Skepticism

AI: Pretty Girls

As a parent, I am constantly struggling with trying to do things right… or, rather, trying not to do things so wrong my kids will be fucked up forever. When you're me, that's way harder than it sounds.

I find myself often going back and forth on whether to tell my daughter that she's pretty. Whether she is pretty isn't a question. She's the prettiest. But do I tell her that?

I don't want her growing up thinking that being pretty matters. Or that she should base her self-worth on her looks. Or that pretty is a character asset, something that makes a girl superior, and puts her in a place to judge others. And I certainly don't want her thinking that ugly is… well… ugly.

On the other hand, her looks will undoubtedly be brought up by her peers. If I don't tell her she's pretty, and they tell her she's ugly, will she be more likely to believe them? Will it destroy her forever,sentencing her to an entire lifetime of angsty emo poetry, clove cigarettes and paintings made out of vegan blood?

Maybe she's bound to learn the lesson that pretty=better in society. I'm not sure how to counter that. Re-assure her? Lead by example and show her it doesn't matter? I try not to comment on the things I don't like about my own looks when I'm around her… but it's hard not to ask for reassurance before I walk out the door, "Do I look okay?" "Does my hair look ridiculous?"

How do you send messages to the young(er) girls in your life? Do you tell them they're pretty? Do you criticise your own or other women's looks in front of them? Can the message that pretty=best be subverted at home? Does it even matter if your mom tells you that you're pretty? What do you wish someone did or said that may have changed how you feel about your body?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET

Featured image courtesy Girl, Empowered — a website and community all about empowering–and empowered–girls and women.

 

Elyse

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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74 Comments

  1. March 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm —

    I tell my daughter she is pretty. Perhaps I'm doing her a disservice, but i do say it on occasion.  I also tell her that doing her best, being kind and not stooping to the level of bullies makes her a beautiful person as well.  I don't have interactions with other young girls, I'm not much of a joiner, even as an adult. But I do my best to boost my daughter's self-esteem while also making sure she's aware that being pretty isn't the only thing there is in life.  We'll see how well it's sunk in. But in the mean time, she happily accepts the compliment then goes on her merry way.  

    • March 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm —

      Why should her self-esteem be so tightly entertwined with her looks, though?  Why does being pretty have to have so much to do with self-esteem?  That's a problem, I think.

      Not that you're a terrible parent.  I'm sure you're fantastic.  It's mostly just the way things are, but should they be that way?

  2. March 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm —

    We still have this stuff called hormones so yes, of course tell her she's pretty. But don't put too much stock in it. Once they get to high school all the moms in the world can't make you feel better if guys or a group of girls her age tell her she's not pretty. Focus on her great features, but more importantly get her exercising and doing yoga. It's physically impossible to be dour when you have those endorphins in your bloodstream, when you meditate and when you can kick some butt when needed. Make sure she gets good medicine like braces when needed and good dental health and clothing she likes. And remember that overblown self-esteem creates narcissistic monsters. All of us need to learn to deal with criticism at some point.

    • March 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm —

      What do hormones have to do with being/feeling pretty?

    • March 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm —

      "Focus on her great features, but more importantly get her exercising and doing yoga."
      Huh? Yoga? Uhm… Riiiiight…
      Also, the hormone thing… Uhm… What?

      • March 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm —

        Yeah, that bothered me, too, as did "focus on her great features".  Okay then.  And I still don't understand what hormones has to do with being told you're pretty.

        • March 27, 2012 at 10:12 pm —

          Marilove, not sure where your confusion lies. Teenagers have raging hormones. For most of us that meant struggling emotionally, not to mention dealing with menstruation, acne and at the same time social pressure to look like a magazine model. Add to that hormonal mood swings and you have a real recipe for misery. If you never experienced this, count yourself as lucky.
          Let me know if you're still confused.

      • March 27, 2012 at 10:19 pm —

        Pentamoid, not sure if you were asking me for clarification or just acting befuddled, but it sounds like you're not familiar with the benefits of yoga, exercise and meditation. Here are some articles for your education:
        http://journals.lww.com/topicsinclinicalnutrition/Abstract/2006/04000/Yoga_Participation_Is_Beneficial_to_Obesity.6.aspx
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/016383439500025M

        • March 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm —

          I'm sure there are lots of benefits to yoga and meditation. No arguments there. But you make it sound like getting your kid to do yoga and meditate is some sort of high priority, as if that's what every good parent should be doing, and that seems a bit odd to me.
          Also, it's pentatomid not pentatomoid (though I guess Pentatomidae are a family in the superfamily Pentatomoidea, so technically… ).

          • March 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm

            My apologies for the misspelled name. I may have been a bit overenthusiastic about yoga (had just finished my 1/2 hour of it at home), but it was intended as a mere suggestion. I have no kids so I don't really judge parents one way or another. I do want to emphasize though from what I know, and from personal experience, exercise is severely underrated. It has made my life ten times better and I think runner's high is a great thing. 

          • March 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm

            It has made my life ten times better and I think runner's high is a great thing.

             
            Interestingly, not everyone is able to experience a runner's high. Its one of those physiological things that differs from person to person. However, in general, yeah, exercise is ***vastly*** underrated in the US. I have often thought that we almost need something like the Japanese do, and emphasize real exercise in both schools, and at jobs, instead of just playing it lip service, in pursuit of the next batch of sports stars, then at some point both a) abandoning everyone else, and b) not bothering with them much at all, once we figure out which ones we want on the teams. Prime example – Grade school for me was a long slog of some exercises no one would ever do at home, a run around the fields, which a lot of people walked, and one vastly disappointing attempt to come in the top 3 (I ended up 4th, because the guy behind me still had more energy to pass me in the last 50 feet), so I wouldn't have to walk/run the damn loop all the time. I didn't get a "runner's high" from it, despite it being like 5 laps, over what was probably 10 miles, or more, and the ass running the program basically just said, "Too bad, now let me talk to the jocks about their reward for winning." And, it was the "jocks". The "good at sports, but not much else" people, who just about everyone else despised for coming in ahead of everyone else all tthe time.
             
            If anything, thinking on it, is had to suck even more for the girls, since it was a co-ed class, and none of them **ever** came in first. In fact, they where not required to even try to run it. Man that "teacher" was bloody useless at what his job *should have been*, which was to teach people healthy habits, not find the next people to be on the basket ball team, when they went to highschool.

  3. March 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm —

    Yes!  Tell her she's pretty!  But more frequently, tell her she's smart, creative, funny, full of interesting ideas, athletic, strong, kind, thoughtful, caring, loyal, etc.  Whatever she is, that has nothing to do with how she looks, tell her she's that.  But, also, sometimes, make sure she knows you think she's beautiful too.

  4. March 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm —

    When I was young, my father always told me that I was the most beautiful girl in the world–even during my horribly awkward teenage years. It did wonders for my self-esteem. He didn't just tell me I was pretty, though–he always told me that I was the smartest, funniest, AND most beautiful girl in the world.
    My mom was not one for commenting on my appearance–she just told me how intelligent I was on a regular basis, and reminded me of the importance of trusting my own judgment of myself rather than listening overmuch to what others had to say.
    I credit both of them for my ability to deal with some nasty junior high/high school bullies, for my healthy attitude towards my body and my appearance, and for my nearly bulletproof self-confidence. I plan to raise my daughter the same way.

  5. March 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm —

    I never tell my daughters they're pretty. I tell them all the time how much I admire what they do, and how hard they work on things, or how wisely they solved a problem; I compliment them on their choice of outfit or accessory; I tell them I like the way they styled their hair, or in the case of the 12-year-old, that I like the way she's done her makeup, or her nails. But I never tell them they look pretty, and I never talk about other people's looks with them.
    Obviously, it isn't the only way to counter the relentless pressure on firls to be pretty, but it feels right for me.

  6. March 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm —

    I think one of the most important messages to send isn't a "pretty vs. ugly" binary distinction, but to talk about a huge range of types of beauty.  I know your daughter is very young right now, but as she gets older talking about the huge range of different personal styles, and finding beauty in lots of different kinds of things/bodies/faces/hairstyles etc will be more helpful than ignoring the pretty issue entirely.
     
    Yesterday the 4 year old boy in my life said to me "All of the other boys in my class have short hair."  His is shoulder length, so I asked him if he wanted his to be short.  "No, I like it like this."  I told him that was cool, because lots of different people like their hair different ways.  It was a good opportunity to talk about how different =/= bad or ugly.  Then we shot nerf guns at pictures of Toy Story characters.  Those moments go by incredibly fast.

  7. March 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm —

    Tell her she's pretty!  But more frequently, tell her she's smart, creative, funny, full of interesting ideas, athletic, strong, kind, thoughtful, caring, loyal, etc.

    But, be cautious in "how" you do this. Recent studies indicate that telling someone they did well, as apposed to that they tried hard, actually makes them satisfied with how they have already done, instead of trying to do more. What you want is a kid that will go "beyond" the paper mache volcano, not be satisfied with one, because it got them an A. One that tries, and maybe succeeds, at the "bonus" problem on the math test, instead of just being satisfied that they got most of the regular questiong right. One that will take physics, or chemistry, or the like, not be satisfied with just what will get them out of school.
    It turns out that self estime is a bit tricker. Someone that believes they are already at the top will stop there, someone that believes instead that they are making clear progress to that top, but there is still something to do, will keep climbing.
    (BTW. You can tell the people that created this edit box that its a bloody pain in the butt. When you can see the edit tags "in message" you can tell what you have hilighted, that they should work right, etc. This whole, "lets show them what is active at the bottom, but hide the tags", thing is kind of annoying, even if it lets them "guess" what you intend, and autoclose the tag. But, since the text itself doesn't change to match the result, save for blockquote, it actually makes it harder to tell what its doing, for anyone used to using tags. And that is without the whole, "I am being helpful, let me do that for you, even if its not what you wanted!", aspect of the whole thing.)

    • March 28, 2012 at 11:24 am —

      You have to be careful about that too, though.  My parents employed that tactic, and it left me with a LOT of feelings of pressure and anxiety that I never was doing well enough.  "You got an A?  Next time you should try for an A+!" was very damaging to me.
      Parenting sounds hard.  I think I will stick with cats.  I tell them they are pretty all the time and it never hurts OR helps their self-esteem.

      • March 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm —

        THIS.  I had those parents, and it kind of turned me into a basket case. When you spend your childhood hearing you should try harder when you already have straight A's, you develop a complex about how much harder CAN you try? How do you do better than the best?  And why the hell can't anyone ever just say "Good job!" once in a while. 
        This continues into adulthood.  When I got several poems published, my father's reaction was, "Why wasn't it a novel?" 
        Seriously, it is so easy to screw that up. 

        • March 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm —

          ^This^
          Combined with a mother who would only recognize achievements in areas she approved of (although I should mention that my mother has severe issues) left me in therapy.
          Although the focus in those studies is that you should still actually praise them, but not for achieving a certain grade, but for working hard.
          Children praised for working hard were more likely to chose more complicated tasks, even if they carried a high risk of failing, while those praised for the result tended to chose easier tasks with guaranteed success.

        • March 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm —

          Exactly. Something like, "You must have really worked hard to get that.", is a positive. "You should try to an A+ next time.", is a **demand**. One supports the idea that you might be able to get that A+, since you have put a lot of effort in, and just maybe a bit more is possible. The other… suggests that the effort already applied was inadequate, and you therefor fell short. If anything, that method of "encouragement" will result in someone either not trying harder at all, or slacking off, should they reach the conclusion that no effort they do apply will ever be sufficient. Sadly, the people that want to push success tend to fail horribly at recognizing why the latter doesn't work, not even for adults, most of the time. To have such pressure succeed requires anger, and/or and unwillingness to give up, which a kid doesn't have, and which most adults don't either. And, its not something you learn by having people treat you like you won't ever amount to anything, at least, not without it damaging them a lot in the process, and likely what ever relationship they had with the person pushing them like that. Its also a "one size fits all" solution, which presumes that because the person using the tactic is somehow motivated by that sort of harrassment, and it is harrassment, their kid will react the same way.
           
          In reality, it can have the exact opposite effect. I had some of that, to a limited extent, and it backfired, with the result that I passed up advancement at a job because they wouldn't stop bugging me about it, to some extent I still don't have a car, or license, because despite all the positives that would come out of it, I am fighting between the problem that, at this point, there isn't anyone really teaching adults in the city, but **also** the fact that every time I consider how to go about it, someone brings up how I, "Really need to think about doing it.", and applying pressure about it, and I just flat out get pissed off, and stop considering it for a while. Stubborn can undermine progress, as much as it can promote it, and its all in the "perception" of whether its something you want, or what **someone else** wants. If the later is emphasized, such as with the, "Try for an A+ next time.", then even if the person being told that might have thought about trying, they may very well stop trying, the second its someone else's priority, not their own.

          • March 28, 2012 at 5:24 pm

            Urgh, you're talking to somebody who was short of finally dropping out of college because the "what about the A+" didn't work anymore.
            i never actually had to work hard in highschool to get my good grades, but since they weren't enough anyway, they were nothing
            Being on my own I suddenly lacked evry motivation to do something because, well, I never ever did anything for me. Things were done for other people. I musn't let other people down, I mustn't dissapoint them, I must make them proud.
            Nothing was ever about me, but everything was about fullfilling expectations. It left me seriously damaged.
            The day I realized that was the day I swore that I'd never ever frown again when my daughter asks for some pink Hello Kitty stuff. I swore that I'll never make her feel that she has to choose A over B so she'd make me happy.
            I still passionately hate Hello Kitty, but I will fight it by offering cool alternatives, not by making her feel bad for liking it.
             

          • March 28, 2012 at 6:28 pm

            Sorry to comment here, I ran out of reply buttons. I so know what you mean about high school sports. The alleged high was ruined for me when surrounded by pretty jocks from wealthy families with far nicer clothing and looks than I, plus trying to keep up. In college I discovered trail running, where I could be alone with my thoughts, and go barrelling through the pine-needle matted forest and run off the stress. I'd emphasize that the type of activity we do is vital. Yoga Zone is my optimal, and  some studies suggest that running less often (ie running every day kills the high) and running while angry makes the high more likely. That's a casual summary of what I read but I'm sure there's more. Oh, and perhaps running on an empty stomach was the latest discovery.

  8. March 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm —

    I grew up with a mother who said things like "You were so pretty before you shaved your head" and "You could be so pretty if you wore a little make-up" and "That shirt would look beautiful on you if you didn't have hair under your arms." She would compliment me on my intelligence and creativity, but those little attacks on my appearance couched as helpful tips had much more of an impact. Not enough to get me to shave my legs or wear make-up, but enough to compel me to comment here for the first time, at the age of 31, just to say "Please, please do not say those things to your children."

    • March 28, 2012 at 9:24 am —

      "You could be so pretty if you wore a little make-up"
      Mmmmhmmm. Or with your hair off your face, or just a little lipstick to add color. I am so not going there with my daughters.

    • March 28, 2012 at 9:35 am —

      That is awful. I may be biased given my own shaved head and bald daughter, but I bet you looked like a sexy mofo with your shaved head. I've always thought bald women were utterly beautiful. 

    • March 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm —

      Even when I wasn't actually fat, I would get "You'd be so pretty if you'd lose some weight." Or "But you have such a pretty face…" which would trail off in silent disapproval of the rest of my body.  It's become my CIA kill phrase. 

      And I also got the "You'd be so pretty with your hair off your face,"  "Without all that black junk around your eyes," "If you didn't have so many piercings."  Now it's all about that tattoos. 

      • March 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm —

        OK, now I think you're me.
        Let me guess, being told constantly that you ought to lose weight made you think that you were actually fat when you were just chubby resulting in you actually becoming fat?
        That's me…

        • March 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm —

          Totally.  I had some severe eating disorder issues in my late teens/early 20s which resulted in malnutrition, but because I wasn't "thin enough" to qualify as anorexic, I just got a lecture about eating better.  
          Now, happily ensconced in the Body Acceptance and Health At Every Size movements, I'm not perfect on body image, but I'm a lot better.  I'm also not constantly sick, cold, or drinking myself to death anymore, so WIN!
           

          • March 29, 2012 at 11:50 am

            Congratulations.
            I wished I had already made it to that point, but at least by now I#m brushing my teeth because of myself and not because my bad breath would annoy other people.
            I'm not kidding.

  9. March 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm —

    I don't think there's anything you can do, honestly. A woman's value is tied to her looks. She'll get the message that unattractive women are worthless early and often. It's in the air we breathe. It's in the way we talk. It saturates all of our culture and entertainment. It determines how she'll be treated by the world around her. It is the single most important characteristic for a woman to have.
    Maybe pretend she's a boy? Teach her what boys learn – that humor and accomplishment and wit are important. Try to ignore that that's just not true for women, and hope she stays pretty.
     
     

  10. March 27, 2012 at 4:50 pm —

    No qualifications, just uninformed thoughts.
    Everyone's pretty, there are always physical characteristics to admire, and it will almost always depend on how the person carries themselves.  I agree with Luna though, that your opinion on the matter won't sway her much one way or another when she starts to venture out in the world.
     

  11. March 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm —

    I'm a big fan of complimenting children by the actions that infers they look pretty, are smart, act friendly, etc.  "You picked out some really nice glasses" or "I am impressed that you read/wrote this story" or "I think Mrs. Stowe really appreciated you saying 'please' and 'thanks.'

  12. March 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm —

    I think my self-esteem took a dive growing up in a family where my parents didn't say I was "pretty" because of all the reasons that you're supposed to not emphasize looks. And because "looks" weren't emphasized, I felt like an Awful! Shallow! Human! Being! when I wanted to do things that were feminine and "pretty" such as wearing dresses, make up etc.
    I was the fat girl with glasses and zits growing up. One not so horrible part was when people complimented my hair – because it was all "Well, hey, there's at least ONE thing attractive about me." It gave the ugly duckling in me some hope, something to feel good about.
    Maybe "pretty" isn't the right word to use. Maybe it should be more like "Your hair looks awesome like that!" or "It's cool how strong you are!" (especially for girls with muscles), and so on – not just focusing on the physical traits that are already "positive" and meet existing beauty standards, but the ones she may be self-conscious about. (My stretch marks? More like AWESOME TIGER STRIPES!) And then extrapolate it to other people too, saying how awesome they are and how things that may not be as mainstream-beautiful make them unique and awesome.
    Funny thing, this lack of being used to being called pretty/beautiful carried over into my relationships with men. My ex who I was with for three years never ONCE told me I was beautiful. And when the guy I'm currently seeing right now said I was beautiful? I actually broke down crying because I wasn't used to hearing it at all.

  13. March 27, 2012 at 5:36 pm —

    I Always say to my two daughters, when they dress up or put on cute sunglasses or whatever:
    "Wow, how nice it looks, almost as cute as your dad!" They are 2 and 3 years old, respectively.

    And I try to remember to tell them they are fabolous whatever they wear and that people obsessed with looks are crazy people and that it's bad to linger and ponder too much on that. It's not an issue for me, I sometimes have to remember relatives though to not try to use them like dolls and put only pink dresses on them and call them "small, cute little pretty princess" all the time. If they want to dress in a way or have their hair this or that way, anythings fine if it's not too crazy or something that'll give me a disease (like "twilight" costumes… brrr).

    My daughters are hulks, princesses, vampires (NOT SPARKLY ONES), heroes, knights and dragons all the time, and anyone saying differently, including themselves, will be subject to verbal attacks by their mighty daddy-bot who knows everything best, of course. Using strained ways of telling girls what to do against peer  pressure won't help them either, so I go pretty much laissez faire and let them play and wear what they want as long as they know I don't like conformity, self-obsession or worrying about looks or style.

    I don't care if my daughter will have a mohawk, long blonde hair, or put on a fake beard. But if she ever obsesses about her style,  I'll give away all her clothes to poor people and make her work in a shelter for people who can't afford clothes or style.

  14. March 27, 2012 at 5:47 pm —

    I don't think you can protect your children from the "pretty is best" argument that society puts forth, but I don't think you should totally eliminate telling your children that they are pretty either.  Kids will learn either way that "pretty" is something that is valued by society.  However, it's important to teach your kids that a) there are different types of beauty, just as there are different types of "smarts"; b) they should be proud not just of beauty, but of their other strengths, and c) they should look for those other strengths in others, whether they are "pretty" or not. 
    Growing up, I don't remember obsessing much about whether or not I was pretty.  I thought I was decent looking, but knew I was no model. I was more concerned with fashion – we couldn't afford to buy what the "cool kids" were wearing, and it was a constant aggravation to me until I discovered that I could be willfully different (i.e., trying to be different rather than looking different because I couldn't fit in). Rather than obsessing over beauty, I took pride in my other characteristics – my strength, my willingness to get my hands dirty (literally, I was proud of not being girly), and my brains.  Those characteristics took me a lot further in life. 
    I eventually grew out of the "willfully different" phase, and I now take pride in presenting myself a certain way – in clothes that flatter me and suit my personality, a bit of makeup to bring out the characteristics I like best. I like to look good because it makes me feel good, but I know that my looks aren't what got me ahead in the world. I cringe when I see people who focus everything on how they look, because there's so much more them that they don't seem to value, but I don't think there's harm in a compliment here and there.

  15. March 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm —

    My vote is yes. As much as we don't want looks to be so important to our daughters, society continues to tell them that they are. I grew up never being told anything about my looks. No one told me I was ugly, but no one told me I was pretty either, so I always assumed that I was not pretty and people were just being nice about it, because I would hear other girls being told they were pretty.
    It was something I gave myself a lot of unnecessary grief over, because I WANTED to be pretty regardless of what other things I received praise for. Looking back at pictures, while I wasn't radiant or anything, I was a cute child and a pretty teen/young adult, and I wonder if I would have been happier and more focused on my actual achievements if my parents would have just told me I was pretty – not a lot, just sometimes. Even just to positively reinforce good grooming or something. As it is, I still kind of wonder if my parents actually think I wasn't/am not pretty, but it's not something I would ever ask them.
    I think the key is to tell her she is pretty, but make it no big deal, like, it exists, but it's no more special than being left-handed or right-handed. If you emphasize her accomplishments without going out of your way to de-emphasize her looks, that will hopefully keep things in perspective, but it's almost impossible to say what's the correct thing to do with this issue.

    • March 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm —

      Pretty much agree with violets, here. I tell my daughter (11) that she's pretty. I also tell her that looks matter because it affects how other people will interact with her. Is it a good thing that is true? Well, I don't think so, but it is true nonetheless. I also try to place more emphasis on actual accomplishments. The things she works for and earns should be more important to her.

  16. March 27, 2012 at 6:21 pm —

    My daughter is only two but I'm already worried about this, too.  And she IS pretty.  I tell her so, not that she really understands what that means yet, but I'm already starting to curb myself a bit.  Yes being "pretty" makes your experiences somewhat different than that of someone who has never had good looks on their side, but the thing to remember and maybe emphasize, is that it doesn't last.  For most people, even the gorgeous ones, time is the great equalizer.  Without lots of luck and a ridiculous amount of effort, she will eventually become a plain-looking adult, and whatever self-esteem she had built upon that pretty foundation will have to find a new address.

  17. March 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm —

    It seems to me that the very act of telling someone they are pretty is a means of passing judgment.
    If you like how someone looks then telling them so is a nice thing to do, but meaningless words like pretty do not tell them anything more than that you judge them as acceptable.
    I like to use words that communicate more meaning than pretty. And I like to frame it as my opinion in an effort to admit not only of my bias but that opinions differ.

  18. March 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm —

    Hmmm, I think having “good” self esteem is over rated in many respects; and often esteem that has its origins in what other people think can be a set up for those inevitable and often crushing reality based moments of clarity that often accompany adolescence. From what I recall from reading many articles and research about childhood self esteem is that the best option is helping a child develop esteem based on effort and accomplishment, with some added discussions about the superficiality of looks. In the end I would think most all children eventually realize that having good looks is more often than not a positive thing and will results in positive social benefits and may even mean more choices in life. Better to learn this from a parent because ya know, life is not fair.

  19. March 27, 2012 at 7:16 pm —

     
    I have a lot of body image problems that I still struggle with. I was criticized for my appearance at home by a parent all throughout my life, and I was bullied by school-aged peers because of it, too. So, I grew up believing I was deformed and irrevocably ugly. I still feel that way off and on. My feeling ugly has caused me problems with relationships and many other aspects of my life.
    That said, you sound like a good mom who is concerned about treating your daughter well. But, there are some mean folks out there who would belittle her, and we are limited as to how much we can influence and change our environments for the better. So, my advice to you is to let her know that in her mother’s eyes, she is beautiful in every single way a person can be beautiful, both inside and out.  I really wish some one would have told that to me when I was younger. 

  20. March 27, 2012 at 7:39 pm —
  21. March 27, 2012 at 8:07 pm —

    I only have a son, and he is only four months old, but yes I do plan on telling him he is cute/handsome. I will also tell him he is clever and funny and so on. 

  22. March 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm —

    Boys are being left out of this discussion altogether.  Do people think males don't care about their looks? Or that society doesn't judge guys by their beauty? 

    • March 28, 2012 at 9:41 am —

      I don't think boys are immune to "looks are important" but I think it's a different message with different baggage and different expectations. I also think boys face a different set of damaging top priorities from society and that looks are furter down on the list than they are for girls. I don't know if it's reasonable to disucss the two pressures as similar or equal.

  23. March 27, 2012 at 8:37 pm —

    I think folks left out boys because the discussion topic is girls, and they didn't want to derail it. At least that's why I stayed focused on girls. 

  24. March 27, 2012 at 9:24 pm —

    I have some serious body image issues, but I'm working very hard not let it show so much in front of my daughter.  I'm also working to have a healthier view of myself.  I tell my daughter she's pretty but lately I've been trying to add another compliment in with it.  Like "you're so pretty, and smart."

    • March 28, 2012 at 11:21 pm —

      I agree with you. My mum always complimented me growing up, but would put herself down and go on diets despite being slim already. As I grew up, I resembled her strongly so of course her negative perceptions of her own looks affected me. Only recently have I become happy with myself. 

  25. March 27, 2012 at 9:44 pm —

    https://apps.facebook.com/wpsocialreader/me/channels/82259/content/9yM5k?fb_action_ids=3639831597181&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_source=other_multiline
    Congratulations to Faith Hill for letting us see how she looks off-stage, and for not being "Dolly" to her children and husband.
    She looks great to me!

  26. March 27, 2012 at 10:36 pm —

    Compliment her as you would compliment any adult you know regardless of gender.  If she looks like she took time with her appearance, notice.  If you like what she did to her hair, nothing wrong wiith saying so.  If she worked really hard on a project, that's worth complimenting too.  Simply treat her respectfully without regard to gender or competition, the way we ought to treat everyone.  
    If she is feeling insecure about what other kids might be saying, back her up.
    I tell my kids they are cute because to me they are.  I tell my partner the same thing.  I try not to criticize appearance unless there's something major (that skirt is way too short for school!) and other than that don't try to overthink it.

  27. March 27, 2012 at 10:45 pm —

    I definitely think that boys feel pressure as far as looks go – especially when it comes to things like height and physical fitness. But I do think the problem is exacerbated when it comes to girls, because in my opinion, boys are given the message by society that if you don't look conventionally attractive, that you can still be funny or financially successful and that will be just as good. But I think that unfortunately, girls still grow up with the message that no matter what else you do, your looks will always be the thing that people judge you by. You see this all the time in the way that female public figures are not only subject to comment for what they say and do, but also for what they wear and the way they do their hair, how attractive they look while doing whatever and how much they weigh at any given time, while men are very seldom commented on for these things unless they do something pretty far outside the norm.

  28. March 27, 2012 at 11:32 pm —

    I know I'm late to the game and this is a sort of unpopular opinion, but I vote for not emphasizing prettiness, and focusing on good character qualities and intelligence.
    I grew up with parents who never told me I was beautiful, not to make a political statement, but because I'm really not, and never have been. And that's okay. I agonized over it for a long time, but I'm over it now. I believe in owning my ugliness and being proud of it. I don't wear makeup or expensive clothes, and don't do anything with my hair, because it's more conducive to the awesome life I lead, and that's far more important to me.
    Sometimes it's obvious that people are uncomfortable with the way I look, and I just don't care any more. There's nothing I can do about my face, but I think I've cultivated an interesting enough personality, curiosity, vocabulary, brains, and compassion, and that should be what matters. Why should I feel like I owe beauty to society or to individuals? Why give in against my will to people who feel entitled to see attractiveness in every female face?
    If people look at me and decide that they can't see past my appearance, and refuse to get to know me, well… that's not my problem, it's theirs. I refuse to cater to the prejudices of these people and just reinforce that ugliness should be changed when it makes someone uneasy. Suck it up, I say. 
    On the other hand, I do understand that generally, parents find their children beautiful, and if that's a sentiment you feel compelled to express to your children as a genuine heartfelt statement, then I think it's important that you do say that to them. But I don't think it's acceptable to use it as a means to reassure a child who is wondering if they wouldn't have as much value if they weren't pretty.
     

  29. March 27, 2012 at 11:35 pm —

    Also, there's an excellent short story by Ted Chiang called "Liking What You See: A Documentary" that has a lot to say on this subject, for anyone who cares. You can read it here: http://www.ibooksonline.com/88/Text/liking.html

  30. March 28, 2012 at 12:41 am —

    I generally try to avoid giving my children (daugher and son) compliments based on things that they haven't worked to acheive. So I don't call them pretty or smart. Because at the end of the day, pretty and smart are like tall and blonde, it just is what it is. I think that is where kids get into esteem troubles; when they try to be something they are simply not and society does tend to suggest that pretty and smart are virtues rather than accidents of nature.
    So, if I wanted to make a comment on appearance, I might say I like the outfit she has put together, or the interesting way she has done her hair (she is actually only 3 so I don't comment on her appearance much at all, but I'm trying to think what I might say hypothetically). I also try very hard to praise effort rather than result and to say things like "I'm really impressed with how you persisted there" or "You really concentrated on that for a long time!". I also praise social behaviours I like such as "I was really impressed how you waited your turn there" or "I bet she felt really happy that you went over and played with her".
    I also say I love you all the time. I think that is better than "You are pretty".

  31. March 28, 2012 at 1:14 am —

    My mom (and others) told me I was pretty (still do).  Usually she said it when she was doing something that related to my looks, like brushing my hair or talking about clothes.  It was just sort of matter-of-fact, like the way life was.  I was pretty, but I also had many other great qualities.  Some people would tell me I was pretty like it was really, really important that I know that; that was confusing to me.  I mean, it's good to know people think you look good, but if that's the primary compliment someone has for me, it's not that great.  
    A funny story my mom likes to tell is that she had to teach me to say "thank you" to that particular compliment.  When I was little, I'd just say "I know."
    Personally, I think it's an appropriate thing to say to children in the right context.  Calling a girl pretty after she finishes telling you about her favorite dinosaur is definitely not the right time.  Telling any kid they look beautiful when the subject/situation has to do with looks is good.  It's good to know that people like looking at you, just as long as that's not the only thing they like. 
    As an adult, I take it as a compliment when people call me pretty if I'm a) trying to look good or b) they don't know me, so that's pretty much the only compliment they can honestly pay me.  Now, if I'm on a date or talking to a potential romantic interest, and he sticks to compliments about my looks, I'm not impressed.  I almost never wear make-up.  I don't style, or even straighten my hair.  There are lots of things I put effort in being good at that I would much rather be complimented on.

  32. March 28, 2012 at 3:54 am —

    I tell my friend's little girl that she's pretty. And I tell her she's clever. And I tell her she's fun to be with. And I tell her she's strong. And I tell her she's a good climber.
    There's a whole range of things I can compliment her on, so I do.
     
     

  33. March 28, 2012 at 8:05 am —

    I didn't heap a whole lot of praise on my daughter's looks when she was growing up. (Unless she was trying to be pretty, like for a date, then I tore out the stopper) Nor did I tell her that she did well if she didn't.
    Her mother and I made it very clear that it didn't matter how well she did at whatever she tried, as long as she tried her best. If she was honestly capable of C's in a subject, and got them, she would get just as much positive reinforvement from us as when she scored A+'s in subjects in which she was capable of A+'s.

  34. March 28, 2012 at 9:06 am —

    The comments about "hormones", I think, really show the danger here. To prepubescent girls, "pretty" means sparkly and adorable. Little girls like princesses because they get to wear poofy dresses, not because they get the prince. But for adults, "pretty" has a much different, more sexual meaning. I don't know the answer, but the shift in meaning for girls is not something to be unaware of. That shift from pre- to post-pubescent often results in a crash in self-esteem, when it young women start to suspect their main and only value to society is as sex objects. 

    • March 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm —

      I think Amanda Marcotte makes an excellent point. Before puberty, comments on my appearance seemed dumb (until my mother cut my hair and dressed me in boys clothes and my cursed uncle for the rest of his life addressed me as "little boy").  I wanted to look like a girl, but I didn't care if adults thought I was pretty, and it wasn't an issue in my peer group.
      After puberty, though – whole 'nother story.   High school was Hell.

  35. March 28, 2012 at 10:18 am —

    I have never been "pretty" and generally believe that anyone that says I am is lying or is saying it to make me feel better. This is in large part because growing up, there were a lot of critiques from friends and family alike of my appearance. While my dad did compliment me far more than my mom, they were and are always specific things – that outfit looks nice, your hair looks nice, you look like you've lost weight. My mom doesn't compliment me much, but it is sometimes, and it is still always specific things.
    This did run into the problem where my "beautiful blue eyes" got covered by glasses, and once I cut my "gorgeous long hair", not only did people constantly ask me what happened to my hair and why I cut it, but it also became frustrating that people didn't even remember me without it. I was completely forgettable without long hair. That was a tough blow – so focusing on one feature too much can make it hard for someone to feel beautiful if that feature ever gets taken away.
    I think that specific things help, but as much as it's good for girls (and boys) to feel "pretty" being beautiful is more valuable. Beautiful feels more thorough. It's something that you can use to explain inside and outside. I like the phrase
    "You are beautiful, but even more, you're smart and kind and strong."
    Emphasizing the other values (intelligence, strength, morality, etc.) is important. However, when the rest of the world is trying so hard to drag you down over your appearance and few people take the time to get to know you and learn whether you're smart or good or not, feeling like you're good looking can help a lot.
     
    (This is really long and probably doesn't make much sense. Sorry.)

    • March 28, 2012 at 11:46 am —

      I think you're right.  "Beautiful" is a better descriptor to use.  More encompassing.

  36. March 28, 2012 at 11:44 am —

    There are so many factors in growing up that it's hard to tell what could have made a difference.  My parents never told me I was pretty; they focused on the smart and funny parts.  I am pretty, but never believed it as a teenager and once boys started telling me I was pretty, it was problematic because nobody had ever told me that and I felt like I was in their debt. 
     
    Of course, my parents never told me they loved me, either, so it could have been that, too.  Who knows. 

  37. March 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm —

    I tell she's pretty, but not as often as I tell her she's smart or kind.
    And when she does something nerdy, I squeeze her shoulder and say "That's my girl!"

  38. March 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm —

    This is long.  I'm sorry.
    My mom only told me I was pretty if I asked, and she wasn't terribly convincing, "Of course, you're pretty.  But you'll always be pretty to me, I'm your mother."  My mom's kind of the queen of the backhanded compliment.  Pair that with a father who started picking apart my physical appearance as early as 3rd grade (thunder thighs, bubble butt, when I got a purple bathing suit "Moby Grape), I was a trainwreck for a long time.  Still am.  But now I'm surprised when I look back at pictures of myself in my teens (after accutane got rid of my acne), and I was kind of really damn hot, and never knew it.  Some people may say that was a good thing, but it wasn't.  All it did was get me suckered into shitty abusive relationship after shitty abusive relationship, mostly just mentally abusive, with guys who could smell victim a mile away.
    And it's awesome that you don't want your daughter to feel like looks are everything, but society is going to pound it into her head, her peers, magazines, TV and movies.  I just hope that when she desperately needs to hear that she IS pretty, that you won't with-hold it from her based on an erroneous desire to rise above society and culture.  I think also and mainly emphasizing that she's smart, strong, athletic, creative, a good dancer is INCREDIBLY important.  Just don't cripple her by telling her she's "the smart one" while inferring that is contradictory to being cute, pretty, beautiful, attractive to someone. 
    Also, I'd like to remind everyone that "pretty" is incredibly subjective.  There are people I find beautiful that other people would probably refer to as "dog-fight ugly."  There are other people who I just don't find attractive at all, and everyone else appears to be over the moon for.  So, those of you saying you can't be/aren't pretty, odds are good that you are pretty to someone.     

  39. March 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm —

    Call her pretty. Don't make a big deal about it, beause it's not a big deal. But make sure she knows you think she's pretty.
     
    Nobody ever talked to their therapist about how screwed up they are just because their mom called them pretty. But there probably quite a few who got called ugly by classmates, and were devestated when mom's response was "well honey, looks don't matter much."

  40. March 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm —

    Mom always told me I was pretty. And I thought, each time, "well, she's saying that because she's my mom." I wished so hard that my DAD would tell me I was pretty. I think it would've meant more to me if he had. Once, he told me that I would "get a man with those eyes of yours." (It was the seventies.) That was the only time he ever said anything nice about my appearance. I clung to those words the rest of my life.
     
    This kind of thinking was really, really hard to get over.

  41. March 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm —

    I comment on my daughters' looks (well, mostly on #1's, who is 4), usually when there actually is a reason for doing so. That she really picked out a nice outfit, that she had a great idea for a hairdo (she tells me how to do them, I'll never understand how you can actually enjoy that somebody braids your hair for 20 minutes) and so on.
    I also compliment her on what she does, the ideas she has, her creativity, her intelligence.
    Recognizing how easy it is to comment girls on their looks and boys on their achievements I've made a habit of routinely not commenting on the looks of other girls (other people do that enough) unless they ask me about something or have an obviously different feature like a new haircut, but like the boys on what they're doing.
    It's obviously a thin line to walk. Don't do it at all and they will think that they're ugly or you don't care. Do it too much and they'll become self-absorbed littl beauty queens and unhappy if the world actually doesn't think them to be Miss Universum.
    Actually, I seem to be pretty unique in talking to my daughter's kindergartenfriends at all.

  42. March 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm —

    After more thought I began wondering if resilience is missing from the picture. There will always be someone percieved as "more pretty" not to mention more successful and charming, etc. I knew some girls in high school who were not billboard pretty but they so clearly did not care because they were busy with martial arts, educating themselves, volunteering, in other words making themselves useful. Being productive members of society is part of what kids should focus on as well. How we teach them that I don't know; but being a good role model and giving them a chance to explore all sorts of activities and careers can't hurt.

  43. March 28, 2012 at 7:16 pm —

    And ps anyone can be more "pretty" just by taking care of their health, their appearance, even something silly like buying new socks. Self-respect and being cleaned up can make anyone, boy or girl, feel better about themselves.

  44. March 29, 2012 at 3:06 am —

    I grew up with three brothers and I loved the fact that I was never singled out for being the only girl, and I was never treated as anything less than an equal. I think our parents did a great job of just focusing on what we were each accomplished in and always accepted each of us. I was always told I was pretty when I was trying, like at prom, but I was also told that I was intelligent, smart, creative, etc and so were my brothers.

  45. March 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm —

    I don't much remember hearing anything nice about my appearance when I was growing up. While it didn't have too much to do with my self-worth, I did end up completely believing that I was more or less unattractive (until about age 25).
    I can't even imagine what it would have been like to grow up thinking that all kinds of people are beautiful. That I could be beautiful too.

  46. April 1, 2012 at 6:55 am —

    I don't remember being told that I was(am) pretty. I remember my step-mom telling me I was cute and I told her that I was pretty, not cute. I think I was trying to be "grown up" at the time. It's a little stange thinking back because I was never a "girly girl" or anything like that. I didn't do make-up, clothes, or anything else in that realm until I started opening up in college. I credit one of my friends for this change. I only put on make-up and dress up on rare occasions, but I do quite enjoy it.
    What really mattered to me was hearing, "I'm proud of you." My dad said that to me a number of times, but I cannot remember hearing it from my mom. She probably finally said it when I got a BS. I lived with my dad and was a daddy's girl, so that may have contributed to the difference, but it bothered me that she never told me she was proud of me. She did tell me that she wished she had a daughter that was smart like a little girl she had interacted with that day. My friend that was present gave an awkward laugh not knowing how to respond in a situation like that. That is definitely something that will stay with me for as long as I live.
    Long story short, "I'm proud of you" >>>>> "You're pretty"

  47. April 2, 2012 at 10:57 am —

    From my relationships with girls between the ages of 12 and 25, their conversations always lay on the subject of escape from whatever reality they found themselves in (school, family, friends and other stressful environments). Prettiness to them, helped them attract people that helped them escape. Prettiness meant freedom or the ability to attain it whenever they chose.
    As an experiment, I'd offer your daughter freedom or at least flexibility in her life, in place of superficial hopes and dreams.
    Also, I'm not sure if this helps, but from a boyfriends perspective, I felt duped, while at the same time, enjoyed every second. Boy's (and maybe girl's) reproductive systems are about as simple as narcotics; they're not that interesting in the long run. It hurt to know I was simply biological and that was all that mattered to other adolescents, and even at the age of 25 I still can't escape the sinking feeling in my loins.
    I'm not certain what you're going to do, but if you're living in a simple, working class neighbourhood, you'd better hope art class is awesome (or maybe yoga) if she's going to out run that feeling. I would hope that education would be more interesting and exciting to a child than one's reflection, but most schools seem to fail in that regard.

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