Amongst feminist parents, there’s talk about whether or not we should tell our daughters they’re beautiful; does this make them base too much of their self-worth on their looks? Annie Ridout has decided it’s ok, here’s why…
When I was pregnant with my daughter, a colleague gave me a heads up. “Don’t worry if your baby comes out ugly,” she said. “My daughters were hideous babies but they’ve grown into beautiful little girls.”
I felt mixed about this advice. Firstly, I had a clear idea of what my newborn baby would look like – and s/he wasn’t going to be ugly. And secondly, if my baby was ugly, how could she be so sure this would be ‘corrected’ with age?
A few months later, I was lying on the hospital bed, waiting to give birth to a baby boy. The doctors had been feeling my baby and apparently the size of the head made it certain that it was a boy (I hadn’t found out the sex). I was a little surprised, therefore, when out ‘popped’ a 10lbs 7oz girl.
She was passed to me and seemed about as big as my torso. My husband’s first comment was: “wow, look at the size of her!”. She wasn’t the lithe baby boy I’d expected, but I was delighted to have a bonny baby girl. And to me, she was the most beautiful baby in the world.
As the months went by and she guzzled milk and grew bigger and bigger, that colleague’s thought rang in my mind. In some ways, I got what she meant: I loved my baby, and how she looked, but she wasn’t the ‘pretty, doll-like’ baby girl one might imagine.
Over the months, however, her fat squashy face opened out to reveal beautifully defined features. Her blonde curls grew long and wild. She was a smiley, happy baby – and giggled away. But most importantly, I got to know her.
To me, my daughter is the most beautiful girl in the world because of the love I have for her. And when I say ‘beautiful’ I’m not referring solely to her looks but also to her kindness, sense of adventure, creativity and sense of humour (at four, she’s better at conjuring puns than I am).
Amongst feminist parents, there’s a tendency to err on the side of caution when discussing girls and prettiness. “What if it makes them think all their worth is based on their looks, not their mind or what they can do with their bodies?” people ask. And there’s an important message there.
But what’s also important is teaching our children that there’s beauty to be found in everyone. By teaching kindness, and how to be open-minded and inclusive, we’re saying: “see the beauty in all people, not just in those with the ‘right’ hair, clothes, body shape, face.” Perhaps prettiness, however, is more surface-level.
There are messages from children’s TV, books, media and society telling girls that beauty is everything (along with princesses, unicorns and strawberry ice-cream – all of which my daughter adores). But this isn’t quite so disastrous if they’re delivered alongside a more balanced commentary on what it means to be beautiful, attractive, successful.
We need to teach our children that anyone can be beautiful, attractive, successful – even if they look or behave differently to us, or the (usually fictional) characters we admire. It’s about offering a broad spectrum of inspiration – as the excellent Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls does so well. And perhaps shifting the focus away from just ‘prettiness’.
This morning, my husband leaned down to kiss me goodbye. He then kissed our son and lastly, our daughter. When he left, she said: “Daddy said I was a beauty!”. She was delighted with this compliment. And I explained that she is beautiful: in body and mind, and that that’s what Daddy meant.
Other days, we tell our son how beautiful he is. He might do something unexpectedly sweet, like share his snacks with another toddler, or funny – like playing peekaboo with us – and this fills us with love and pride. When we tell our children they’re beautiful, we’re telling them there’s so much to love about them.
So, going back to that colleague who told me it was ok if I gave birth to a rotter because they’d eventually be beautiful, I guess she’s right. All babies grow into beautiful children because, as parents, we learn to love them beyond just their looks.
What do you think: is it ok to tell your daughter she’s beautiful?