I have a beautiful little nine-year-old girl. She has gigantic, warm, melty-chocolate eyes and waist-length curly hair and a beautiful smile and the sort of skin poets write sonnets about. She is a cutie pie, a doll baby, and a pretty little thing, and I tell her this daily. I call her beauty and pretty girl and tell her she looks gorgeous.
Now, I know what you are thinking. What sort of self-proclaimed radical feminist actually focuses on physical beauty and dares to compliment her kid on her outward appearance? I do. Because even though I spend a huge part of my day complimenting her on her intellect, her curiosity, her kindness, and her gigantic, empathetic, caring, heart, I also tell her she is pretty.
Raising my kids, I want them to grow up to care about others, to do their best to contribute to the world and to try and make it a better place. I ask them to be polite, to be kind to others, to contemplate how their actions affect other people, and to focus on doing everything they can to enrich their little brains through intellectual pursuits and school work. We discuss politics, and social issues, and what it means to be a good person, a good friend, and a good listener.
But I tell my kids they are pretty, and attractive, and cute, and look nice all the time too. Because I have no interest in them growing up to be teenagers and adults who try and prove this fact to themselves by engaging in relationships with others because they are trying to fill some void due to a lack of self-esteem based on their physical appearance. And I would tell my kids they are pretty even if they weren’t.
Greasy hair, raging bouts of acne, weighing too much or too little based on whatever arbitrary societal or BMI suggestions, wearing the wrong brand of sneakers or the wrong brand of jeans, or being too short or too tall or with a mouthful of braces – my kid, my daughter especially, will have so many encounters with the world where she is made to feel less than pretty.
She will be bullied, and teased, and made to feel less than no matter how she looks. And when she gets older, she will meet potential romantic partners who will compliment her on how she looks, what she is wearing, the cut of her dress, or the shade of her lipstick. I want her to enter into these romantic encounters with years and years of the relentless reminders from her father and me that she is beautiful, inside and out.
I want this to carry her when she is less than pretty, when she is having a bad hair day or gains weight or gets old and see the first few lines crease her eyes from too many laughs and too many tears throughout the years. I want her to take this with her when she tries on bathing suits in cramped dressing rooms with unflattering lighting and when she accepts awards on stages and when she gets her first mammogram, standing topless in a cold room and waiting for the technician to help her position her breast between cold, metal plates.
My daughter is smart, and kind, and good, and she is pretty. No matter how many times she feels less than beautiful, no matter how she ages throughout the years, no matter how many times the media, the world, and society tell her that she isn’t, and even the most physically beautiful people in the world feel this way, I want her to remember that there is someone out there who will always and forever find her pretty until she is nothing but bones in the ground.
I want her to always know that no matter what, she is smart and kind and good and beautiful. And when she goes out in this great big world, when she meets people for the first time, when she dates people and applies for jobs and travels the earth, and when someone tells her she is pretty, I want her to be happy to hear it. Not because she needs to, but because she already knows she is.