Thing 2

Resisting The Urge To Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful.

nikki

My daughter…I just don’t even know where to begin half the time. In some ways, she’s the most unfavorable combinations of Donnie and I that could exist. She has his aggressiveness, competitiveness, and stubborness — but my sensitivity and insecurities. It makes for such an emotional windstorm some days, that we just hold on tight and hope we get by without major breakdowns. But, in other ways, these combinations could make her the kind of person that could really change the world. The confidence to get it done, but the sensitivity not to step on people along the way.

She likes to lay in bed with me at night, in the dark, and talk about all of the big issues that haunt her during the day. What should she do when a teacher talks about Jesus? (Nothing. Unless they tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t believe he was the son of God. Then we need to talk.) Why doesn’t [insert name here] think gay people should get married? (I don’t know. But if they knew the gay people we knew, and the love they share with their partners, they’d change their mind.) She asks me complicated questions and we often stay up way too late doing – what I like to call – emotion wrangling.

Last night was a tough one. Last night she was struggling with how to make friends at school. I guess there’s a couple of “pretty girls” she’s trying to be friends with. One of them openly makes fun of the mosquito bites and bruises on her legs. The other one looks at her legs and she knows she’s thinking ugly things about them. She also hates the freckles on her face. They make fun of her teeth. She just wishes she was pretty.

[insert sound of my heartbreaking HERE.]

Now, my daughter is BEAUTIFUL by any standards you use. That may not stick, in 2nd-3rd grade I went from “cute” to “awkward” and stayed there for…well…I think I might still be there. I have no idea if she’ll hold on to that conventional beauty as her body matures. Will she inherit my dreaded acne? Will her hair become unruly? Who knows. But right now? She’s gorgeous. Truly.

So…my first instinct was to tell her that. Nikki! You’re beautiful! I would have loved to look like you as a little girl! I would have been jealous of your cool clothes and your pretty face!

But…I stopped myself.

What message would that send? That she should scoff at these girls because she’s totally pretty and they don’t know what they’re talking about? That she should know she’s pretty even if they tell her she’s not?

I don’t know. I just felt like telling her she was pretty was probably not the best way to help her.

BUT I WANTED TO SO BAD.

I talked to her about choosing friends. About how, if these girls pick on their “friends” then maybe she needs to find new friends.

I talked to her about being proud of those bruises and mosquito bites. She has them because she plays soccer and she’s a total beast on the field.

I talked to her about remembering how that felt so she wouldn’t ever make fun of other kids.

I talked to her about being smart. And strong. And funny. And a good friend, daughter, sister. And how those things were way more important that whether or not she has freckles.

BUT I WANTED TO TELL HER THE FRECKLES ARE BEAUTIFUL.

I just don’t know.

I talked to her about learning to cope with being picked on because everyone gets picked on in their lives. Even the “pretty girls”. Pretty girls often get called dumb. Smart girls get called ugly. Pretty and Smart girls get called bitches. That no matter who you are, or what you look like, you’re going to have to deal with being picked on some day. So, the best thing is to learn how to deal with it.

I talked to her about making jokes of it. “I can’t help it if my blood tastes DELICIOUS.”

I talked to her about not caring…and the power of a well-time eyeroll.

But I don’t know.

I’m not going to turn this into a “How To Talk To Little Girls” type lecture and say that talking about a girl’s looks, or calling her a princess, is going to harm her in the long run.

No.

I tell her she’s pretty all the time. I can’t help it. SHE IS. I’ll tell her I like her hair, or her outfit of the day. I’ll tell her she looks nice. But in that moment, I wanted her to think about the other things. Not just looks. Because we also tell her she’s strong. She’s damn funny. And she’s smart.

But when she just kept saying, “I wish I was pretty like them…” it was just so hard.

Because even if I told her she was pretty by my standards, she doesn’t look like the “pretty girls” look in her class. And those are the standards she was using.

So, I hope I did the right thing.

But, if not. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of other chances. We do still have the teenage years to look forward to. And if she keeps her grades up and gets scholarships, we’ll let her use her college money to pay for therapy.

9 thoughts on “Resisting The Urge To Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful.”

  1. I have always told my daughter she is beautiful and smart, and I also specifically emphasized her positives her whole life, ie, gorgeous thick hair, great at science, etc. Her overall believe is that of course I think she is beautiful and smart I am her mother, so I don’t think this has much of a chance of being detrimental to your daughter. Kids truly need every drop of positive reinforcement they can get.

    That being said, I never used the words pretty or popular, because they both seem to bug me and be much more shallow.

  2. Who are you? Just when I think I have you figured out, you send a zinger. Can I be proud of you? Can I claim that? Do we have to be related? Or Best Friends? Can I just say I am so proud of your writings? Of your wisdom, your openness? Your fearlessness? Your ability to paint with a different stroke? Can I nominate you for office? You give me hope. For the future of the world.

    Scotty Peck says: “The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual – for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.” And then there is the ripple effect of that one individual. You, to me, to mine and beyond.

    I am proud of you Zoot! You go!

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever commented before, but have been reading a long time. I think you’re such a great mom, Zoot. I’m not sure how I would have handled this either, but I think if my (future) daughter said something like “I wish I was pretty like them…” I would have a near-impossible time not telling her she IS pretty. Maybe saying something like, “You’re not pretty like them… you’re pretty like YOU” would get the point across. My heart hurts for Nikki — I remember feeling that way. I think you’re doing everything right.

  4. My mom told me I was pretty all the time when I was growing up and she also told me I was smart. Now, it came with some weirdness attached to it in the form of her insecurities as I got older (she’d sigh and be all “I wish I had ever been as skinny as you”), but looking back at the times she straight up told me I was beautiful and smart, I am really appreciative. I had plenty of self confidence issues anyway (and still do!), but I always believed deep down that I was pretty, even when my insecurities reared their heads. I credit my mom for that and I’m really grateful. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I think it’s ok to tell your beautiful girl that she’s beautiful. My heart was breaking reading this, girls can be SO MEAN. Hugs to Nikki!

  5. I tell the girls they are pretty (and smart) all the time – but in all honesty it’s probably got a lot do with the fact that my mother never said it to me. And her silence spoke volumes. When the mean girls picked on me I didn’t feel the confidence to brush them off because I didn’t feel confident about my looks and that lack of confidence was rooted in my mother’s constant criticisms. (Not just on looks but about everything, label me “The Disappointment”) So my knee jerk reaction to raising my own kids is to constantly compliment them and build them up where I was continually being torn down. Am I doing it right or better? Hard to ever say. I just making sure I’m doing it different.

  6. As the mom to two beautiful girls I am just waiting for the day I have this talk with them. My oldest and I had a 4 year old level talk about this type of subject and I used those darn Disney princesses as an example. A kid or kids (not clear) mentioned that she wasn’t pretty because she wasn’t wearing a dress to preschool. We had a long talk about how our dress doesn’t make us beautiful, but our actions and our thoughts do. Cinderella was beautiful because she was kind and caring not because her fairy godmother made her a pretty dress. Her beauty was visible even in her dirty, ragged cleaning outfit. Belle’s patience and intelligence made her beautiful, not the yellow dress she wore to dance. So on…I really hope that talk stuck with her but she still to this day will not wear pants or shorts. Only dresses or skirts are in her drawers. She’s got the same bruised legs and freckles as Nikki though and is quite proud of them as she earned them kicking butt at taekwondo and from being my baby.

  7. I love this! This is such a thoughtful post. And something I think about often. My kinds are younger, my daughter is still a wee baby, but I already worry about this part. The Mean Girls stuff, the Not Pretty Stuff, because it’s still so raw for so many of us, decades later. I love how you answered Nikki, but that she also does know that you think she’s pretty. It’s such a complicated thing, knowing how to talk to your kids.

    (But I would no shit lose my mind if a teacher talked to my kid about Jesus. I mean, unless it was about some literature book or something? But, uh, NO THANKS.)

  8. I love how you reminded her that she’s a beast on the soccer field and that’s why she gets scratches and bug bites. I don’t know why you had to try so hard not to tell her that she’s beautiful. She’s beautiful, to be sure, (and so are you, Kim! You are gorgeous and have amazing hair!) but she is so much more than that. She’s smart, clever, creative, strong and if she is lucky enough to suffer an awkward stage, she’ll develop a wicked sense of humor and then, when she grows out of it and she’s learned to make the most of her beautiful, unique features (and how freckles make your eyes extra twinkly) then she will have the world in her pocket because she’ll be funny, kind, smart and unstoppable. Conventionally beautiful girls that never suffer an awkward stage don’t get very far in life after high school. True fact.

  9. I don’t have kids but I was a kid who was in Nikki’s place back in elementary/middle school. I never really talked to my parents about how my time at school was but just in general parenting they would tell me (and my brother) how smart, funny, pretty/handsome etc we were. And while I usually scoffed and rolled my eyes and believed the kids at school a whole lot more than I did either of my parents… it was a little bit of comfort to know that they did.

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