Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pretty Girls

Recently, I saw a play, containing a line of dialogue that sparked a lot of thought. The female lead character announced (paraphrased, I believe): "All little girls should be told they're pretty, even if they aren't."

Questions: 1) Should we routinely tell our little girls they're pretty? 2) Should we do this even if they're not? I'm curious about your take. . . .

42 comments:

tara said...

Yes, by all means, lie to them. Tell them that they are pretty. They will never move on to the real world and even if they did I am sure that nobody would tell them otherwise and bring down the house of cards that had been so meticuliously built over the years.

E said...

That seems like a misguided step in the right direction. Good attempt at making all girls feel confident about themselves, but why is being "pretty" the way we need to go about that? Can't we tell them that they're intelligent and strong? Why the focus on looks, which are fairly uncontrollable (until you're old enough to get plastic surgery at least).

And the little girls who aren't pretty but are told they are? One day they're going to discover that they don't fit society's stereotype of beauty. But if the emphasis throughout their youth was on this beauty, where does that leave them?

Chuckles McGee said...

Telling them that we love them and why we love them is far more appropriate. We don't have much urge to tell boys that they're handsome if they really aren't, why should we put undue emphasis on girls for a trait they have little control over?

Anonymous said...

but everyone is beautiful. for real.

Nishma said...

After reading a post some time ago, I put a sign on the mirror in my girls' (age 9 & 11) bathroom saying, "THIS is what beautiful looks like." They will hear enough, as they grow, about how they "should" look, but I think that if they know they are already beautiful, those other messages may matter just a tiny bit less. I don't routinely tell them they are pretty because to me pretty and beautiful are not the same thing at all. Beautiful is more important and more lasting than pretty.

puellapiscea said...

I don't have a problem with the first have of the phrase, I have a problem with the second (...even if they aren't). I have yet to see a little girl who isn't pretty. If you can't see beauty in a child's face you can't see beauty anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Just don't let them get fat. Anything else won't matter as much

Hoover said...

I agree that it's a step in the right direction of raising confident young ladies, but I don't think "pretty" needs to be stressed. By all means, if they asks about being pretty or if the occasion calls for that compliment, tell them that. But if you want to routinely tell them a compliment, say they are smart, creative, unique... why do we all have to be pretty?

Anonymous said...

Hey, dude, there's a cake, cool.. -NOPE, too late, vesta44 has dun gobbled it. Big belly.

Twistie said...

I have to side with those who think the general idea is good, but there's no need to make it all about 'pretty.' My mother told me I was pretty, which was certainly nice to hear, but she was more likely to tell me I was smart, funny, creative, or compassionate, every one of which I count as far more important than pretty...even though pretty is still a nice thing to hear.

Every child, no matter what gender, should have virtues and talents praised. Every one of them has something about them deserving of said praise. Praise should be honest, or it's hollow and meaningless. Pretty may be a nice thing to be, but it isn't the only good thing to be by a very long shot. Let's tell kids the truth. Let's give them something more solid than pretty to value about themselves.

Charlynn said...

I agree with those who have said they'd rather complement a child of either sex on the talents unique to them instead of appearance. I also agree that children should be told they are loved - that is so very important!

Anonymous said...

Let's sing a song about fatsos the bobos. Fatso the bobo. Sing sing sing along song.

auntiepeachvintage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
auntiepeachvintage said...

This is mildly off-topic, but my partner told me the other day about a study he'd read for an assignment at teachers' college.

Those conducting the study gave a test to a class of children. When the results came back, some children were shown their results and told, "You must be a very smart child / very brainy", and the others were told "You must have worked very hard to get this result". Some months later, the children were given the option of taking a similar test, or a harder one. Those who were told that they had worked hard went for the harder test, whereas those given natural "smart" or "brainy" affirmations tended towards a similar test. Those who conducted the test summised that children who thought natural ability was the main reason for their test result were less likely to try harder, in fear of failure or coming up short of adult expectation.

I wonder if this translates across the spectrum of affirmations to children. If we tell our children they are pretty, will they turn out differently to children who are told they are intelligent, strong or conscientious?

Lee said...

I'm a firm believer in telling children the (age appropriate)truth. Every child has something attractive about her (or him) - you can comment on that, or, tip of the hat to auntiepeachvintage, her/his achievements. Children aren't stupid, they know when praise is deserved, or when you're stretching the truth. Keep it real!

Laura said...

I was never told I was pretty as a child, because my parents didn't want me to value beauty over brains. Now (in my 20s), if anyone tells me I'm pretty, I find it really hard to believe. Just saying.

cggirl said...

laura - that's a really good point.

puellapiscea - i totally agree!

And in general - what earthly reason could there be not to tell ur child they are pretty/handsome?

Why overcomplicate it and act as if that must be at the expense of other things?

Tell them they are attractive, smart, talented, etc. And even if you think by some standards they aren't so attractive, remember, everyone has different tastes, everyone is pretty to some people and not to others...

So why not give them that confidence? (in their looks AND abilities and everything, it's not an either/or proposition...)
There are enough people in the world who will tear them down. And enough people who will take advantage of them when they are DESPERATE for some sort of affirmation because they didn't get it at home...

And if ur so concerned about how they will do in the "real world" - remember, a. if u feel attractive and confident then u r percieved that way. b. ur child can deal with this or that person thinking they are ugly, but if their OWN PARENTS think that? well the child will assume nobody will ever see them as attractive. And that's really not true, as i said, different people have different tastes.

MelissaS said...

i find this question too difficult. my mother told me i was pretty when i wasn't. i believed her. then the world resoundingly informed i wasn't pretty at all. i wish i could have been spared the pain that brought me.. but i wouldn't deny a young girl who gained confidence from her parents words, and from that confidence, gained beauty -- inside and out.

Scattered Marbles said...

Growing up NEVER hearing I was pretty, or beautiful the closest my family ever got was to tell me I would be so pretty if... I believed from a very very young age that I was just a massive fat ugly female. I have little to no self esteem, this year was the first time I have ever heard members of my family tell me I was beautiful (two of my sisters told me at separate times)and I can NOT believe it.

I look back on pictures of myself and I am filed with so much anger and sorrow because I was not the hideous worthless beast that I believed in my head. I KNOW that if I had been told that I was pretty, I wasn't that fat, I was smart, my whole life would have been different. I wouldn't have grown up feeling like I wasn't worth anything.

ok I can understand peoples point that looks are not everything, but in a world that can constantly put people down if they don't fit the cookie cutter mold everyone needs to be shown her beauty inside and out by those closest to them. Thing is what standards are we going by if we decide that it is a "lie" to tell someone they are pretty... ok maybe to you they might not be the prettiest person you have seen... but I have yet to find a person that I can not find one good thing about. If I love someone that list grows and grows.. and people DO need to hear it from us... because the world sure won't give them that kind of information to help build their confidence.

Don't just focus on the outward looks... focus on the inside as well, confidence and self esteem is so easy to build if we just take the time to tell people what they are doing right, what we appreciate, and what makes them such special wonderful human beings. Yes it has to be genuine... people easily learn to discount the fake... but it is NOT hard to find good things to encourage people about, and we ALL need to hear that.

So yes even if you personally don't think someone is pretty ... I don't think it is wrong to tell them that they are.. because a lot of people not pretty to me are pretty to others. Beyond that though it is extremely important to also tell them that that is not why you care about them.. and to show them that it is the inside, their talents and personalities that truly make them special.

CatsPuke said...

There are enough people and media outlets in the world teling little girls that unless they are pretty then they're not good enough.

By all means tell them they're pretty, even if they're not, tell them that they're clever, tell then that they're beautiful, tell them that they can achieve anything they want to do.

Let's give them a solid base, and a hope for self esteem before it is shattered. Don't knock their confidence when they're young, when it's so clearly going to be knocked when they're grown.

CP x

Rachel said...

I think we need a movement for ugly acceptance. As an ugly woman who is sick to death of being lied and condescended to, I think we ought to be working for a world where people aren't judged by their looks, and where no one cares if little girls are pretty or not.

MelissaS said...

i am intrigued by how quickly this post got so many topics. a very hot topic! it's kept me thinking.

Mary said...

@E: "One day they're going to discover that they don't fit society's stereotype of beauty. But if the emphasis throughout their youth was on this beauty, where does that leave them?"

I see what you mean. And, I agree with the commenters who say - why do we need to build girls' confidence by telling them they're pretty, as opposed to strong, smart, good at sports, compassionate - et c.?

However, "pretty" is important in our society for women. And I think, therefore, that it can be (note: can, not must) important to self-confidence. Can you have self-confidence believing you're ugly? Sure, but it takes a lot more hard work.

I am one of those girls who made that discovery. In my case, years of being told how beautiful I was by a mom who really meant what she said - I am beautiful to her - buoyed me up as I did the work I needed to restore and build my self-confidence, and not let society's dismissal of me based on my looks destroy me.

So I think it could help. I think it can help if the teller believes the girl is pretty - and some will. It can especially help if you have good conversation about what pretty means, why many people think it's important - acknowledge that not everyone will think she's pretty, but that YOU do. That way, SHE might be able to do the same.

See what I mean?

Dan said...

Hmmm tough call. I think it is stupid to keep telling people how great they are in some ways. Then people get overinflated ego's. There is nothing wrong with rewarding people based off stuff they actually achieve, but saying your pretty is rewarding someone for something they have done nothing to obtain. Maybe parents could focus their praise on actual merit.

Dan said...

Otherwise it will be enough just to be pretty. Rather than try and do something. Like someone said earlier boys don't get told how handsome they are. Telling someone how good they have done rewards and motivates them to try and achieve more.

Gaining Back My Life said...

My husband always comments on how smart my nieces are; they are both very pretty, but he tries to encourage the importance of internal values.

Me, I like to hear I'm beautiful from my husband, but he rarely says it. He believes it feeds my ed. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others who have said, find something to praise besides a little girl's looks. I'm also someone who is not "pretty" in the traditional sense, so when my parents told me that I was, I didn't believe them - I knew better, by the way my "peers" treated me. I realize now that, to my parents, I really was beautiful, but I couldn't make that kind of distinction when I was little.
-Pegkitty

A\'ishah M.R. Hils said...

I think it's more important to encourage a comprehensive, realistic approach to body image. Just telling girls they are pretty (whether they are or not) is such a sort of flat approach, IMHO. Find out what makes them feel special, what makes them feel treasured, and encourage that. Let them know that they are loved for being who they are, not for their looks or anything else. Give them support. Teach them that their appearance shouldn't be the most important thing, and that their self-esteem is worth so much more than that. By all means, tell them they are pretty, whether others might think they are or not. But they deserve more than that.

Minna said...

Tara: No matter how beautiful you are, there are going to be people who tell you you're ugly.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Im a firm believer that beauty comes from within the person, and that everyone is beautiful in their own way. If a girl does not fit into the steriotype of 'beautiful' yet her parents still tell her she is, she can always hold that shred of hope that she is, and as she grows, even if others say she is not, she will discover that she truely is beautiful. Even if she'll never be a super model, she's still beautiful.

Jessica said...

My parents used to change the words in bedtime stories, so for example the prince fell in love with Cinderella because she was smart and funny and hardworking, not because she was pretty. I think it did make a difference in my self-esteem-- I never thought of myself as pretty and never cared much about my looks, but I have always thought of myself as clever and hardworking. Similar to what Laura said, it's now a weird foreign feeling when someone (e.g. my boyfriend) compliments my looks. I'm very glad my parents did that for me and my sister.

MelissaS said...

i'm having an off day and feeling really unattractive. it ruins my mood. as i'm heading off to work, i'm thinking about this post,which has really stuck with me. why is it so important to me to think i look pretty?

Hil said...

I'm with laura and puellapiscea: in what world is any child not beautiful? My parents always told me they loved me and praised my intelligence, humor, strength, compassion, etc. They didn't talk about my looks at all. With nothing to combat negative peer messages about my appearance, I assumed it all must be true. It took me years to be able to believe my husband when he told me he thought I was beautiful.

The word "pretty" can be loaded, but it is human and normal to want to look attractive. I think there is a way to tell children that they are beautiful and that they look exactly the way God intended them to without conveying the message that their appearance is somehow the most important thing about them.

Anonymous said...

There is a fine line...As Ani DiFranco sings, "And God help you if you are a pretty girl, 'cuz too pretty is also your doom." So be careful not to place too much emphasis on being "pretty" - or else they will hinge everything on it, just like the "smart" girls, the "sporty" girls, etc. Balance is what is needed. But yes, do tell them they are beautiful inside and out....

Anonymous said...

When I was a little girl, my mom would braid my hair after showering every night and then she would brush it out in the morning. Every night and morning she told me I was the prettiest little girl in the world. Well, I had high self confidence until about 4th grade when I 'realized' I was ugly. I used to sit in front of the mirror in my bathroom and cry. This happened several times a week for YEARS. I pretty much felt like my life was over, and I felt like I couldn't trust anything my mother said anymore.

I agree with the people who say you should compliment young girls on other traits, like intelligence, creativity, sports skills, etc. I'm 21 now, and when I look at pictures of myself as a kid I actually was a cute little blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid. But the point isn't whether the girl actually is pretty or not. All girls (and adult women!) go through times when they think they are ugly and disgusting (in my opinion). The point is rather to teach your kids that external beauty is entirely less valuable than internal beauty.

I don't know... just my opinion.

Gaining Back My Life said...

"The point is rather to teach your kids that external beauty is entirely less valuable than internal beauty."

Anon, this was a symmetrical summarization of the path that lies in front of us. I hope we follow it.

Kiersten said...

Yes, we should tell little girls that they are beautiful. It's not the outside beauty we need to comment on, but the inside beauty. If every little girl was told she was a beautiful person, she may feel better about herself and have better self-esteem. If we point out all the (non-physical) things about them that make them beautiful, then maybe they won't place so much importance on physical beauty as they get older.

bee said...

My mother used to tell me the truth - which was that I was fat and ugly.

I developed an eating disorder at around age 5 and still have one - I am now 22.

So I don't know.

I would say with complete certainty that my mother assisted my eating disorder by being 'honest'.

Witchylana said...

I wonder if any of the very bitter sounding commenters here have young daughters.
My 6 yr old kid gets told on a regular basis that she is clever, beautiful and funny. (clothes/jewellery etc. are pretty - not people) And that if other people can't see those things - then that's their problem, not hers.
My job as a parent is to give her a layer of selfesteem thick enough that she can be stripped of some of it, but still be protected.
It's good if a baby tends towards the chubby side, because if they get sick they don't tend to lose a dangerous amount of weight. Same principle.

Joan of Archetype said...

Yes! Tell your daughters they are pretty! As well as smart and funny and interesting and everything else.

No, pretty should not be the ultimate praise, but I don't think withholding that, especially in a culture that puts so much emphasis on it will help at all.

And especially when you can tell them the unique things that make them so beautiful. Things that perhaps fly against the norms of billboards and magazine spreads.

pangsofbeaut said...

i was told constantly i was pretty. and smart.

i've been told my WHOLE LIFE i was beautiful. i've been told or asked if i model over and over again. i've been told by friends, strangers, family members, friends of friends, males, and females that i am one of the most beautiful people they've ever met/seen in their lives.

i've had an eating disorder for almost five years. and have been to the ER twice for it in the past year. i have horribly low self-esteem. stayed with a physically/emotionally abusive bf for over a year. i am clinically depressed. just recently stopped cutting my wrists in order to deal with emotional pain. and my anxiety disorder all but rules my life.

so what exactly did telling me i'm pretty do for me?

DragonX said...

Of course we should tell them they're pretty. Espescially in this society, which is constantly telling young people that if girl doesn't resemble THEIR view of beautiful it means she's ugly and can't have any success in her personal life no matter how hard she's trying. Because if she'll be bullied because of her looks at school then she'll have no base to defend her self-confidence from that and believe everything other people said. But it's also important to tell girls they're smart, creative, sporty etc. And the most important you MUST tell them tht you love them no matter what they've done or how they look. Most of the children will believe whatever you tell them.

My parents never told me they loved me or praised me for anything except my drawigs. Yes, I was a best student in the class, so they scold me when I've got bad marks, but never said anything about good ones since I've had plenty of these anyways. Result - I believe I'm stupid although I study science at one of the top worlds universties and haven't been expelled yet. They never told me I was beautiful, in fact noone ever did. Result - I believe I'm ugly although it might not be true. They always told me I'm weak and whiny (that's the biggest insult in my family for both girls and boys). Result - I believe I'm weak even if I can walk miles and miles without resting. They told me I'm shy. Result - I believe I'm shy and can't keep conversation. They never told they loved me. Result - I believe that no other person may love me ever.
Overall, I just believe that I'm a piece of crap that doesn't deserves to walk this Earth and the only thing I believe I can succeed at is... that's right! Drawing!

Now decide if you want your child to feel it all. Even if world shatters her confidence as a child/teenager she will have something to work with later when her confidence needs to be re-built.