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Community QA

Who’s Responsible for Renee Zellweger?

There is so much chatter about Renée Zellweger’s new look. But perhaps it’s time to turn our gaze to an underlying issue that I don’t hear the media addressing in this conversation—how do women talk to each other? For that matter, how do men talk to women? And what does it say about who we are and what we value?

Human beings have this incredible, deep need to be in relationships with other people. We want to engage with each other, but what are we choosing to talk about? I’d like to explore the idea that our conversations affect how we see ourselves, and perhaps even the values we subconsciously espouse.

I’ve been pregnant three times—the last with twins. Each time, I was struck by the outpouring of friendly conversation lavished upon me by strangers and friends alike. People talk to pregnant women because they know the rules for what to talk about with a mommy-to-be. You can ask about the due-date, the name of the baby, chat about food cravings, or the discomfort of pregnancy. Now, when I am out and about with the twins, I experience the same excitement from strangers. They approach me abuzz with questions about what it’s like to raise multiples. I’ve found when traveling alone for work, just sitting on an airplane next to someone invites familiar chatter. When it feels welcome and easy, strangers engage with each other. But it’s not always so welcome and easy, which is why we play on our phones and ignore each other much of the time.

In my work, I have the privilege of teaching thousands of people around the globe how to build relationships and get results through dialogue. I am essentially teaching the rules for holding effective crucial conversations. People are so grateful for these rules. When we know the rules for engagement, we feel more confident and less vulnerable stepping up to these difficult conversations. However, no one teaches us the rules for casual conversations.

I suspect when we greet our friends or turn to strangers to make small talk, we are not consciously connecting to our deeper values in those moments. I fear our friendly and well-intentioned chitchat could very well be contributing to the reasons that beautiful women like, Renée Zellweger, find themselves in search of a new mid-life look.

Here are the kinds of things I hear us saying:

“I can’t believe you just had a baby. You look amazing!”
“Where did you get those shoes?”
“I love your hair.”
“How do you stay so thin? Do you work out?”

If these are the comments a woman hears day in and day out, what does she come to believe society values most about her? The social justice work she does? Her commitment to lifelong learning? The kindness she extends as a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a wife? The discipline she demonstrates in her work, her studies, and her parenting? No. She learns that she is valued for her body, her clothes, and her image. Perhaps she comes to believe that her vitality is tied to the fleeting physical beauty of youth.

And if one day she stops receiving a steady stream of these comments (or if the comments she hears are of the more disparaging, critical kind to begin with), she is left wondering how valued she really is.

She might be tempted to believe that society will value her more if she could just “get a little work done” or drop a few pounds or cover the gray.

It seems to me that people are hungry, maybe even desperate for human connection and face-to-face conversation. Delightful, spontaneous, kind words from strangers, friends, and acquaintances can be some of the best kind.

What if, for just this week, we all tried to refrain from commenting on each other’s looks and just celebrated each other’s gorgeous spirits and beautiful ideas instead?

To the mom juggling four young children with grace and humor in a crowded restaurant, “You make it look easy.”

To the young girl reading, “I love books, don’t you? What’s your favorite?”

To the woman in the work meeting who’s holding back her contributions, “We haven’t heard from you today. I always love what you have to say. Is there anything you’d like to share?”

To the older woman holding hands with her husband walking through the mall, “You guys are the sweetest. What an inspiration you are!”

It’s been said that our sense of self stems from the narrative we tell about our lives. That narrative is nothing but a collection of memories. Perhaps each of us could change that collective narrative by changing what we see, what we talk about, and what we find beautiful about each other. And maybe even in ourselves.

Crucial Skills Readers: What are your thoughts? How could we better prioritize the importance we place on physical beauty?

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Cricket Buchler

Cricket is a Master Trainer.

7 thoughts on “Who’s Responsible for Renee Zellweger?”

  1. This trend starts long before the effects of aging. We groom girls differently than boys; constantly prasing them for looking pretty and being princess like. By the time you are 30 or 40 it is hard to think differently. We need a new dialogue for girls and women – compliment them on the intellegence, courage, ingenuity – then non-image related compliments will resonate.

  2. OMG,

    Thanks so much on a fresh prespective. I really needed to read this today. You are so right. We do need to speak more about each other’s inner beauty and less about one another’s physical appearance. We are more than our looks, our body size, hair and clothes. We are the soul that lives within..

    1. Tia, you are so right. Thank goodness there appears to be a growing awareness of this issue, and I’m encouraged to think of all the innovative toys (think Goldiblox) and books (check out “A Mighty Girl” online for inspired choices) coming out.

      There is still much work to be done to support our children, both our girls and our boys. Thank you for adding your voice to this conversation.

  3. I just read this for the first time. Interestingly, I had a related conversation at a dinner party last evening. The conversation centered around ageism and how our culture so often puts up barriers between those of different generations. Why shouldn’t a married childless couple in their 20’s “hang out” with a married childless couple in their 50’s? We found that we have more in common with each other than with other couples in our respective age groups. When my husband and I returned home, we saw a PBS special discussing how the language of our culture promotes ageism and that many individually adopt self deprecating language to forestall someone else’s conviction of our supposed failings because we are “old.”

    I find your observations in this post to be cut from the same cloth. We (most particularly women) demonstrate the attitude that any compliment is welcome and appropriate, in any context. Encouraging positive comment on our looks opens the door for negative observations as well; and then we complain that we are not treated with the respect we’ve earned as a result of our true accomplishments and inner strengths.

    I am hopeful that these three unrelated events – your posting, a television special, and a conversation at a dinner party of new friends – signal that we are becoming more thoughtful and purposeful about our choice of language. And, that we can change the culture around us by doing so.

  4. No matter what “normal” people think or say, we especially women and girls (and now boys and men) are consistently subjected to what is considered “beautiful” and “good-looking” based on covers of magazines (Sports Illustrated, Glamour, GQ, etc.) Until society stops putting so much emphasis on outward beauty, it will be very difficult to change the mindset and opinions of the world. And tragically, eating disorders will continue to exist.

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