking when we ought to choose Both/And instead. Look, our bodies are how we interact with our world. And we are social creatures dependent on our communities, living in physical environments. Why in the world would we discount the body in favor of the mind when we can praise and uplift both? Why in the world wouldn’t we continue to tell young humans they look good AND ask what they’re reading? You know? We don’t have to pick.

If so many humans are forming their thoughts about and confidence in themselves so young, isn’t it important to instill in them as many positive thoughts about as many different aspects as possible? Don’t we all deserve that confidence and consideration? To truly believe that our bodies are as wonderful as our minds? Our faces as cool a feature as our hearts? What if we were allowed to embrace ourselves holistically? What if we didn’t have to respond to a culture too focused on looks by rejecting our bodies entirely? What if we could have a healthy attitude about brains AND brawn AND beauty? 


Take a look at the comments below, though, friends. I’ll bet once you read them you’ll feel like you’re in good company. They’re all just very… human and honest. I’ll love to get your comments, too.

Do you believe you’re good looking? Do you care? Do looks even matter or am I giving WAY too much time and attention to them by writing this? And did any of these comments make you think differently about your looks and how you view yourself? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sending you love, friends, and waving in the dark, always,




Here’s a sampling of the comments from my informal poll:


Answering makes me feel nervous and a little embarrassed. I feel like I’m “supposed to” be more unhappy with how I look than I am. I was totally planning on downplaying [my looks.] “I think this, but here’s an annotated list of the things I still wish I could change …” I went and had kids in my mid-20s, which meant I got a new list of things to dislike about my body (extra weight, loose skin, stretch marks so numerous my stomach may as well be purple). Took me at least two years post-pregnancies to start to accept the changes and revert to “sure I’m attractive.” And typing the last sentence made me feel kind of gross.


I consider myself average looking WITH MAKEUP. Without makeup I feel like I’m definitely below average, but not horrifying, just… not cute… yaknow?


Please don’t tell me if I’m the only one who pm’s you about this. lol  But Yes. I think I’m good looking. Slightly above average looking despite having distinct asymmetrical features. I’m not embarrassed to say so- but I try not to often because it feels awkward that other people don’t see or talk about their own beauty.


Of course I think I’m pretty!!! Just kidding, there’s a little insecurity in there because my body type isn’t “firm”. But I think that I clean up nice and when I make an effort to wear flattering clothes and style my hair I can look really pretty. That self confidence definitely changes with weight gain though, I’m pretty insecure about weight.


 I consider myself good looking. Answering makes me nervous, and uncomfortable because it feels braggy. I also worry that my perception is flawed, that I’m less than average looking. I worry that I’m a narcissistic if I really love the way I look. I have very little shame about my body and my looks, and that’s usually pretty uncommon for my peers my age/sex so I second guess my confidence occasionally. I remember the day I started considering myself good looking! I was at 5th grade camp and one of the mom volunteers called me a “timeless beauty”. I considered myself pretty since then. Before that day, I don’t think I considered myself or my looks much other than the clothing I wore.


I think I’m good looking. Felt pretty cute starting in the 4th grade, had a slight crack in my self esteem in middle school but did some mind set work/boundaries work and told myself I was not allowed to speak or think poorly about myself and have felt beautiful ever since. At one point later in middle school I questioned if I truly felt this way or if I had tricked myself into feeling this way. I decided I didn’t care which one was true. As long as I was always kind and loving towards myself, that was all I wanted.


I think that the way I look is often not valued in our culture (a curvy, somewhere between hippy-comfy and nerdy butch woman is not our culture’s definition of hot). There are days when I look in the mirror and think, daaayum. And there are days when I think, ugh, who is that frumpy wench. Generally, I think I have the raw material to be very good looking but usually range in the pretty good looking range. I feel all kinds of things talking about my attractiveness as a woman who has been large my whole life. I wonder how many of my opinions are those of the people who teased me in middle school or of movie casting directors. But in recent years I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with my looks and my body and feel good about saying that I look good. I was really romantically frustrated in my teens and 20s, never having boyfriends or sexual partners and really wanting that. In my early 30s I took the plunge and really committed to dating for a while and through a combination of trying harder and getting older found a number of partners who were really into me. I joke that reaching the age where men in their 40s is an acceptable target range changed everything – young men think they know what they want and a mouthy, curvy, butch brunette with no make up on is rarely it. Older men appreciate what I bring to the table in terms of brains and charm. As a feminist, I feel some kind of way about this, but I can actually pinpoint a couple specific partners who’s appreciation of my body has made a big difference in how I feel about myself. Hearing those words and knowing them to be true, even if I can’t always accept it, has worked like a buoy and a prayer – “I am hot! He thinks so so it must be true.” Yeah, man… we spend a long time healing from being a teenager. It sucks.


I guess I consider myself “not bad-looking.” Or maybe average overall. I really like my face, especially my eyes, and my hair is pretty great. But, also, I’m working really hard to de-program myself from evaluating people, myself included, based on looks. I don’t know where this quote originated, but it’s to do with the whole “being pretty isn’t the price of admission for being a woman in this world” thing, or something to that effect. And also body positivity and radical fat acceptance etc. etc. But of course I still look in the mirror and evaluate myself. And I mostly like what I see, even though I’m fat. Not just fat, but I think fatter than I’ve ever been with the exception of when I was pregnant. Objectively, wears-plus-sizes-now fat. So I guess answering the question makes me feel nervous, because I know for a fact that I don’t meet a single societal beauty standard other than being white, but also vulnerable and maybe a bit annoyed because, like, can we please move on from equating people’s value with looks??? (Not that I think you’re doing that, but it’s a thing that’s deeply tied in to considering this question, you know?) So yeah I provided caveats because I have a lot of complicated thoughts and feelings about evaluating looks, whether mine or others. 


I only sometimes feel like I’m good-looking but I thought I would send the message because I know there are times when I see my reflection or (less usually) a photo and think “Oh I look quite pretty.” Times this is more likely to happen – when I’m wearing make-up, when I’ve managed to blow-dry my hair nicely, when I’m wearing sunglasses. At least 50% of the time though and probably more, I have the opposite reaction so in terms of category I would say average at best. This question makes me feel quite stressed because I don’t want to sound vain. I was brought up being warned that two of the main things we should seek to avoid in life are showing off and drawing attention to yourself and this feels very connected to those ideas. I felt qualifying my answer was necessary because so much of the time I don’t think much of my looks. To be completely honest I nearly did avoid when I read this question but then I thought conveying the idea that I think I’m always stunning would be worse than getting into the explanation. 


I consider myself good looking in an average sort of way. I recall thinking of myself as a beautiful little girl as early as I recall. People used to tell my mother I was beautiful in my hearing. All little girls are pretty. I think I looked good partly because my mother sewed my clothes and dressed me in dramatic things like black, orange, and shiny gold that couldn’t be bought in children’s sizes in the early 60s. It went well with my black hair and my extroverted style. My mother and girl cousins were truly beautiful – like movie star gorgeous. I was content with average. My perception is my adolescence was easier because I wasn’t as beautiful as my cousins. I had an easier time being taken seriously than they did. My mom and I would get in strange arguments where she wanted me to say I was beautiful and I would say “I look pretty good.” I wanted that to be enough for her but it never was. SHE needed me to be stunning and I wanted her to be okay with pretty enough. I know I’m fat and old now but I still have times pretty frequently when I look in a mirror and think, “Hey I look good today!” I think that early feedback really sticks.


I do think I am attractive. I have always been told that I am beautiful by the people I love and trust – my grandmothers, my grandfather, my parents, my god mother, my closest friends, my husbands (I’ve been married twice). I don’t think that they would all lie. I don’t think anything much about being beautiful (though writing that felt a little bit odd lol) because it is more important that I am nice, and compassionate. Mostly I felt lucky because I had people in my life make me feel beautiful. Oh, and I have always felt that way. As an aside, I remember (when I was at university) comforting one of my beautiful friends because she thought she was ugly (she is not ugly) but her family had not built up her self esteem. I really felt lucky that mine had thought that was important (they also thought it was important that I thought I was smart and could do anything – for some reason I find this harder to accept.)


I guess so? Not like a model or anything striking but I can look decently put together? How’s that for a bold answer? Ha! The question makes me feel weird because I think it’s a combo of my own efforts (brushing my hair—my mother’s urging finally paid off), my genetics, and honestly my fortunate wealth (good makeup, nicer clothing, dentistry, skin care). And it also makes me feel weird because I know it plays a role in my professional success and that feels gross. 


I feel a little anxious [answering this] but also really happy, it took a long time for me to feel good about how I look. I feel like I might have added caveats like my face is good but my stomach is bad, my arms are fat, qualify it somehow so I’m not being overly full of myself. 


[I consider myself] slightly above average, I definitely feel vulnerable about that because I have doubts about whether others would agree. I have been working on healing my relationship with food, learning to eat intuitively, and accepting my body as it is. I have gained some weight and I’m still working daily on accepting this. Some days I feel amazing and other days all I can see are the physical changes through diet culture-influenced eyes. Even though I have spoken to very few people about it, I spend (probably) too much time wondering what people think.


In answer to your survey, yes. I did start thinking of caveats but then noticed your question and stopped, I guess because it feels weird to tell someone I know that I consider myself good looking–as in, if this were anonymous it would be easier but there’s definitely something… Shaming? About admitting it. I think maybe it’s because other people are “supposed to” rate our attractiveness, we’re not supposed to claim it. I always had this love-hate relationship with being good looking: it’s nice and it gives me power, and I don’t want people to just like me or give me power because of my looks.


Yes, I consider myself good looking. As far as ranking myself, I’d say I’m about average. However, I’d say I’m a “real” version of good looking. I’m not perfect, super skinny, tall, etc. I don’t fit the criteria set in society’s standards. Answering that question made me feel somewhat insecure. I don’t want to answer too strongly one way or another and be judged as being way off. It also made me feel inquisitive because I know I’m decently good looking , but I don’t know exactly how to qualify it. I do typically downplay my looks. Like, if someone compliments me, or is even attracted to me, my brain goes “yeah, but…” and reminds of all the things I’m insecure about that counteract the things that are good looking. Or my brain reminds me of how I’m only good looking because of “blank” effort I put in and it’s not going to always be there or last.


Yes, I would say that I have always thought of myself as beautiful, radiant and pretty but not necessarily sexy or hot nor have I really felt the need to feel that way (although in my adult life when there are people who make me feel that way it hits a vulnerable spot of desire that usually doesn’t emerge it’s face.) I have always lived into my given beauty rather than trying very hard to cover up or excentuate with make up or fancy hair. But I want to acknowledge that I had the benefit of falling in love very early in my life to a man who doesn’t need or want me to be that way.


What a question! I’m going to answer yes, good looking, but not super, just sorta. I will add that I was raised by a covert narcissist who outright told me I was NOT good looking. I was “average” or “funny looking.” It took until a few years ago, and about 18-20 years hearing how gorgeous my husband thinks I am to finally be able to look in the mirror and see someone who ain’t bad. Some days? Yikes. Old, double chin, bad hair. Lots more days the past few years, hey, how ya doin’ beautiful? Middle age weight gain hasn’t helped, but I recognize now that I have an hour glass figure, and if I dress it right I still look pretty good. So I’m gonna go with yes, not magazine cover material, but pretty good. 😍


Hi I’m nervously answering that mostly when I look in the mirror I think I look OK and not as old as I actually am. Sometimes with more make up on than usual, I would up that to pretty. But I feel really embarrassed about saying that I look OK and also really vulnerable because now someone could laugh and say that I think I’m pretty but that I’m not. 


I consider myself good looking. I realized in college that good looking didn’t mean tiny and slim and it didn’t mean I had to look hot in pictures. It meant that when I smile and laugh other people do too. It meant that all my features come together to create my whole picture and none had to be picked apart, studied, or criticized in isolation. I also realized that I had this face and body for the long haul. I might as well appreciate and enjoy it! I am so lucky. No one who matters in my life has ever loved me more or less based on how I look. No parent felt I wasn’t slender enough, as for me husband he is just happy if I am naked, and for my job: students need me to be present and welcoming and available to see and support them, so my looks couldn’t matter in the least. Consequently, I think I can be a reasonable judge of my own looks without caveats or evasions.


Interesting, right?? Remember, I’d love to hear your comments, too.

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13 responses to “I Asked My Friends if They Think They’re Good Looking. Here Are the Results.”

  1. This is fascinating. I’ll play. I think I’m pretty. Average pretty, except on certain days when I feel Hot Damn pretty (translation: slightly above average).
    I’ll be the oddball though and share that I didn’t start consistently, without shame or apology, thinking I was pretty until I was 34ish (I’m 38 now). I had some pretty spectacular work I had to do in my head to untrain my brain from the messages I grew up with to get there.
    Today’s I feel good saying I’m pretty. I feel good wearing a bright lipstick (which is the sum total of energy I have for interesting make up, mom of 3 that I am). I’m much fluffier than society tells me I should be, but I look good.

    I also tell my sons they are handsome AND ask them what they are reading. And I tell the little girls in our lives that they are pretty and ask them about their books and robotics projects. We can have both.

  2. I’ve only rarely thought of myself as good looking, although I know that for most of my life, I have been. As I’ve gotten older (51 now), I realize how much my looks have been part of my identity. I see my wrinkles now and am really really sad that I feel so ugly with them, and wish I’d have known how pretty I was in years before. I wish I looked as good as I thought was not so good before, if that makes sense.

  3. I know I’m beautiful. But I forget sometimes.

    I think to the general population I’m probably a bit below average. But I don’t care anymore. I never felt beautiful as a child or a teen. There was something to be picked apart, whether by myself or others. I’ve learned the hard way that holding myself up to an imagined standard is a recipe for failure.

    The thing that makes me truly beautiful is that I dance terribly with my children, and go on weekly dates with my husband, and make my friends smile. Loving and being loved, being someone happy with myself, being open to the little blessings, that’s what makes my eyes sparkle and my cheeks flush and turns me into something breathtaking.

    I make sure to tell my children in those moments, when they take my breath away, “You are beautiful. Your eyes sparkle. Your smile fills me with happiness. I want to hug you right now!!!” If there’s ever something about their person that could be picked apart, I just hold it up to the fire of their amazing-ness. Suddenly I can’t see it anymore, so there’s nothing much to say.

  4. When I was a little girl I thought I was hot stuff because I have blonde hair and blue eyes and that’s how all the girls in the country songs look. I really like the last quote you shared and can relate. I have never really had a romantic partner, but I’ve never thought, “Oh that must mean I’m ugly.” I thought for many years,”Oh that must mean I’m fat.”

    When I look in the mirror nowadays, 90% of the time I think, “Beautiful.” I’ve trained myself to not be neutral about my physical appearance as an adult and to not equate “fat” with undesirable.

    On the rare occasions when *someone else* says I’m beautiful or good looking or generally attractive (a boss once said that she told someone looking for me to look for the “tall pretty blonde”) it really sticks out in my mind. When it’s a male type human (I’m heterosexual) it’s a shock and surprise like, Oh yeah. I guess some of these dudes must find me attractive.

    Overall whether or not I’m good looking has been disconnected in my brain from other people’s opinions. Like you, I think most people are beautiful. I think I’m objectively beautiful because I’m a person and my face looks open and vulnerable in the morning and my body looks so soft with so many bumps and curves.

    I also thought it was interesting how many people said things like “when I make an effort.” I never make an effort to be more attractive. No make up, no cleavage, rarely shaved legs or brushed hair. I just am.

    Thanks for asking the question and sharing the answers!

  5. Look, both/and is a lovely concept… and the frustrating thing is that boys just never get their looks commented on at all. So should we START commenting on boys appearance so that all genders get both compliments on their looks and compliments on their abilities? I get that girls who aren’t complimented about their looks at home but live in a society that values beauty in women can get a complex because of it not being mentioned. But I have two sons, and only two sons, and I NEVER HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS ISSUE when I compliment them. And something is very wrong with that difference. I don’t know if giving girls both/and compliments is the answer (or maybe if its the only answer, or maybe its just one answer), but its definitely not enough.

    • I absolutely tell my son (also have 2 daughters) that he’s handsome or cute or good looking because he is. We even tease him that he’ll have a following in highschool with those dimples and blue eyes. Granted I make a point to not say what I’m thinking about how handsome he is more than once every few months because he doesn’t care about looks at all and definitely doesn’t want a passel of girls following him around one day. Usually if I accidentally blurt out, “you look so handsome” he’ll immediately try to mess up his hair which is funny since his hair is usually already a mess. I do not however usually comment on other children’s looks regardless of gender because I know that can be a prickly issue for some kids and parents so I tend to compliment on their clothes or actions instead.

  6. I’m a product of that “don’t tell girls they’re pretty” thought process and I honestly didn’t think I was pretty as a kid. My mother was a feminist and she didn’t want me to base my self esteem on looks or external affirmation … so I was rarely told I was pretty. But of course anything we hear from people we admire as kids becomes our truth and so I held onto being quiet, no trouble, smart, funny, and self reliant. Then in college something weird happened – people, including my mother, started calling my pretty. And I believed them. I definitely had a blossoming but when I look back at earlier childhood photos I think that little girl was pretty, too.

    Now, 30 years later I’m fatter and the fresh bloom of youth is gone (I think this is the age I should think about out make up but I just can’t be bothered) and I’m still pretty good looking. I think I’ll probably have it easier as we age than my drop dead gorgeous peers who are used to having beauty intertwined with their identity.

    So my take away is: tell your kids they’re beautiful because they care what you think. But don’t make it everything: also tell them that they’re clever and funny and kind and resilient, and loved.

  7. Reading this article changed a lot the way I think about beauty. Yes, it is a spectrum, but also that means there are people on both ends and ANY time we place value on a thing, even when it is on a spectrum, it means some people are going to come up short.


    I don’t know what the answer is but reading this has made acknowledge my own “beauty privilege” (good hair, symmetrical features) and pushed me to try harder to allow for and normalize my “ugly” (acne, weight, etc) because we need to make it okay to be those things.

  8. I was a tomboy growing up – so the focus was more on what I did/who I was rather than how I looked. And I was kind of low on the social pecking order at school. Or at least that’s how I remember it. It wasn’t until I was in college before I even considered myself on how I looked as a female and whether I was attractive. Funny that. Am I good looking? That’s the feedback I get from others, but honestly, I think that has less to do with my outward appearance (no makeup, nothing fancy) and more to do with my personality. I’m happy with myself – I look good to me.

    Interesting post. Something to think about.

  9. I was having lunch with some kindergartners yesterday, and one told me I was pretty. My beauty routine is a hair cut every two months, a daily shower, and earrings, so it’s not something I think about. But, I think having a random kindergartner say you’re pretty is a good thing…even if (and maybe more so if) they are really commenting on the fact that you are spending time with them and they appreciate it.

  10. I’ve always liked the way I look – but I never expect anyone else to. I generally think physical beauty is mostly effort put in – styling hair, makeup, clean fashionable clothes and shoes, and I put in close to zero effort. So I don’t think most people would look at me and think pretty most days. I really think they wouldn’t notice me at all. Which doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to see myself, in the mirror or in a picture.

    (Although in pictures I often feel like I look like I weigh more than I think of myself as. ‍♀️)

  11. I love your both/and thoughts on telling girls they’re pretty. I started to see that advice circulating (“here’s a list of things to say instead”) when my girls were small and it always bugged me because a. Yes actually, I would also say those things to a boy (I like your shirt, cool hair, etc) and b. I know how good it makes me feel when someone compliments my appearance or my children’s so why would I not pass that feeling on to someone else, either the person themselves or the parent with them? And also it has never ever felt normal to ask a girl what books she likes as a conversation starter (unless she’s literally reading in front of me), whereas “that’s a lovely top, is green your favourite colour?” can lead to conversation about all manner of topics.
    On Facebook recently I saw a quote about someone apologising to all her female friends for all the times she had complimented their looks when she should have prioritised their intellect/courage/kindness/whatever. It made me feel so sad that anyone would think they had to apologise for being nice for any reason at all. Yes we shouldn’t allot worth on the basis of looks and ourselves are made up of so much else but if someone pays me a compliment and my response is to think “why didn’t they prioritise this other feature of me?” rather than receiving it in the spirit it was intended then the problem is mine, not theirs. Let’s just focus on encouraging and building each other up more in all the ways! If something good pops into our head about a friend let’s share it with them whatever it’s about!

  12. I’m amongst those who “liked” and did not respond, because I’ve never thought of myself as pretty or attractive. Middle school was BRUTAL to my self esteem, and being best friends with a classically pretty girl from grades 5-12 made me feel like the Ugly Friend. When I adopted my kids, they were unfortunately direct about being disappointed with how not-pretty this new mom was, which was kind of hard to hear.

    BUT I did have a life changing moment when I was 16. I was living in Norway with a host family for the summer. There was a full length mirror at the bottom of their steps, and one day I ran down the steps and for a split second saw myself in it without recognizing it was me–I just had this happy jolt of, “Hey, I know that person! That’s someone I like!” Which, I realized, is how those who love me feel when they see me, whether or not I’m actually pretty.

    Then in college I had a conversation with two good friends. One is gorgeous. One is open hearted and hilarious. The beauty said everyone always commented on her looks, which she took to mean she was dumb and not interesting. The life of the party said everyone always commented on her winning personality, which she took to mean she was dumb and ugly. And I only heard that I was smart, which made me assume I was ugly and boring. We were juuuuust old enough and smart enough to have that conversation and realize what BS it all was.

    One more story, then I’ll stop hogging your comment section. My sister raised her daughter (now 29) during the “ask them what they’re reading” era. When my niece would ask if she looked pretty in something, she’d hear, ‘You look so happy!” or “You look strong!” (Partly because my sister was one of “the pretty ones” of our household and thought that meant she was dumb…) As her daughter got older, she realized she’d given her a complex about her looks by never complimenting them, so she rather sweetly and deliberately has told my daughter a few times how beautiful she is–AND smart, AND kind, AND brave. Because of course you’re right–both/and is almost always better than either/or.

    You always give me so many things to think about!

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