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It’s Okay To Tell My Daughter She’s Pretty. And Smart.

Emma’s not a fan of getting dressed. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It’s more like she’s a fan of running away from me while I’m trying to dress her.

She wants to climb into the rocker and squeal in delight as the chair moves back and forth, nearly toppling over backward with the force of her movements. Or she takes off streaking through the house, her tiny little feet just pitter-pattering on the hardwoods.

“Emma! Look at this pretty shirt!,” I said to lure her over.

Curious, she climbed her naked baby butt off the rocker and toddled over.

“Pwee!,” she exclaimed as she pointed at the sequined star. My gut seized up a little bit at Emma’s new word.

Earlier this week I followed a link on Twitter and ended up at a post where a woman admonished people against telling her daughter that her Christmas dress was pretty. The woman wanted no acknowledgement of her daughter’s looks at all fearing that the statements about her appearance would be all the little girl would internalize.

Her post ran through my head and I mulled over her words. Then I decided I really didn’t like what she’d had to say at all.

If Emma wears a Christmas dress that makes her feel like a million bucks, I have no problems at all telling her that I think she looks amazing in that dress and asking her to do a twirl or two for me so I can see it. And then I’ll curl up with her and ask to read her favorite books and we’ll talk about them.

It’s okay to tell my daughter she’s pretty. It’s okay to tell my daughter she’s smart. Because the truth is she’s both. 

We’ve reached a point with gender-neutrality and leveling the playing field where we’re forgetting that feeling attractive is part of being attractive, and as much as we don’t want to admit it, feeling attractive matters. We’re telling people that it’s never, ever okay to compliment young girls on their looks because doing so sends the wrong message. It tells them that looks are all that matter and who cares if they’re good at math or if they like science!

And don’t even get me started on the opposite of this with boys. (Short version: It’s okay to tell my son he’s handsome. And smart. He is both.)

Guess what?

Society–the media–are telling our kids that looks matter and there’s really no way to get around that unless we lock them in a bubble, eschew television, and never stand in a grocery store checkout ever again. So isn’t it better to build confidence by telling them they’re beautiful just the way they are instead of refusing to acknowledge that appearance can be important?

Isn’t it possible to teach them that they can be both smart and pretty? They don’t have to choose one or the other as more important, and in fact, we should be teaching them how to balance the two.

And really, what’s wrong with taking pride in our appearances? If you ask me, nothing at all.

The “don’t tell her she’s pretty” schtick is knee-jerk, and it overcorrects for the problem that exists when girls aren’t shown that it’s okay to be intelligent. The pendulum swings so far in the opposite direction that it becomes just as big a problem as the one it intended to solve.

It’s okay to teach our kids to feel comfortable in their own skin, to want to look good in what they’re wearing as long as we’re also teaching them that their minds matter just as much. That education and the pursuit of knowledge are equally as important as how they look each day.

It’s okay to tell my daughter she’s pretty. And smart. Go ahead. You have my permission.

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Wednesday 11th of December 2013

And PS - James came home recently and commented that "So-and-so wasn't wearing a bow today and I didn't like her as much." He is a BIG fan of a girl in a BIG bow. We have no idea why. But we were QUICK to point out that So-and-so was still beautiful without her bow and then we talked about all the other qualities we love about her. It's all about balance.


Wednesday 11th of December 2013

*Standing up cheering!* Yea! Yea! Yea! I think as long as "you're so pretty/handsome/beautiful" are balanced with "I am so proud of how helpful/kind/friendly, etc. you are," it is FINE. People, CALM DOWN. I want to hear my husband tell me I'm pretty...because I hope he thinks so! But I also hope that he thinks I'm an awesome mom, smart, kind, generous, compassionate, etc. It's OKAY!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader

Sunday 24th of November 2013

Amen. I'd much rather hear praise about her smarts but dang, my kid does look good occasionally when all the gods align in the getting ready department. Toddlers be crazy. And also? I rarely spend time on my appearance so when I do, I BEST HEAR SOMEBODY APPRECIATES IT!!!


Thursday 21st of November 2013

We'll written my child! Beauty comes from the way we feel about ourselves, not what we wear or don't. Others help us feel that way by telling us how beautiful we are. Some people would say, you're conceited, when really we are confident in our own skin. I think the most important thing here is being comfortable with ME. I spent years never being told I was beautiful or " hey you look nice" or never even recognizing a new shirt, but you know what? Today I AM beautiful, because I am satisfied with me. I think it is sooo important for confidence sake, to tell our little ones how beautiful and smart they are. You are so right, Emma is beautiful, just like her mother..


Thursday 21st of November 2013

I don't know that I agree. I don't know that I disagree. I can't help but think of the little girls who DON'T hear they are pretty. Because the reality is not everyone thinks everyone is pretty. I don't know that I want to instill balancing the two when I really don't feel that looks should matter in how the world looks at her. I think how she presents herself, what she does, what she says, that should matter. I care about my looks. They don't define me, in any way. When I list the adjectives to describe myself, aspects of looks would never be included. So I just don't know what I think.


Thursday 21st of November 2013

Not everyone thinks everyone else is pretty. Right. I'm not saying we should run around tossing out fake compliments we don't mean. I'm just saying that if someone tells me Emma's pretty, or tells Emma that she's pretty, I'm not getting offended about it.

I'm not going to stop telling my daughter I think she's beautiful, because the fact is that I do think she's beautiful, in both personality and looks. And if she wants to put on a fancy Christmas dress one day and prance around in it, I'm cool with that, because I know that the very next thing she's going to do is pick up a pen and start to "write" or grab some blocks and build something.

So it's not so much about looks defining people or describing them as much as it's about paying attention to the whole person, and yes, sometimes looks and feeling good about how we look are part of that. It's why we take the time to care how we look. Because it makes us feel good about ourselves. My appearance doesn't factor into the top three descriptors I would give about myself either, but that doesn't mean that I don't like to be told I look nice, you know? Though I suppose that would depend entirely on what type of descriptors I was asked to provide.

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