FACING BIAS SOMETIMES MEANS LOOKING IN THE MIRROR

I tried to get an article published in Today’s Parent, well actually two articles. The first was rejected because, according to the editor, the subject, although “interesting and relevant”, was slanted toward parents with older kids. They forewent the second because the topic had been pitched several times and the magazine instead published a story taking the opposing view.  My post was entitled Please stop telling my daughter she’s beautiful while this one was called Why I praise my girls’ beauty—even though experts say not to. I read the piece and, as much as it breaks my ambitious heart to admit, it was better. The author’s viewpoint came from a very personal place. She wrote the article after her initial parenting approach, which consisted of avoiding complimenting her child’s physical appearance, backfired. While striving to boost her daughter’s self-esteem by focusing only on inner beauty, she failed to let her little girl know that she did in fact take mommy’s breath away.

This was (is) me. Since day one I’ve held back from commenting on my daughter’s looks and have requested the same from others. What this author perfectly articulated was what I should have been doing, which is “using these moments as an opportunity to emphasize inclusive beauty ideals.”  Not ignoring them altogether. Somehow the idea of complimenting my baby girl’s outer beauty meant overlooking her inner strengths but, one is not exclusive of the other. The fact is, my bias towards the definition of beauty has prevented me from awarding my daughter the recognition she deserves from the people that mean the most to her. While trying to ensure she doesn’t define her worth by her appearance, I’ve been stigmatizing beauty instead of redefining what it can mean.

Unconscious bias affects us more than we realize. From our social interactions to workplace decisions and how we bring up our kids. It influences how we think, feel and behave and as a result has implications on those around us. Oftentimes bias prevents us from seeing the good in others, forcing us to place judgement based on nothing more than superficial attributes.

A business owner admitted to me the other day that he has a tendency to view those with low confidence as less intelligent. A bias he’s working on breaking. It’s a good thing because evidence points to the fact that competent people are far more likely to underestimate their abilities while stupid people can be surprisingly confident. Unfortunately, there’s also a tendency for society as a whole to mistake confidence for intelligence, inadvertently benefitting those who may not be so deserving.

Susan Cain did a TED Talk on the power of introverts. Viewed by an online audience of 30M, she spoke of how we live in a culture that rewards introverts over extraverts. And yet, research shows that introverted students and leaders tend to perform better in school and at their jobs.

I don’t think we can ever really rid ourselves from bias. Because our thoughts are defined by our experiences, surroundings and encounters, we can’t always control how they impact our subconscious. What we can do, however, is grant ourselves the freedom to change our point of views when someone like a magazine editor shines a light on them. 

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