This morning, my four year-old daughter said something that completely stopped me in my tracks. I saw her excessively fiddling with her hair, which made me cringe because she was really just creating a bird's nest, and I dreaded having to comb through all those knots. I asked her what she was doing, to which she responded: "I'm doing my hair because I want to look pretty."
I cringed again, but for a much deeper reason. I hate the idea that my little girl thinks she has to have her hair a certain way in order to look pretty. I immediately said, "But you're already pretty." My mind immediately flashed back to all the times I've unintentionally put emphasis on her looks.
Ninety-five percent of the time people will open up a conversation with me by saying, "She's so cute," or "look how pretty she is." No one ever says, "Look how smart she is." Eventually, once they get to know her they will comment on her strength, imagination, athletic ability, and/or manners. But their initial comments are always superficial.
I'm just as guilty of doing the same to other children. As a society we place beauty above brains. But we've got it all wrong. The emphasis should be on brains and inner beauty.
Looking back, there have been many situations in which I've made "good looks" a priority for my daughter. Oh, just yesterday, I bribed her with "a treat" (two yogurt covered pretzels) just so she would put on tights and a bow in her hair to have her picture taken with Santa. I loathe bribing kids with food--especially sweets, and it went against my intuition, but I was desperate for her to look a certain way. Why? Truthfully, I have no idea. I cannot come up with a un-vain reason for why she had to be dressed the way I wanted her to.
I provide my daughter with a multitude of compliments unrelated to her outer beauty, everyday. But her comment this morning got me thinking about the number of times I tell her things like, "That's such a cute dress," or "I like your hair like that," or "I wish you would wear this instead."
Now I'm not saying to stop these comments altogether; I mean, I like being told I look lovely just as much as the next gal, but I truly believe we shouldn't be so quick to make comments only on good looks to impressionable young girls who absorb our every words like sponges.
So, the next time you feel the urge to make a vain-ish comment to your daughter, try to replace it with one of these alternatives:
- I like the way you play nicely with your friends.
- You're using such good manners at the dinner table.
- You're such a kind friend for sharing your toys.
- I like how you're using your imagination.
-Wow! You're so strong when you climb those monkey bars.
- It was very responsible of you to put your shoes away.
- You're such a thoughtful young lady.
- I like how you got dressed all by yourself. (Even if she's wearing plaid with stripes!)
Will I stop telling her she's adorable and pretty and stop brushing her hair? No. But I don't want to reward her for her good looks. Life shouldn't be a beauty pageant. So what if she goes to school in mismatched clothes? Really, what's the big deal?
Don't worry, I will continue to teach my daughter good hygiene (I don't want her to be the smelly kid in school!), but I vow to place much less emphasis on her looks. The important thing is that she's developing into a confident young lady with healthy self-esteem, and is a kind human being.
What do you think?
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