Please Don’t Tell My Little Girl She’s Pretty

Julia LandryI don't mind if you think my daughter is pretty -- but please don't tell her.

By Julia Landry

Well, here's an awkward topic for you.

My ex-mother-in-law always used to gush about how pretty Caroline was, to the point that it was almost uncomfortable. (I'm allowed to say this now because of the "ex" part. I think.) And I'm not just talking about the way your in-laws can annoy you no matter what they say. "You're so pretty, Caroline," she'd coo. "You're such a doll. A beautiful little doll. You are gorgeous. What a pretty girl." And so on, and so forth.

And I know this is horrible of me to think, and rude of me to say, but… I really don't care for it when people go on and on to my daughter about how pretty she is.

It's not that I don't think she is. I mean, she's my kid. I think she's beautiful. But must we zero in on little girls' appearances and ignore all the other great qualities about them?

What's wrong with "You're such a smart girl?" "You're so creative?" "You're so good at drawing?" "You know so many words?" Sure, tell her she's pretty, because she is… because all children are. But don't leave it at that. She isn't even three yet, but everything anyone says to a toddler leaves an impression, and so a repeated focus on "prettiness" only tells her that it's her appearance that is important, that it's her blue eyes or her blonde highlights that people think are her best qualities, and not her big vocabulary or her sharp curiosity about everything around her.

There are enough messages lurking out there in the world for our little girls about appearance, prettiness, skinniness. There's enough emphasis on it in the media and in society and in everything they'll see and hear and read. Must they hear it from their family, their friends, their role models, that what matters most to us, and therefore to them, is the curl in their hair or the length of their eyelashes? It seems silly, it seems subtle, it seems frivolous and picky and unimportant and possibly even ungrateful, I'm sure, for me to be griping about this. But I have seen so many times the way my smallest, most offhand comment can make the biggest impression on my little girl. I don't want everyone she meets to reinforce the message that is already rampant out there… that what's important is not what you have in your brain, but what you see in the mirror.

I want her to grow up secure in the knowledge that it doesn't matter what she looks like. That although it's all well and good to be considered attractive, her time is better spent learning math or biology or a foreign language than how to count calories or apply makeup. When I was in middle school, I'd have given anything to be the pretty and popular girl, and now I'd give anything to go back and tell myself that really, none of that would matter in ten years, or even five.

I appreciate that so many people in my life think that my little girl is beautiful, because I think she is too… inside and out. But she is also so many other things, and for the sake of her self-esteem, I'd prefer to focus on those.

What do you think? Does it bother you when others focus solely on your child's appearance, or do you simply take it as a compliment and move on?

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This article first appeared on Parents.com. Read all of the Parents.com blogs.