Talking to your Daughter about “Pretty”


My daughter is six.  I’m not afraid to have “The Talks” with her.  She already knows that smoking is unhealthy, that there are substances we choose not to put into our bodies, and that Modest is Hottest. I knew we’d be having these conversations, and I was prepared for them. But do you know what I wasn’t prepared for?  Talking about “Pretty.”

She is pretty. She’s also very bright.  Wonderful with language, empathetic, patient. There’s a lot of love in this little girl.  So why do I feel my hackles rise when she asks if she looks pretty?

Will this bow make me pretty?

Am I pretty now that I’m wearing this necklace?

If my hair is black like yours, will I be pretty?

There’s nothing wrong with pretty.  We all want to be pretty.  But the definition of pretty seems to change day by day.  What is pretty?  Las Vegas pretty is different than rural Utah pretty.  Five-year-old pretty is different than 30-year-old pretty.  There’s natural pretty, and extreme pretty (think Anastasiya Shpagina).  Disney princesses are pretty. Brave women scarred by acid attacks are beautiful, but no longer pretty.

How do I explain pretty to my daughter?

My mother handled it beautifully, and I’ll always respect her for it. Whenever somebody said that I or one of my cousins were pretty, she always said, “Yes, and she’s so smart, too.”   She’d point out something else, something to build pretty on, and we never felt like we had to be cute to get through life, or that we didn’t have anything else to offer. I do that with my daughter. I don’t want to take pretty away from her, because I think it’s natural for little girls to want to be pretty, but I don’t want that to be their only worth in life.

My very first short story sale was titled “Show Your Bones”.  It’s a flash fiction piece about the media and obsession with women’s beauty. The main character in the story, who is never given a name, is literally killing herself, but the world eats it up and considers it beautiful.

I wrote it in college, and heaven knows things have only gotten worse since then! I don’t want to take “pretty” away from little girls, but I want there to be more.

I told my daughter that the way you act shows on your face.  I said people who are nice tend to have happy faces, and if somebody is mean and bitter, it can show up on their faces.  I told her that it’s hard to live a life of mean and have a happy, nice face.  To be pretty, you have to act pretty.

I hope that’s the right thing to say.

4 Comments on “Talking to your Daughter about “Pretty””

  1. Yes, I like this. Although, I think that the example of their mothers sends a much louder message than anything we actually say. How we talk about ourselves tells them what to value much more than how we talk about them.

  2. Love this. I struggled with this with my daughter too. I think it’s worse when the girls are really pretty. Because the world seems to want to make their lives about that. Every time someone stopped us to tell us how beautiful or pretty she was (and it happened right up until she was 16), we politely thanked them (even though at a certain age it just starts weirding you out) and then I told her that beauty was something she was born with, so while it was great, it wasn’t an accomplishment. And that being smart, and kind, and giving were things you had to work at so it made them more valuable.

  3. It’s so hard, isn’t it? I remember my daughter coming home from Kindy and telling me that she had to wear shoes to be pretty, and I had to reassure her she could run barefoot and still be beautiful. Another mother once told me that in order to get her daughter to brush her hair she told her that no boys would like her if she had messy hair and I wanted to scream at this woman. It was just so wrong.

    So I never say things like that to my children. We play ‘would I still be beautiful if…” you were dressed in a rubbish sack. if your hair was 50 different colours, if you had no legs, if your teeth were black, if you had socks dangling from your ears, if you had all your clothes on inside out, if you walked on your hands, if you had blue lips. Of COURSE you’d still be beautiful, because beauty comes from inside. Your kindness, your courage, your intelligent, your passion for learning, your unbreakable spirit, your willfulness, that stubborn streak, they all make you beautiful. My kids LOVE to come up with new versions of would I still be beautiful, they think it’s a funny game, but they also know that it means that no matter what they look like physically, they will ALWAYS be beautiful,

  4. I have a five year old daughter and struggle with this, too. I love makeup and clothes and dressing up, yet I cringe when my daughter wants to “be pretty”, also. I’m also a fan of adding on to the physical compliments. If I tell her the dress she chose is pretty, I do something else, like tell her I like how she puts together creative outfits. Or if her hair looks nice, I add that she is good with designs and ideas, which you need to style your hair. Blerg! Is it working? Who knows, but I SO try to steer away from the Little Princess Culture. Keep the articles coming, sister mama!

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