“Awww, you look so pretty!” I squealed to my toddler after getting her all dressed up in her special outfit for Easter.
“Pretty, pretty!” she echoed, looking down and pointing to her dress. “This dress makes me pretty!”
I stopped dead in my tracks.
The DRESS makes you pretty??? Where’d you get the idea that the dress has anything to do with it?
It was the last thing this feminist mama wanted to hear coming out of her daughter’s mouth!
How Did We Get Here?
Since then, I’ve been asking myself over and over again how my daughter—who is not yet two years old!—has already developed an association between the word “pretty” and her clothing.
Why does she hear the word “pretty” and immediately look down to see what she’s wearing?
The answer, of course, is that her clothing has elicited compliments like “so pretty!” and “what a cute outfit!” since the day she was born. Sadly, it is the default conversation topic when talking to girls; we oooooh and ahhhhh over their clothing and hair and accessories before anything else—inadvertently teaching them that their appearance is the most valuable thing about them.
(Every now and then my son receives a similar compliment about his clothing or appearance, but not nearly as often.)
People often gasp when they learn that a staggering 80 percent of 10-year-old girls have already gone on a diet. They shake their heads in disbelief when they learn that most young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or even losing one of their parents.
And yet when you realize how young it all starts, is it really that surprising?
So what is the solution?
Surely it isn’t to stop complimenting my daughter on her appearance. After all, I want her to know that she’s beautiful, in every sense of the word!
And surely it isn’t to stop dressing her up for special occasions. I try to dress her in a variety of outfits—girly stuff, tomboy stuff, and gender-neutral clothing—so that she’s exposed to all of her options.
Then it hit me.
The Secret to Raising a Daughter Who Feels as Beautiful as She Is
The problem isn’t that people tell my daughter she’s pretty when she’s wearing girly dresses with flowers and ruffles and sparkles.
The problem is that, too often, that’s the only time they do. Hence the deep-rooted connection she’s already made between her beauty and her clothing.
It’s less about what we say, and more about when we say it.
The secret, then, is to consciously and intentionally tell her she’s beautiful at other times too. Times when she isn’t wearing a special dress or a fancy bow in her hair. Times when the emphasis isn’t on her physical appearance at all.
Times like these.
8 Magical Times to Tell Your Daughter She’s Beautiful—So She’ll Actually Believe You
When she’s in the bath. The best way to teach her that SHE is the beautiful one (not her clothes!) is to compliment her appearance when she’s wearing nothing at all. You might feel a little strange at first, but trust me, you will be instilling body positivity for years to come.
When she’s being physically active. When she’s running her fastest, throwing her hardest, kicking with all of her might. If we want our daughters to believe that being physically strong is beautiful, then we need to tell them they’re beautiful when they’re displaying that strength.
When she’s being creative. Working on an art project. Writing a story. Engaging in pretend play with her stuffed animals. The process is just as beautiful as the final product—including the person engaged in that process.
When she’s getting messy. Little girls are beautiful even when (especially when!) their hands are dirty, their hair is sweaty, and their clothes have grass stains. Go ahead and let her play in the mud!
When she’s exploring. We’re all at our most beautiful when our hearts and minds are open to new possibilities.
When she’s laughing. Because that candid photograph of your daughter doubled over in giggles is your favorite, right? Way better than the perfectly posed, stiff smile one.
When she’s being kind. Some of life’s most precious moments are the ones wrapped up in kindness. It’s beautiful to see our daughters sharing their favorite toys, or inviting new friends to play, or comforting friends who are feeling sad. Let’s tell them so.
When she’s being brave. It takes a lot of courage to do the stuff that scares us—and it’s also a beautiful thing.
Grab the Printable
Want a reminder of the most opportune times to tell your daughter she’s beautiful—so she’ll actually believe you? Click the image below for a printer-friendly PDF!