Balancing interior and exterior beauty a struggle for teenagers

“You really did me an injustice, raising me to believe that,” my 17-year-old son recently told me. We were discussing his new gym membership and his need to be more physically active. “I really feel that you weren’t honest when telling me that my ‘inner landscape’ mattered more than what I looked like.”

Do our children reflect what we've instilled in them or that of the culture at large?

Ouch. I had to pause. This was one of those sticky parenting situations where your personal values don’t necessarily reflect current cultural norms — a cultural cognitive dissonance if you will. Of course we want to raise our children to believe that vain and superficial exterior beauty pales in comparison to a deep and abiding internal beauty. That self-awareness, depth, critical thinking, creativity, humility, kindness and compassion are more valuable than being physically attractive. However, we are living in an increasingly narcissistic society where physical appearance supersedes interior beauty.

This desire to be attractive has reached nearly ridiculous proportions. For instance, did you know that in 2008 more than 219,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on kids age 18 or younger? I can’t imagine those numbers are declining.

In 2008, common teen tweaks included:

  • Nose jobs
  • Correction of protruding ears
  • Breasts augmentation
  • Correction of asymmetrical breasts

I can understand how my son would be confused. We live in a culture that spends billions of dollars a year on promoting both weight loss products and fast food. And while I want my son to be kind and insightful, thoughtful and creative, I also want my son to be healthy.

The challenge is to encourage good health while not delivering confusing messages about vanity. I want him to be active. I want him to want to be active. But what a parent wants, especially when your child is close to being an adult, doesn’t always come to fruition.

No matter the example you set, the food you prepare, the activities you enroll them in and do with them, our children blossom into the people they are. You can only hope that something you’ve instilled in them thrives and sticks and that the values you’ve shared bloom into interests of a child’s own accord.

Photo credit: booyaa

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