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It's a conundrum for every woman who wants her pretty daughter to grow into a confident woman: should she tell her she's beautiful, or should she ignore her beauty and compliment her other, more lasting gifts — her intelligence, her creativity, or her sense of humour?
According to Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, mothers should take the second option.
Telling girls they are beautiful teaches them that looks are more important than anything else, and blames the obsession with appearance for early sexualisation of girls, promiscuity and growth in plastic surgery among young women.
"The problem is not just about that 25 per cent of young women who would rather be hot than smart; rather, it's about a culture that actually makes that a rational choice; rewarding girls for looks over brains," she writes.
One mother of an exceptionally pretty teenager told The Weekly that she does not tell her daughter she is beautiful, but she has worried about that decision.
"Because she is so beautiful, other people tell her, so I don't," she says. "I kept telling her all her life that beauty comes from within.
"Sometimes I worry that I didn't do the right thing, as she had low self esteem in her teens and never felt beautiful. She looked in the mirror and found fault. But maybe all teenage girls do that."
Another woman said she did tell her daughter that she was beautiful. "But it backfired a little, because she felt if she was going through a period when she wasn't particularly beautiful — when she'd put on weight, for example — it affected our relationship and she felt I didn't have the same regard for her."
A third woman said: "I tell her she's pretty or beautiful — my husband does too because, well, she is! But we are conscious of not saying it too often — so she doesn't think that's all she's good at — and balancing that with telling her she's clever, smart and capable."
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