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.
Today I was reading an article my friend posted on Facebook from a few months back where a 14yr old was given $40,000 worth of cosmetic surgery (ears pinned back, nose job and chin reshaped) because of bullying. I found this horrific and a shame, since the bullying will probably just continue in other ways since kids just find other reasons to bully- like bullying a 14yr old peer for having had cosmetic surgery. Also, though, the lesson the mother just taught her daughter, that beauty is more important than being you and having other peoples approval of how you look is worth any cost. When I saw the before and after photo’s of the article all I could think was, “This girl had not even grown into her face yet. I bet she would grow to be a gorgeous looking girl either way!”. I then had to challenge my own thought because does it even matter if she grew to be gorgeous? Why should it matter so much and who decides what it means to be pretty anyway!?
When I looked up the definition of pretty, I found it is not even that great to be pretty. Attractive in a delicate way? Well, I don’t want to be delicate. I’m a woman, not a rose. Oh, and I love the emphasis on not being attractive enough to be beautiful either. So, maybe pretty should be an insult?
“Oh honey, you are just so pretty!”
“Pretty? Pretty!? You mean I’m not beautiful! That’s it, I’m off to go eat a container of ice cream and call around looking for plastic surgeon recommendations! After all, I’m a liberated woman, damn it, and If I choose to be beautiful then that is my free chose!”
Of course, as they always are, my kids are in the back of my mind with all of this too. How do I raise my three daughters to be confident women with so much up against them? Even their own mom fails regularly in this department. While I emphasize health, my goal is partly attractiveness for motivation to lose weight. What kind of example is that to my girls? And when I tell them how much I love their hair, or eyes, or skinny minny belly buttons- is that sending them a message that their looks are priority, when there are so many other defining factors that I feel are more important to focus on?
I read one paragraph of this article that hit me hard and really turned my focus to my own kids. “As my friend writer Jaclyn Friedman once said to me, the problem isn’t that girls don’t know their worth—it’s that they absolutely do know their value in society. Young women know exactly how ugly the culture believes them to be. So when we teach girls to simply “love themselves”, we’re implicitly telling them to accept the world as it is. We’re saying that being beautiful is something worth having when we should be telling them a culture that demands as much is toxic.”
What do I need to do to help shift this focus? I’m a big follower of the Pigtail Pals blog and facebook page but I still feel a bit of loss and confusion in how to direct my words and actions to give my girls the best chance possible to overcome the over emphasis put on (young and older) women’s looks. I know it starts with challenging my own world views and that the more I strip the illusion of pretty from my own eyes- the more I can positively shape my girls view.
I remember a few years back my friend, who is an RN nurse, was telling me about how she went into a 4th grade classroom to talk about good health and do basic wellness checks with them. This included having each kid privately weighed. When it came time for kids to get in line to be weighed (the kids lined up in the classroom and waited for there turn there, while the scale was set up in the hall), nearly every girl in the room moaned with dread. When it came to weighing the children, the girls were just as horrified by being weighed as they were in the classroom. Even girls who barely touched 40 lbs covered their eyes and told her they didn’t even want to know. While I am sure they are are doing exactly as they have seen their mothers do in doctors offices and their own bathroom scales, I was amazed at how early this idea of weight being a negative factor in who one is sets in. I do not want my daughters feeling horror around a scale. If they need to be weighed, I want them to bounce on, bounce off and go back to doing more interesting things that affect their 10yr old lives more, like climbing trees or riding their bikes, with no thought or care for what that scale even said. It should not define them. It should not affect their day or their feelings.
Do you know what I think is pleasing and appealing to my senses? A child having fun, unaware and oblivious of a world that judges us on the outside. Teens of all body types, all kinda of noses, all kinds of ears and chins- laughing and being proud of who they are because they rock. Do you know what I find unattractive? A child or teenager thinking they should look and dress in a way that is “sexually alluring”. Yuck! How unnecessary is it for our kids to think that is how they should look? What happened to “confidence is attractive” concept because I much prefer the definition of attractive to be someone who is confident. Confident that they are rocking their unique to them features. Confident that their laughter brightens up a room or that they are intelligent enough to awe anyone they want. Confident that they are kids and they rule. Because lets face it, Kids rule!
Despite how many advertisements and commercials I have to see of photoshopped women, I do not want our society to decide what I think is attractive. I certainly do not want it deciding what any of my daughter’s self esteems should be. I pray to God that my daughters will be too busy loving who they are and goofing around with their friends to be thinking about plastic surgery when they are 14. I hope to God that by the time they are teens we are seeing more and more of a healthy balance of women types on TV and in magazines and that we put some standards on advertisers for how much editing they can do.
Please know, this is not an anti-skinny message. There a many naturally skinny women in the world and they are awesome. Just like there are many naturally curvy women and many naturally in the middle of those two types. We are all women. We are all fantastic and none of us should be having to work and think about pretty or attractive like we all probably do. JSPhotography is doing an incredible body image project where she is photographing all kinds of women and let me tell you, it’s awesome and empowering and fascinating! I love looking through her photos and seeing what brave woman stood up in front of her camera this week. But it still brings me back to this thought. Why does it matter if we are pretty? Why is our self esteem so tied into this concept of attractiveness? Why can’t we be more focused on our intelligence, bravery, sense of humor, achievements?
And then I see my oldest daughter gravitating the one naked (where do their clothes go?) barbie and I wonder how it is effecting her. I hope, like so many say, that they are meaningless toys and that with enough positive talk and influence that they are just harmless play things but I cannot convince myself that there is any truth in that. When even the toy isles (maybe even more so than any other part of a store) is saturated with messages about body image and portraying so much “attractiveness” that only comes in one or two bodies- I just cannot be made to believe that it is all harmless play.
I know I’m at a start of a long journey. A Journey to clear and fix my own mind. A journey to setting good examples, using good words, portraying healthy self esteem for my daughters to see. A journey of figuring out toys and what we want to expose our daughter to and what we want to allow but filter and what is crossing the line (Bratz and Monster High… are crossing the line!). I don’t want my children’s lives to be filled with sexualized toys and ideas. I want them to have fun and not worry. I want them to be healthy and happy. I want them to have role model parents who love life and love good health and love themselves without worry of what others think because we know who we are without others validations.