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My daughter is currently 10. I have always tried to encourage her to not be overly concerned with other people's opinion of her, and I think that this has largely succeeded. Like any kid, she gets teased (for being skinny, for having brown hair, for clothing choices). While she doesn't enjoy it and complains about such behavior, she also places the blame on the teaser -- "this person is being ridiculous," rather than "I need to change what I'm doing or who I am".

At the same time, I want her to be aware of the impression she might be giving -- for example, if she decides not to brush her hair for three days, somebody's likely to conclude she's lazy or sloppy. First impressions matter if she wants to ask some cute guy to the school dance, for example, or in job interviews, or in the classroom when you're trying explain why your homework is late.

I find it a challenge to balance ideas like "please comb your hair, it looks like a disaster" or "you are NOT going out of the house wearing THAT," against "I want you to develop your own sense of style and love your body and appearance."

What are some useful strategies to encourage a pre-teen or teenager to take some care with their personal appearance, while simultaneously not making her feel like she's constantly being judged and critiqued?

  • Side note - keep in mind that "I need to change what I'm doing or who I am" can backfire, too. Some people are just jerks, and will find any reason to tease/bully someone. The idea that you need to change, because of someone else's behavior can be as disempowering as it can be empowering, so make sure that you're conveying the right message with that one (IMO, you shouldn't need to change who you are to please others, even if some of your behaviors could use tweaking). – Shauna Dec 18 '14 at 20:52
  • @Shauna I think the OP was saying her daughter DOESN'T think that, which is good. – Bobo Dec 18 '14 at 21:20
  • @Bobo -- my reading of it was that the OP thinks her daughter should think more like the latter. If that's not the case, the props to the daughter and parents. If it is, then I just suggest to be wary of swinging too far the other way. – Shauna Dec 18 '14 at 21:51
  • To clarify, she tends to think the former, and I do encourage that. @Shauna thanks for the concern in any case :) – Acire Dec 18 '14 at 21:58
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I think you can keep it focused on the image she wants to portray. Ask her:

What are you saying about yourself with that look?

If what she thinks she's putting out there matches what other people think, and she's okay with that, so be it. If her perceptions are off, you can gently correct them:

That outfit makes you feel comfortable, but that boy you like might think it means you aren't interested enough in him to make an effort. Are you okay with that?

Focus on giving her an accurate as possible picture of how others will perceive her choices, and then try to support her decision either way. That being said, I think you might be worrying a little prematurely. Puberty has a way of working these things out.

  • 3
    Well, having been a horribly self-conscious teenager, I'm hoping to help her about some of the worst of it by going INTO puberty with a reserve of confidence. But it's also likely I'll be looking at this question in a few years and laughing at my ignorance :) Great answer. – Acire Dec 18 '14 at 16:20
  • I think you've gotten her off to a great start. – Karl Bielefeldt Dec 18 '14 at 16:21
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    I think this is a great answer. My parents told me to never worry about what other thinks, which is good, and has helped me tremendously in many ways (especially as a teenager, I had virtually no 'teen girl angst'), but professionally I have to remember that other people's opinions matter. I wish I had started thinking of it a little earlier, but it is definitely a good start to NOT worry and then figure out what to worry about. – Ida Dec 18 '14 at 22:57
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    -1 I really dislike the idea of using a boy's interest as a motivator for a young girl's appearance. Girls have enough sexist role models in pop culture, they don't need their parents to tell them something they'll hear as, "Boys will only like you if you put a lot of effort into your looks." You could instead say, "People will always have different opinions on your style choices, but most people have the same opinions on hygiene and grooming. Whatever style you choose, it's important to be clean and well-groomed in that style." – user11394 Dec 19 '14 at 22:24
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    I agree that "that boy might not like you" should not be a general, always used method for encouraging more effort in looking presentable, but if she's got a crush and asking me how to get him to like her better, I would include advice on grooming as part of a package of advice that includes being herself. – Acire Dec 20 '14 at 15:32
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You can have it both ways. Teach that someone should have a style that is their own, because unlike fashion style is timeless, but that our appearance sends messages to other people so it is important to carefully consider what that style is. As a boy, I wish I had this advice while I was younger. Even though my family grew up fairly poor and shopped second hand mostly, had I made wiser choices (e.g. not going with t-shirts and jeans, general 'slop wear') and instead trying to build a more dappered style that closely reflected myself I would have felt more confident and portrayed that confidence, versus camo jackets, t-shirts and jeans, and the such that although was crazy comfortable and utilitarian, basically made me a loner my entire high school career.

I think you're on the right track, but I would avoid using discussion examples such as boys, and focus on what she wants to tell the world, and self-confidence. When you like how you look, and you look good, you feel good about yourself. I myself have gone from t-shirts and jeans that are common in the IT world to a much more professional look, and as a result feel much more confident. That confidence means I get more challenging assignments and sought out for when people need help, and it comes primarily from broadcasting that to the world through my style. By making the discussion about what she wants to tell the world and helping her carefully craft it, not only will the opinions of others not matter, she'll make the impression she wants to make in the end. Now that doesn't mean you can't nudge her away from disastrous style choices like not brushing her hair for 3-days, wearing a pink tutu at all times, or generally looking like she got dressed by swimming in a pile of random clothes until she was covered. That comes back to the questions of "what do you think this says about you? Does it look confident and organized?".

2

I think you have 3 separate issues here.

Tidy appearance

There are some near-universal assumptions that people make about others who exhibit poor hygiene. Hygienic, tidy appearance is separate completely from style. You can wear the exact same outfit, but still give different impressions about yourself based on how tidy you are.

I believe it's important to encourage personal grooming, and to emphasize that personal hygiene is separate from looks, even though it affects how you look.

Good personal hygiene consists of:

  • Bathing regularly
  • Washing hair regularly
  • Brushing/combing hair before going out in public
  • Brushing teeth regularly
  • Wearing clean clothes in public
  • Wearing properly-fitting clothes in public
  • Trimming fingernails regularly
  • Getting regular haircuts
  • Using deodorant
  • Maintaining facial hair

Some of this does vary by culture, with more or less being expected.

While no one really likes having their character judged based on their appearance, there may be a valid reason we judge people on their cleanliness. Dirty appearances and smells are associated with poor health, and poor health can be contagious.

Your child should learn how to care for their own personal hygiene. There are very few places where it's generally accepted that you don't have to be groomed to be there. Namely: home, a close friend/family member's home, and WalMart.

Expressing oneself

I believe that clothing we choose to wear is part of our self-identity. Considering how much we're judged on our appearance, I don't think my opinion is amiss.

Regardless of whether or not we feel that people should judge on appearances, it happens and it's always going to happen. So, it's best to be prepared for that. This means that it is important to be aware of how we're representing our identity to others.

If you just wear whatever is comfortable, no matter how it looks, that's your prerogative. However, the identity you're projecting is, "I just wear whatever is comfortable, regardless of circumstance/expectations". Some people may also consider this appearance to not be tidy, and so you're back to judgments about tidiness.

If you wear a style of clothing that is representative of a subculture, then you're projecting the identity of, "I belong to [this] group." With this, you end up also opening yourself up to judgments and misconceptions attributes to that entire group.

If you wear clothes you feel truly represent yourself, then you're projecting your identity, rather than a blanket identity attributed to many.

I would encourage your child to wear the types of clothing that are age-appropriate and conform with their own identity.

Building self-confidence in personal appearance

If your child knows that they are well-groomed, then they can also know that judgments are being made about their appearance because of cleanliness. This improves confidence by removing from the table a range of attributes or judgments that may lower confidence.

If your child is wearing clothing they feel represents their identity, then you can support them in that. Try to learn about that style (probably by observation), and facilitate it if you can. This may mean suggesting articles of clothing your child already owns that may "work" better in an outfit choice that is not working. It may mean letting your child have more power in deciding which clothing to buy.

When trying to increase your child's self confidence in their appearance by making verbal statements, wording can be important. Here are some examples:

"I can tell you put a lot of effort into that outfit today."
"You look very well put-together."
"That [accessory] is a nice touch."
"You did a great job picking that outfit, it looks amazing."

All of these statements compliment your child's ability to maintain their style. These statements/compliments are not about things your child can't change, such as their physical appearance (or current wardrobe, unless they have their own money). They can change how much effort they put into their appearance, whether or not they look tidy, and what sorts of choices they make about outfits.

You may notice that you don't necessarily have to like a child's outfit in order to compliment them about their ability any more than you have to like an artist's subject matter to compliment their technical ability. However, your tone should not say, "I don't like the outfit, so I'm complimenting the only thing I can think of." These statements should be genuine.

If your child happens to get teased based on an outfit choice, you can use that as an opportunity to build confidence, with statements like:

"You should be proud of yourself for not letting [Person] change how you express yourself."
"You're very good at understanding that they weren't teasing you because of your clothes, but because they wanted to tease you about anything." (Supposing that they are good at understanding that. If your child isn't, that's something else to work on)

-1

There is really only one answer needed for this issue.

Self esteem and personal appearance (in all ages, but more quickly in children) comes from only one factor.

A sense of being valued by role models (or mates more commonly in women).

Emulation (or 'pea-cocking') quickly follows because value is a diminishing property that when viewed internally needs constant upkeep.

In pre-adolescent children, gender is neutral, so the role model method is more effective.

Your solution:

Either make yourself (or someone you can manipulate) her role model, then make her seen as highly valued by that person. Keep that person in the specific appearance that you are looking for in your child, she will then try and emulate that person.

Your concern for the idea that she should not "feel like she's constantly being judged and critiqued" is exactly the opposite of the solution to her problem.

While some may judge this to "cause a lifetime of self esteem problems" the idea that we constantly judge ourselves against those we look up to, is exactly how how and why successful people 'dress for success.'

You want to be the person at the top, so you emulate their "tidy and acceptable appearance."

One other thing to consider is the battle between 'lazy' and 'work ethics.' If she is simply not doing her hair, or wearing simple clothes she just throws on, try working on instilling a larger work ethic in her. Gardening and chores are simple easy fixes for this.

  • There are no "are simple easy fixes for this." :) Would that there were! – anongoodnurse Dec 19 '14 at 23:07
  • You'd be surprised what building a garden with a 10 year old little girl can do. There are other options of course... volunteer your family to a service, some community activity, and punish them for lack of participation. Work ethics require discipline, work (of all things), and time. What I meant by the statement is Work -> (if needed) Discipline -> Work Ethics. – Salteris Dec 19 '14 at 23:50
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    @Salteris Work ethic, or "lack" thereof, can be a rather controversial subject which doesn't have much to do with this question. – user11394 Dec 20 '14 at 0:18
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    @Salteris - I built an entire farm with my kids (honest; gardens, poultry, milk animals, and much, much more) but it guaranteed nothing. There are no simple, easy fixes. If that were one, my kids should have been golden. Point me to one person's easy fix, and I'll point you to another's failure. – anongoodnurse Dec 20 '14 at 0:40
  • She has a reasonable work ethic and gets homework, etc. done promptly -- just isn't interested in spending time on clothing or grooming choices. – Acire Dec 20 '14 at 15:33

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