6.1.08

On Being Pretty

I often wonder if I should be telling the Girl she is pretty. I mean, she is. I think she's beautiful. But should I tell her that? I often find myself whispering in her ear, "You're so pretty," only to add somewhat lamely a second later "...and smart, and helpful, and kind." Because I don't want her to be shallow, or vain. I want her to know that what I value far more than physical beauty is kind deeds and good character. I want her to value that too. I want her to develop her mind, to become ordered and logical in the way she thinks and approaches problems. I want her to develop every part of herself and to become a confident, compassionate and intelligent woman. But does that preclude telling her she is pretty?

There is such joy in watching her innocent enjoyment of pretty things. They are often far from stylish. I personally wouldn't appear in public wearing a peach flowered dress with an empire waist underneath an old dance skirt of blue tied around my waist and sagging a bit in the back topped by a pink baseball hat and black boots, but she feels pretty in it, and so sometimes she goes to the store looking a bit like a clown. She loves to look at my jewelry and dresses. She appears in the doorway in the morning in the most elaborate dress she owns, hoping I'll let her wear it for school. There is a part of her that somehow bursts into life and is fed by pretty things.

I think perhaps we are all like that. We tell ourselves that looks don't matter, that it doesn't matter if we are pretty because beauty is more than skin deep. And it's true. But there's that place in us, I venture all women have it, that flushes with pleasure at an unexpected but well payed compliment on our outward appearance. I can go days without a compliment from the GH, and not even notice, but when he notices and says something, well, it's like some one flipped a switch inside, and the lights go on for the rest of the day. It can't help but make me smile.

So here's the thing that I am thinking. Since it seems to fill a part of a woman's heart to be thought pretty, I think I want my little girl to be full up. I want her to hear it so often at home from me, and her daddy, who stops what he's doing at least once a day to look at her and tell her in some way that she's beautiful, that when some guy comes along and tells her the same thing, she may be pleased, but never swept away by that kind of compliment. And I intend to praise her for all of the other great things about her too, and encourage her in every area where she has talent or ambition.

I think that instead of causing her to be vain, being told of her own prettiness by her parents, in a context that includes praise for other more meaningful things as well, will make it the kind of thing that she accepts without being self conscious about it. Like a kid who's good at reading and quietly confident about it. I don't want her to ever be the girl who needs to go out fishing for compliments.

I base this hope a little bit in a scene I observed once between the GH and his little sisters. The older was 11 at the time, and he asked her why she thought people were always telling her she is pretty. She thought for a moment before replying, with a look that conveyed puzzlement over her poor big brother's obtuseness, "Because I am."

She grew up to be stunning, well groomed and modestly dressed, and not a hint of vanity or need for people to notice her or compliment her. She passes through the flocks of self proclaimed smitten guys who attach themselves to her "retainer" without doing anything immature or silly. She doesn't need any of them to feel good about herself, neither does she feel beholden to one who compliments her or does something for her.

I knew someone a long time ago who would date pretty much anyone who made her feel good by complimenting her. She was gorgeous too. I know she didn't hear about that from her parent's though. She spent a lot of time in unhealthy relationships.

Since I want for my little girl the former, rather than the latter, and since there is no doubt in my mind that she will attract the notice of many men as she grows into a woman, I will continue to tell her she is pretty, and let her enjoy being pretty. I won't enter her in beauty pageants or force her to color coordinate. I won't let her dress like a skank. I won't brag about her to other people in her hearing. And I won't let her cute her way out of learning responsibility or discipline however. I have a feeling that only hearing that you are pretty and living in a family that only values appearances may be how we get people like Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan.

Here's hoping I can find the middle ground and stick to it.

7 comments:

  1. Awhile ago there was a lot of discussion about complimenting children - not just on their looks but on anything. Is it dangerous? Does it destroy their motivation? I thought then what I think now: that most of the time what matters most is what the parents actually value. If beauty is really more important to you than anything else, a scrupulous no-compliment policy is not going to hide that. And if, like you, one enjoys beauty but truly values kindness, helpfulness, or intelligence, then kids will pick up on that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous8:10 AM

    Awesome post. Awesome.

    I have a 9-year-old (beautiful!) daughter, and I have struggled with the same questions. I love how you cut right to the root of issues and lay them out in a no-nonsense way. Excellent and thought-provoking.
    Thanks.
    Rachel in Idaho

    ReplyDelete
  3. I completely agree, as the mom of a very beautiful little girl, also (and your girl is just getting prettier, let me say- I saw that when I was looking at her pics the other day) I think kids can't be praised too much by their parents- it almost just passes the vanity thing right by, they just need affirmation from the people who are most important to them.

    The caution is to not have them feel better or like their worth is wrapped up in their worth or what they do. I have a friend who refrained from trying to make herself look nice for YEARS (she's gorgeous) because her mom always told her that she was prettier than the other girls, and it made her feel ashamed.

    But our little princesses/ninjas just love to be beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for writing so eloquently what I have been thinking about for the past couple of weeks. My 4yo girl is such the girly-girly. I loved your description of your daughter's outfit. That's my girl exactly!
    Have you read the "Fancy Nancy" books? I'll bet they have them at the library. I love them because they get at that desire to be fancy, and set it all in such a loving family. Please do read them and tell me what you think.
    In any case, I will be thinking of you now when I tell my girls they are pretty or cute. And I will no longer feel that pull to cut it short. It's fun being a girl!
    BTW, you are gorgeous, and darn it, such a great writer, too!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Tell them they are beautiful, tell them they are smart, tell them they are strong. You are contributing to the foundation of their self-esteem and confidence for their later years.

    I suggest you don't compare them to others when you compliment, as you are inadvertently causing awareness of their shortcomings, which could become an unhealthy competitiveness or the opposite, withdrawal.

    Naturally, they will realize their shortcomings, be competitive, and withdraw, but it's a natural process from their experience of growing up, and with a healthy foundation of their self-esteem they will surpass it and move forward.

    Pardon the contradiction, but what I'm tryin' to say, is that you and your husband, and other family members are the foundation builders. If the child early on has a strong foundation of herself/himself, they are most likely to be content and comfortable with theirself.

    That's just my opinion, and I felt compelled to write it 'cause I know /remember how important a compliment/praise is when it comes from family. There was none in my home, and I truly felt as though I missed out or was undeserving of it. No praise can leave a child confused and unworthy.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous7:20 PM

    Awesome post. Awesome.

    I have a 9-year-old (beautiful!) daughter, and I have struggled with the same questions. I love how you cut right to the root of issues and lay them out in a no-nonsense way. Excellent and thought-provoking.
    Thanks.
    Rachel in Idaho

    ReplyDelete
  7. Tell them they are beautiful, tell them they are smart, tell them they are strong. You are contributing to the foundation of their self-esteem and confidence for their later years.

    I suggest you don't compare them to others when you compliment, as you are inadvertently causing awareness of their shortcomings, which could become an unhealthy competitiveness or the opposite, withdrawal.

    Naturally, they will realize their shortcomings, be competitive, and withdraw, but it's a natural process from their experience of growing up, and with a healthy foundation of their self-esteem they will surpass it and move forward.

    Pardon the contradiction, but what I'm tryin' to say, is that you and your husband, and other family members are the foundation builders. If the child early on has a strong foundation of herself/himself, they are most likely to be content and comfortable with theirself.

    That's just my opinion, and I felt compelled to write it 'cause I know /remember how important a compliment/praise is when it comes from family. There was none in my home, and I truly felt as though I missed out or was undeserving of it. No praise can leave a child confused and unworthy.

    ReplyDelete

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