Little girl looks of in the distance.


My Daughter is Beautiful And I’m Going To Tell Her So

Aug 30, 2017

They are out there on the Internet, lurking, just one ill-considered browser search away — articles that detail exactly how the seemingly innocent things you say to your kids will mess up their lives forever.

Four reasons not to tell your daughter she’s pretty (The Guardian)
Why I Don’t Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful (Scary Mommy)
Don’t you dare tell my daughter she’s ‘pretty’ (The Telegraph)
Why experts say it’s harmful to tell your little girl she’s pretty (Daily Mail)

These articles have their nuances but the thrust is pretty much the same: complimenting girls for their looks teaches them to value appearance above all, links beauty too closely with their self-esteem and sets them up for failure in the face of unrealistic beauty standards.

Great advice. But not very helpful when my five-year-old is twirling her skirt in front of the mirror and asking me whether I think she’s gorgeous. 

My job is to teach her (and my sons) that people who care about them will treat them with respect, show interest in their interests and say nice things about them.

She is — that’s the correct answer. She’s also adorable. I’m going to tell her so. I’m not going to stop just because she’s a girl. And I don't care how many child experts, crusading columnists and parent bloggers I might piss off. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am an unhappy tourist in the Disney-inspired fairytale land that currently occupies my daughter’s imagination. She wants me to call her Rapunzel, paint her nails and buy her heart-shaped lockets. Each morning is a struggle. I want her to wear pants. She wants the frilliest dress in the closet. Convincing her that she can’t ride her bike in a ball gown is a day I get a star on my sticker chart.

When she wanted to be a doctor for Halloween, I encouraged the heck out of that. When she changed her mind, at the last minute, and wanted to be a superhero, I rolled with that happily. She is smart. She is tough. She is capable. And whatever else she wants to be. At the moment, she wants to be a princess… and, yes, one of the prettier ones, in my opinion. My job is to teach her (and my sons) that people who care about them will treat them with respect, show interest in their interests and say nice things about them.

You'll Also Love: One Dad's Problem With Princesses

Parents aren’t the problem. I remember when I figured out that good looks mattered and that I didn’t have them. I was 13. Yes, up until then I thought I was just about the most handsome thing going. Yes, it was thanks mostly to my Mom’s highly biased opinion. Tough lesson, sure. But Mom sabotaged my self-esteem? Seems a bit thin. In fact, just between you and me, she helped keep it intact during some pretty rough patches back there.

My 13-year-old self did have a good idea where those wacky ideas about boys and girls and beauty came from: nasty marketers hawking cheap garbage and outdated ideas of what most girls, but also boys, ought to be like. Yes, I’m going to tell my kids they are beautiful, that they are smart and that they are capable. And teach them that the relationships they build are worth more than a mountain of cheap garbage. I will also tell myself that I’m doing a great job as a parent. Because self-esteem matters.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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