I know it can be an odd request but just take a moment to read and consider why I am so sick of my daughter being called “pretty”.
No, it’s not bad to be pretty, be called pretty, or call someone pretty but the word does make an impression and leaves behind a lesson in it’s tracks.
The lesson is, “Your looks matter most”.
You see, my daughter is called pretty constantly. Everywhere we go people stop her to tell her they like her looks. They mention her large blue eyes, her cute as a button little self, and her uniquely red hair. I’m sure many moms of girls experience this and it isn’t just mine but she just seems to attract attention everywhere we go. All these people have good intentions. Their hearts are in the right place. They think they are boosting her up, complimenting us, giving her a nice solid foundation of a self esteem. What they don’t always think about is that they are giving her a self esteem based purely off looks. Based purely on outward image. And being told 12 times per outing by strangers that you are visually appealing lets one know one thing- we judge others and ourselves on looks.
I know some people think I am being dramatic or extreme but imagine being a 4yr old. You have a mom and dad who tell you a handful of times per day that your health matters and that it’s good to be strong and that exercising your brain is crucial. But then you are told a dozen times per day… sometimes 2 dozen times in a day- by strangers, family, and friends that your looks are what they notice. Your looks is what they talk about. Your looks is what makes them want to praise you. Your looks is what stops them in grocery aisles. Your looks is what makes them want to talk to your mom. Your looks is what they are saying they wish they had too.
What do you think a 4yr old is going to take in? While health, intelligence, strength..ect.. is important- Pretty is what really counts and matters to others.
Not long ago we were at a park and my daughter paired up with an 8yr old girl and they quickly became playground buddies. At one point the girl told Eve that she looks just like the character Merida from the movie Brave. Eve’s response was this, “I really dont. My hair isnt the right red. and it’s not curly enough. and it’s not long enough.”
and the thing about this that really stood out to me was that Eve said this as if she fell short. She wasn’t “Merida enough” to really be told she was like Merida. And well.. she’s right… only the cartoon character Merida can be Merida and be exactly who Merida is. Eve is Eve… not Merida. But what happens when I translate that to her being called pretty? At what point does the same rational kick in that she already has when compared to a character?
But do I really compare to the standard of “pretty”?
While we may think we are building up her self esteem, I fear we are just building her up to feel meeting this standard is what matters and in the end- due to a culture with unrealistic expectations, anorexic models, photoshopped magazines, plastic surgery and professionally applied makeup that she will start seeing herself as falling short, like so so many of the females in the US who never feel good enough to really be pretty.
Instead of spending so much time calling her pretty, I wish people would stop her to compliment her taste in the books she picks out in the store. Or her energy. Or her wits. Compliment how smart she is after talking with her about science experiments or bugs. I know it comes more naturally to tell little girls they are pretty then it is to actually have to have a discussion with them and find their strengths but they are worth the time spent. If you talked to my daughter, you would know that she loves going hiking and that she goes running with her dad and that she (at only 4 1/2 yrs old and 28 lbs) has run a 5K in The Color Run. She is more than just red hair. She is a torch lighting the way for girls everywhere to be bold and strong and I never want her to think she is any less based on a scale of pretty.
I try to be really aware of my language with my kids. No, I’m not talking about bad language, though I don’t do that either. I try to phrase things and speak to them in ways that will make them grow as people. For example, when I discipline, I try to speak words that will correct their behavior so that they will grow to become better, respectful, loving humans. I try not to use words that tear down or rip apart or shame in the name of disciple. I even desire to stay away from the neutral language that does neither. If it does not uplift and help them grow and be better than it isn’t necessary. Of course, I fail at this regularly, being human and all, but I am hoping that even just having this desire in my mind and heart will help keep me doing better than I would if I didn’t have these concepts in my mind.
So with everything I’ve been asking myself, “How are these words, this phrasing and this tone affecting their minds, self esteems, desire? How will this effect who they will be? How will this effect how they treat their own possible kids some day?”. If I can’t say I’m instilling good behaviors, feelings, and habits I start planning out a new way to treat situations that are more productive.
So I stopped calling my kids smart. I used to call them smart. “Wow, Ariel. You finished that puzzle fast. You are so smart!”. “Eve, you know all the words on that page? You are so smart”. I do not say those things anymore. I have traded in my language. Instead of rewarding natural ability I praise their efforts, the work it took to get something done, whether it took them little effort or great effort.
You might be asking Why? What is wrong with being smart? It makes people feel good and more confident to be told they are smart, right? That’s good for self-esteem.
Actually I’ve learned it is not that great. An article I recently read went into great depth discussing how children who are complimented off of their natural born intelligence get frustrated by harder work easier. Even children with really high IQ’s give up almost immediately when they hit a tough area because if it does not come natural to them they think it is not something they can do. While Children who are complimented for the work they put into a job, work harder and feel they can accomplish things if they just put the time and effort into it.
The research done showed that the children whose focus was based more on intelligence felt that needing to put effort into a subject or activity was evidence that they were not actually smart so avoiding those more difficult content areas was their preference over working harder at it so others wouldn’t believe them to not really be smart. While kids whose emphasis was on working hard felt that their smartness could grow and develop with effort. Teaching kids that their brain was a muscle that got stronger when worked had kids focusing more and getting better results.
No matter where my kids all fall on the IQ scale, I want them each to know that if they work hard for something they can achieve it. That if they desire to learn it and devote their time to learning something, they can learn it, whether it’s a natural skill or not. We are all born with different natural abilities and different levels of intelligence, which means we are not all equal in this area but we all have just as much potential if we are willing to work for it. I believe all my kids to be smart and am looking forward to continuing to work and learn with them and watch them grow and develop. I know that my kids “are smart” and I love that they will be able to see that their smarts are effort based and that they are intelligent people and all they have to do is put some effort into it and they can be as intelligent as they work to be.