13 Rules for Boys (and Men) on Talking to Women about Appearance

In preparation for ballet pictures my daughter and her friend were applying make-up, or rather I was applying make-up on two squirrelly girls. They were their gorgeous selves - if somewhat made up.

When buns were in place and make-up perfect my daughter's friend walked over to the table where the boys were madly playing Pokemon and sweetly asked, "How do I look?"
 
One of my sons glanced up, barely looking at her and responded, "Like a clown."
 
It was an awkward moment. I could see the little girl's face fall. She thought she looked like a gorgeous model. My son's off-hand comment immediately made her feel like Bozo the Clown, complete with the red nose and blue eyes.
 
My son, on the other hand, glanced at her, saw a ton of make-up and associated her make-up with carnival characters. It wasn't an insult. It was just the first thing that popped into his mind.
 
And just like that, I knew it was time to be The Mother of Boys. Because while my son didn't intend to he hurt her, he was just thoughtlessly telling her his honest (?!) opinion, it did hurt. 
 
As a woman I often wring my hands in desperation over men. How many times have been on the receiving end of compliment that was really more like an insult? How many hours of my life have been spent thinking about some thoughtless comment a man made to me innocently, yet it hangs on my mind?
 
Where are these men's mothers? And then I remembered; there is a difference between having children and raising them.
 
And so, in an effort to continue my journey raising sons I sat both of my sons (and my husband, because I'm pretty sure he didn't get this lesson either) down for a lesson on How to Talk to a Woman About Her Appearance.
 
Rule #1: When a woman asks how she looks; LOOK AT HER. Think. And then reply. 
 
Rule #2: "Fine" is never a good answer.
 
Rule #3: Any association with how she looks and farm animals (specifically cows, pigs and horses) are unacceptable and will cause harm to your relationship.
 
Rule #4: Avoid associations with carnival characters, especially clowns, but elephants and bears are problematic as well.
 
Rule #5: Actually, avoid all metaphors or similes. Focus on adjectives. Nice ones. Ones you might use to describe something you really like. For example: cars, video games and technology.
 
Rule #6: If the woman in question (regardless of whether you are in love with her, she is your sibling, friend or a stranger) does not look good, don't lie. (Except in the case of #9, but we'll get there).
 
Rule #7: But don't exactly tell the truth either. Take a moment. THINK. Try to recall something that would help improve the look without criticizing directly. For example if a dress is unflattering, think of a better dress and say, "I really love that pink dress you have. You look so pretty in it." or "You are so beautiful naturally. You really don't need make-up"
 
Rule #8: Always tell a woman if she has a booger, food, her dress stuck in her leggings. See Rule #10.
 
Rule #9: If a woman asks, "Do I look fat?" The answer is always NO. But, in some cases, when she does actually look fat, see #7.
 
Rule #10: If for some reason her outfit malfunctions, her make goes wonky or her hair flips out. Take her aside and gently bring it to her attention. Do not make any remark in front of people. No matter how comical it is do not make a joke of it. Ever. Unless she does. Then you can laugh.
 
Rule #11: If the woman in question is wearing something you object to, i.e. it's too short, too low cut, shows a belly button, unless you are her father, you do not get to tell her what to wear. 
 
You can see Rule #7, and gently suggest an alternative. You can hold her close and tell her you love her and respect her and want her to respect herself. But you do NOT get to tell her what to wear. You cannot call her slutty, trashy or a hooker. 
 
If your woman/sister/daughter/cousin is dressing this way you might ask yourself why. Women often dress provocatively to PROVOKE something in those around her. Sometimes women dress like this because they have low self worth and are trying to seek attention. Make sure you aren't the reason. 
 
Other times it's just hot. 
 
Rule #12: Never, EVER use words like "disgusting," "gross," "weird," "ugly" or any word you might use to describe insects, poop, or work in relationship to your woman and her appearance.
 
Rule #13: If this is too much information and you simply can't remember it all, live by this one most important rule; don't be an asshole.
 
 
At the end of this lecture my husband stood up and said, "Here's hoping they learn that before they're 36" and raised his beer to the hope we won't raise assholes.
 
My 14 year old just stared at me and said, "Agh! Girls are weird!! And I don't talk to the girls I like - so I'm SAFE."
 
My twelve year old son picked up his toy and said, "So, basically no animals or carnival characters? Got it." And began to play.
 
I'm beginning to think I need to print these up and hang them prominently in the house because I have a feeling we are going to need to review them.

 Read more about my adventures in parenting tweens at Merry Hell.

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