When I was growing up, I didn’t hear very often that I was beautiful. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t think I was, I know they did, but it wasn’t something that was emphasized. My parents raised their first set of kids in the 1970s, when women’s lib was all the rage, and although I’m sure here and there they told me I was pretty, they were used to putting emphasis on other things. I was smart. I was funny. I was kind. I was a good friend.
And yes, all of those things were true I suppose, but I never heard that I was pretty. That I was beautiful. That I was attractive in a physical sense. I was a tomboy and shunned most things pink and sparkly, so maybe I wouldn’t have responded to that kind of praise in the first place, but the fact is, I didn’t hear it. All thru grade school and most of middle school, I was referred to as a good athlete or a gifted student, but never, ever a pretty girl.
In school I was relentlessly teased for how I looked, so tall and gangly and dirty and clueless. All of these things, combined with what I was told at home, convinced me that I wasn’t pretty. That I would never be beautiful. And I understood that if I was, I couldn’t be all the other things I wanted to be. Sure, I could be smart, funny and athletic, but I couldn’t be pretty too. That was the trade off. It was the always prevalent stereotypes: the smart ugly girl versus the dumb pretty girl.
So that’s why, when I read the thought provoking article on HuffPo regarding how to talk to little girls about beauty, I responded differently than many. While I agree with the author that we should always be sure to emphasize inner beauty and intelligence when speaking with little girls, I strongly disagree that we shouldn’t tell them they are beautiful as well. Why can’t they be both? Why can’t I think that my daughter’s eyes are the most gorgeous things on the planet and also think her sense of humor is outright awesome? And more importantly, why can’t she think that of herself? What is wrong with a girl who is confident in how she looks? Why is that so scary to people? Are we afraid that if girls own their beauty we won’t be able to sell our ideas of beauty to them anymore?
Of course, I don’t want my daughter to base her self-worth and value to the world on her outward appearance, but not acknowledging it at all it is a fake out. It’s setting her up to fail, because of course, OF COURSE, she will at some point question her outward beauty and what she looks like. She will wonder if she’s pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough. I don’t want her to do that, but she will, it’s human nature. And I’d much rather have had her learn from me that yes, her, with her freckles and squinty eyes and (probably will be, damn genetics) crooked teeth and glasses, with all of those things, she is freaking gorgeous. And that if she’s fat or thin or short or tall or whatever…she is always beautiful.
Different is beautiful. When she gets dressed up for the prom, I will tell her she looks stunning. When she skates down a giant mountain on a longboard, I will tell her she is gorgeous.
Because she is. And there is nothing wrong with her knowing that. And owning the crap out of it.
*Hi five, sisters!*