Many parents will say that they try to down-play the importance of physical appearance when parenting girls. Using adages such as, 'It's what's inside that counts', and, 'It doesn't matter how you look', parents attempt to teach girls that it's their actions, effort and smarts that will define who they are and bring about success. But is this really true? Or is teaching daughters that appearances don't matter actually a big fat lie that is, in fact, ill preparing girls for the harsh reality of the outside world?
Anectodotal evidence has long existed that 'pretty girls' often have more social power with their peers (and beyond) and that girls with physical qualities that are deemed less attractive receive less positive attention. So are girls potentially hearing one thing from parents and then experiencing the opposite amongst friends?
Research has shown time and again that appearances matter. Attractive people, on average earn more money, are more likely to be hired for a job, and are given promotions more quickly. But what if this bias toward attractive people begins long before people enter the marketplace? What if, similar to the 'Relative age effect', whereby hockey players with birthdays earlier in the year tend to be more advanced then their younger peers and are then afforded more and more opportunities, attractive girls are offered more positive reinforcement and opportunity from a very early age?
Erotic/sexual capital is a new theory that posits that humans have a fourth personal asset that exists alongside other personal assets such as economic, personal and social capital. This asset, comprised of beauty, sexual attractiveness, social competency, plus more, can be leveraged to achieve success in a fashion similar to having wealth or powerful connections (Hakim, 2010).
In our hyper sexualized culture that places such high value on sexual attractiveness having large amounts of erotic capital could afford a woman great opportunities and success.
So then, why are parents telling daughters that appearances don't matter, when clearly they do? Sure, it's a nice notion to believe that appearances SHOULDN'T matter, but is misleading girls in to thinking that hard work and intelligence alone will guarantee success only setting them up for disappointment later on?
Perhaps, instead of perpetuating the myth described above, parents could instead offer girls a more complex explanation of what attractiveness means in their home, their school and their society. Attractiveness does not equal the value of a girl, but erotic capital does have value, and girls should be taught to recognize it and use it.
Hakim, C. (2010). Erotic Capital. European Sociological Review, 26, 499-518. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq014