“Mommy just cannot get your silly little cowlick to behave,” I laughed as I added water to the comb and went back to work on the blonde-haired boy sitting on the counter in front of me.
It’s true, our son has the strangest (and most endearing) cowlick on the top of his head that equates to some sort of lopsided mohawk. It’s also true that for the life of me, I can’t ever get it to “behave” no matter how much I comb it. It’s a good thing the kid likes hats, because that’s often our go-to solution.
My husband and I are teasers—it’s in our DNA—and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that playfulness in and of itself, it occurred to me today that maybe, just maybe, teasing our sons about their appearances may not be the best decision.
Our sweet boy is just a toddler, but the realization struck me that were it a three-year-old girl sitting in front of me with a unique quirk of any sort, I’d inherently be more sensitive about how I referred to it. I’d probably be more strategic with my approach so as to preemptively squash any self-consciousness that said quirk would likely bring her down the road. I’d certainly make sure she knew she was beautiful inside and out and that regardless of anything else, her appearance would never be the most important thing about her.
But here I was, staring down at my blue-eyed boy, teasing him about this characteristic that is uniquely his; one that makes my heart smile with pride and smirk with humor all at once.
And while he joins me in giggling back at his reflection for the time being, there may come a day when that changes. One day when he’s older, he might wake to look in the mirror and curse that unruly patch on the top of his head for not fitting in with his definition of “normal” of “attractive”.
As a former middle school teacher, I’ve been around enough preteen boys to know that the male gender isn’t immune to body image issues. While in the classroom I saw more than one head hung low in response to a fresh pimple and smelled more than one individual over-doused in Axe body spray in an attempt to cover up the stench that puberty delivered seemingly overnight.
I’ve seen enough evidence to know that there’s likely to be a phase in our future when we might as well buy stock in hair gel for all of the overuse our boy with the “silly cowlick” will succumb to in order to try to hide his quirk.
My experience tells me that self-consciousness doesn’t skip over the male variety, and that they are often as critical of themselves as their female peers, albeit in a more private fashion. Behind the guy-to-guy teasing and the playful jabs to their buddies’ shoulder, there are young men who are trying to find their place in the world.
So why then, do we tend to focus solely on body confidence for girls?
Why do we choose our words and actions carefully when addressing young women, while failing to give young men the same consideration?
Why are there so many articles, books, and tips geared towards building confidence in our daughters, but so few addressing the same for our sons?
And the biggest question of all: what are we going to do about it?
I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that as parents, it starts with us.
It starts with being mindful of how we verbalize our sons’ characteristics.
It starts with giving the same thought to what we teach our sons about body image as we do to what we tell our daughters.
It starts with finding things to playfully banter with our sons about that don’t include their looks.
Most of all, it starts with teaching our sons that although they’re handsome both inside and out, their appearance will never be the most important thing about them. . . and making sure that they believe it.