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Hey There Good Lookin’!

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One Shabbat, a few months ago, a friend stopped me in the street. “You look so nice today!” she exclaimed. Her honest, out-of-the-blue compliment made my day. And still, thinking about it months later makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
 
But lately, saying anything that smacks of “outer beauty” is a big no-no. I guess she should have said, “You look so intelligent today!” Or, “I love your leadership skills!”
This is perhaps less true about adults, but it is certainly the trend when it comes to our children, especially our daughters. The current wisdom states that we should refrain from complimenting them on their looks because we don’t want them to think their self-worth is related to their outer appearance. We should focus on girls’ brains, talents and sense of humor. Not on how pretty they are.
 
And part of me really understands that. In our sexed-up, celebrity-obsessed, look better/younger/thinner society, I get that you need to bend the twig far, far back in the other direction. Instead of an appearance-centered outlook, focus instead on achievements, accomplishments, brains, abilities.
But isn’t how we look also part of who we are?
 
The Torah certainly thinks so. The parshiot (Torah portions) we’re in the middle of now talk a lot about the beautiful women of the Bible. Sarah is called “yafah hee meod/very beautiful” (Gen. 12:14). Rebecca is described as being kind when she drew water for the travelers and all their camels. But first, the Torah says that she was “tovat mar’eh meod/beautiful of appearance” (Gen. 24:16). Rachel is “yifat to’ar v’yifat mareh/handsome and beautiful appearance” (Gen. 29:17). Apparently, beauty was considered significant enough to be mentioned. Repeatedly. Maybe because looks do matter? Our appearance is an undeniable part of who we are. Not as important as being generous, honest or humble, but not something we should ignore, either.
 
When my kids do well on a test, make a funny joke or (on blessed rare occasion) help each other out, I compliment them. And if they are looking spiffy in their new Shabbat clothes, or if my daughter has a cool new hairdo, I’ll compliment them on that too! Why should they never hear from their parents that they are cute/gorgeous/handsome? I like being complimented. I don’t think there is something wrong with deriving pleasure from being told I look nice. I also am fairly certain that my self-worth is not entirely reliant on those compliments, either. Why is it different for our kids? I believe it’s more than OK to throw in a “You’re so beautiful!” to our kids now and again. In fact, I think the opposite is true—we do a disservice to our children when we deny that how we look is an important part of who we are.
 
I want my kids growing up knowing that their mom thinks they are capable, smart and beautiful. And I want to empower them to feel those things about themselves, to feel confident about themselves and take pride in who they are, both inside and out.

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