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.)
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.