The Problem With “Don’t Tell Her She’s Beautiful, Tell Her She’s Smart”

Both are genetics, so why are we pretending intelligence is superior?

By Gina Florio3 min read
Pexels/Eugenia Remark

When I was in college, I was visiting my hometown and family for the holidays. I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for my parents and ran into a family friend I had known for years. Their daughter was in middle school and had grown up a great deal since the last time I saw her. We caught up on how school was going for me and how much their kids had changed in recent years. I told the daughter that she was looking more beautiful than ever and she was going to grow up to be a gorgeous woman. I meant it sincerely. She was lovely.

Suddenly, the mother looked offended, her smile faded, and she replied coldly, “Well, she has a lot more going for her than looks.” She made it clear she didn’t want to engage anymore, so I said Merry Christmas and bid them goodbye.

That interaction stayed with me for years because I could never understand why a mother would get so upset at someone paying her daughter a compliment about her looks. But the older I got, the more I realized that this is a common reaction from various women who are told they are beautiful. We’re programmed to take this as an insult, to the point where parents will teach their daughters that they should not accept the “backhanded” compliment that they are gorgeous because it just implies that they’re lacking in other (seemingly more important) traits. But the more we learn about how significant a person’s appearance is, we’re confronted with the idea that it might be silly to claim that intelligence is inherently superior to looks.

Why Is It Considered Insulting To Compliment a Woman on Her Looks? 

Feminism taught women that they should never be treated as an object and that men should learn to appreciate them for who they are rather than view them merely as vessels for sex and/or reproduction. Few people would disagree with this sentiment, but feminists quickly took the concept way too far, transforming it into the idea that people shouldn’t be commenting on women’s looks at all because that would mean you are judging a woman solely by the way she looks. And that is deeply objectifying. 

In both personal and professional situations, women have been bred to resist compliments about their appearance, especially if it’s catcalling on the street or an unwarranted remark in the office. Soon enough, we were told that women’s high rates of insecurity were directly related to how often women’s bodies are talked about. Billie Eilish recently said in an interview that women’s bodies are policed much more often than men’s are.

“Nobody ever says a thing about men’s bodies,” she claimed. “If you’re muscular, cool. If you’re not, cool. If you’re rail thin, cool. If you have a dad bod, cool. If you’re pudgy, love it! Everybody’s happy with it. You know why? Because girls are nice. They don’t give a f*ck because we see people for who they are!”

Many celebrities and activists tell us that women have a unique challenge when it comes to managing our appearance and people’s expectations of our appearance. This is apparently a major reason why so many women struggle with mental illness, insecurity, body image issues, and much more. Wouldn’t it be much easier for people to never comment on women’s bodies ever again? 

Your Beauty Says a Lot About Your Life

On the contrary, it might actually be time to encourage women to take ownership of their beauty and find confidence in the fact that their beauty represents many positive characteristics about themselves. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should solely judge someone by the way they look, but we have to be honest and admit that someone’s appearance is actually linked to many different things in their life that are of importance, including their health, who they are likely to marry, etc. There is nothing offensive about telling a woman that she’s beautiful, just like there is nothing wrong with telling a woman she’s smart. One is not more important than the other.

A woman’s appearance can even play a big role in who she will end up marrying, which has a tremendous impact on the trajectory of her life.

The study "Physical attractiveness and cardiometabolic risk" examines the link between an individual's attractiveness and their health, utilizing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. By assessing physical attractiveness through interviewer ratings and cardiometabolic risk (CMR) via various biomarkers, it finds a clear correlation between higher attractiveness and better health a decade later, consistent across genders and ethnic groups. However, this link might differ based on the interviewers' demographics. Even after addressing confounding variables like socioeconomics and health conditions, the study aligns with evolutionary theory, suggesting attractiveness could reflect biological health and positive life elements, influencing overall well-being.

The research challenges the adage "don't judge a book by its cover," proposing that appearance can hint at internal health. Healthy individuals typically display rosy cheeks, shiny hair, clear skin, and strong nails, along with proper muscle-to-fat proportions. The study implies that internal health positively affects external appearance, supported by weight-loss transformations showcasing enhanced attractiveness post-improved health. Perhaps it’s a good idea to prioritize internal health for amplified external beauty (that means refraining from cosmetic procedures as much as possible). 

A woman’s appearance can even play a big role in who she will end up marrying, which has a tremendous impact on the trajectory of her life. One study notes how women's appearance correlates with marriage likelihood and partner preferences, with thinner women more likely to marry wealthier, more educated, and taller partners, aligning with men's preferences. Thinness in women is linked to higher marital satisfaction for their partners, suggesting weight is a competitive factor in securing and maintaining romantic relationships.

Closing Thoughts

There’s nothing inherently shallow about being beautiful. Beauty is, of course, no excuse to treat people poorly and act immorally, but most of the time, beauty is connected with health, vibrancy, and happiness. Beauty can be earned and developed; it isn’t only reserved for people who hit the genetic lottery. You can improve your appearance by eating well, exercising often, dressing well, and carrying yourself a certain way. And when you do all of these things, you will very likely improve your health and increase the likelihood of choosing a lifelong husband who will help you lead a fulfilling life. Aren’t those things just as important as intelligence? So why aren’t we encouraging women to be beautiful and to happily accept compliments about their beauty? If women knew from a young age how powerful and potent their beauty was and how it can be just as significant as their intelligence, we would probably have a much more confident, content generation of women growing up in our society. 

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