The Problem with Pretty


My daughter is beautiful. I should know, I am her mother! And as her mom, I want to tell her so, constantly! When I look at her, in all of her unique wonderfulness, I am blown away. The easiest thing to say is, “You are so pretty!” and it’s not even always what I mean. Sometimes I mean, “You are incredible!” or “I can’t believe that I get to be your mommy!” but “pretty” pops out so easily.

I am learning to say what I mean more often and use the word “pretty” less. I do want my daughter to hear her mommy say that she is pretty, that her smile lights up the world. But what I want her to hear 100 and  1,000 times more is that she is treasured and valued, capable and kind. That her thoughts and feelings are important and valid.

So many in this world want to tell our daughters that they are nothing BUT pretty. Or conversely, that if they are not pretty (narrowly, culturally defined) then they are nothing. That they somehow owe the world their prettiness in return for the right to be a girl. How many girls’ clothes are emblazoned with the words “pretty” or “princess”? Soooo many! While many boys shirts have dinosaurs, rockets, and words like “genius” printed on them, the options for girls are much more limited and overwhelmingly focused on physical appearance.

It’s not just clothing companies that lead our girls to believe that character and intelligence should be worn as an accessory or afterthought. Movies, TV shows, books, music and all of culture, which subsequently means friends, teachers, and peers propagate the same myth – that a girl’s value lies in her physical attractiveness.

If my daughter grows to believe that she is unattractive (hello puberty!), it will break my heart. Of course I want her to have confidence in her appearance; it is an integral part of who she is. But if she grows to believe that she is nothing BUT pretty, that her value and worth and power are dependent upon her attractiveness, I will be absolutely crushed.

Because it is simply not true. She is – all of our girls are – so much more.

Despite what the girls clothing aisle of almost any clothing store will tell us, our girls are more than princesses and so much more than pretty. Let them hear from their mothers’ mouths that they are courageous and hardworking, that we love the way they helped someone, or stood up for themselves, or showed compassion or drive in a certain situation. And yes, let them hear sincerely, but perhaps less often than the thought crosses our minds, that they are pretty.