I have two little girls, and I tell them they’re pretty all the time. I’m their daddy, and I think they really want me to see them as pretty. So I acknowledge that I do in fact think they’re pretty. I think they should grow to want to receive regular positive affirmation, in all forms, from people who love them. In my opinion, this can help them determine which types of friendships/relationships to invest in later in life. An affirmation of physical beauty to a child means other things. In the case of my daughters and I, telling them they are pretty, means that they are loved, valued, and cherished by their daddy.
I make sure that I mix it up. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of only commenting on their physical beauty to convey the message of value. I’ve seen that happen. I’m not one to judge that practice, but I do feel I’d like to take a different approach with my girls. Because I feel girls do get the shaft. The way that ingrains in them the idea that the central focus of their value is their appearance. I fight that. For them, and with them.
I tell my girls that they are smart, creative, skilled, innovative, resourceful, that I love them, that they melt my heart, that they are everything that’s right in my world, and that they have amazing potential.
With more than words too. I display their artistic works proudly on my walls and the fridge, and overhead hanging on hooks. They have taken the place of every piece of fine art on my walls, save one. I post them singing with me on Youtube and read them the (nice) comments. I tell them how much my friends and other family adore them.
I comment on their good deeds and reward their behavior, wisdom, and positive growth as humans. I warn them about the dangers of judging others while advising them still on the unfortunate necessity of doing so to protect themselves. I educate them, bake with them, sing with them, laugh with them, build and create and play with them. All with love and affirmation and acknowledgment of their value and goodness.
I have an issue right now, though. My 4-year-old doesn’t believe a person can be both cool AND pretty. I tell her she’s cool, and she stops me and says “No. I’m NOT cool. I’m PRETTY.” I have been teaching her over time that one does not preclude the other; that the two can coexist within the same person. She’s starting to get it, which is nice. There was no way I was letting that one slide.
I’m careful with all this “pretty” calling. It’s a tricky dynamic with girls because there are so many bullshit unwritten social dynamics out there that determine how people judge and value others based on how good they look. I want my kids to be able to quickly flip the bird to that whole world, and just be happy in their skin.
Do I feel I’m reinforcing that being pretty makes you a more valuable woman? Well, I think I’m reinforcing the fact that being around people who make you feel good about yourself is valuable. In that way, the actual quality of physical beauty is irrelevant to the way I’m trying to teach them to think. They’re going to meet plenty of people during their lives who try to make them feel like crap about themselves. I want to build, and be that voice in the back of their heads that says “you look absolutely perfect honey.” Because you know what? They’ll get waaaaaay too much of that other stuff.
I want it to be obvious and clear to them that what people look like does not describe the quality of their character.
Call it growing up with a crossed-eye, and having rocks thrown at my face and told that I should die. I don’t know. That whole beauty thing really can go fuck itself. Because I’m a good guy. It sucks that it took cosmetic surgery for people to consider my worth before outright ostracizing me, but that is the way the world actually works. I know. I’ve been on both sides of the ugly coin.
These days I feel beautiful because I am. And I don’t need external affirmation. I love what I do for the world, and I love how I conduct myself. My life and the goodness in it are all the proof of my beauty that I need. I’m an asshole sometimes, and that’s okay too. I don’t hate that either. But it shouldn’t have taken me the majority of my life to figure out that I am beautiful. It should have been hard-wired into me, ESPECIALLY because of that damn crossed eye. I should have been told I was beautiful. Again and again. Because it was true. Just not, you know, on the outside. But hey, I got my surgery. And I’m a martial artist and a weightlifter now. So I take care of all that body stuff too. I feel physically confident, which I also think is good role modeling for my two little women.
I never EVER want my girls to feel ugly. But it’s going to happen. Eventually, the social pressure is going to build, the petty bullshit culture we live in is going to grab them and shake them and do its utter best to make them feel horrible. And they’re going to cave, and my heart is going to break a little. It doesn’t matter at all how pretty a girl is; she’ll be made by dillweeds to feel ugly and, therefore, less valuable.
So I call them pretty. All the time. It’s a good thing.
Photo: ©Byron Hamel All Rights Reserved