Ask AF: Comments on Beauty

An adoptive parent asks AF's expert for help with how to respond when strangers make comments about her children's appearances.

Q: Our daughter is Latina, and our son is African-American. Rather than making rude remarks, people seem to point out our differences by making comments about their “beauty”: “She has stunning dark eyes” or, “He has a beautiful smile.” When my son is a man, will they still think he has a beautiful smile? Or my daughter, as a Latina woman, has stunning dark eyes? How do we respond?

A: Such comments will continue, and they may or may not be as polite as your children get older. Racial stereotypes will probably kick in, and comments from strangers (and maybe friends and family) will reflect assumptions about who your children are and what they are capable of.

When your children are very young, and the comments are complimentary, you might choose to take comments at face value. A smile and “thank you” is probably enough. As they get older, your children will see your response, and will wonder about the things you wonder about now. You can set a good example by offering comments about your children’s less-obvious positive traits: “Thank you. She does have lovely eyes, and she is also a fantastic reader.” “Yes, he does have a great smile, and a super sense of humor to go along with it.” For any child, adopted or not, emphasis on physical beauty is unhealthy. Regular recognition of all of her talents and interests will ensure that her self-esteem is built on attributes she has control over

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