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.