For more than a decade, I've been refraining from commenting on student's physical appearance, both negatively or positively. It's a policy I explain to parents and students at the beginning of the year, and it's one that my students have always appreciated.
My reasons are many.
- There are far more important qualities in a child worth commenting on than the way a student looks.
- Children often have little control over their appearance. Choice of clothing and hairstyle is often dictated by parental preference and the family's income level and hardly represents any true fashion sense.
- Comments on physical appearance - even when positive - create a culture where physical appearance matters.
- Comments on physical appearance are often skewed by culture, age, sex, and personal history.
- When you compliment on a little boy's suit or a little girl's dress, you risk unintentionally and unknowingly insulting the little boy or girl whose family can't afford a suit or dress.
I could go on and on.
Beginning this year, I've extended my policy to include all people save my wife, children, and mother-in-law. Except for these four people, I refrain from commenting on the physical appearance - positively or negatively - because I want to live in a world where physical appearance is less important than a person's actions, words, and deeds.
Not everyone thinks these policies are brilliant. Quite a few find them unrealistic and fruitless. A few have pushed back hard on my position. To my knowledge, no one has adopted my policy for themselves.
My friend, Kathy, recently sent me information from Eden Village Camp where one of her cousin's sons is working as a Counselor in Training this summer. The camp has a policy called BodyTalk which states that campers are not permitted to comment on anyone's appearance whether positive, negative or neutral.
They explain their rationale in great detail on their website, but one section that I liked a lot was this:
I encourage you to check out their webpage that explains the policy in full. It's a reasonable, rationale, and respectful way of running a summer camp, and frankly, it's the way every school in America should be run as well.
Teachers may not be able to control the comments that students make about each other, but they can certainly control what they say to children themselves. There is absolutely, positively no reason for a teacher to make a comment on a student's physical appearance ever. It's purposeless, potentially harmful, and completely non-productive.
If you'd like to read more about my thoughts on the subject, here are some previous pieces stretching back almost a decade: