Some Thoughts on Daughters

My older daughter is almost four, and I have lost count the number of times that someone has told her how cute or pretty she is. It happens constantly. At the grocery store, at the playground, walking down the street. These people aren't wrong. She is pretty. She has big eyes and alabaster skin and flaxen blonde hair that a woman on the street once described as "the color that millions of women pay thousands of dollars trying to achieve."

This constant reinforcement of her prettiness is not lost on my daughter. She talks about wanting to "look pretty" or wear "cute clothes." Society has already started to indoctrinate her in the idea that her worth is tied up in her appearance. She's not even four.

A few days ago, I was standing in the kitchen, finishing up some baking that my daughter and I had just done. She was wearing an old dress of mine that I'd let her appropriate for play, and she suddenly asked me: "Mommy, don't I look pretty in this dress?" 

I could have easily said yes and left it at that. But something in that moment made me keep going. "Yes, baby, you look pretty. But you know that's not why I love you, right?"

She looked up at me with her big eyes, still absentmindedly swinging the skirt back and forth, swishing it along the floor. 

I continued: "What I love about you are the things you choose to be. I love that you're brave. I love that you try new things, and keep trying. I love that you're kind. I love that you speak your mind. I love that you're such a good big sister. Those are the things that I love about you, and that I like about you." 

She was suddenly very serious, and still.

I asked her, "Do you think I'm pretty?"

Shy smile. "Yes."

"Is that why you love me?"

Now I was crouched down near her, bringing me to eye level.

She chewed at her lip for a couple of seconds, and then: "I like that we have conversations at dinner...and I like that you play with me and when we bake together."

Long pause, wobbly lip, smile. 

"That's why I love you, mommy." And then she came in for a hug.



I don't think I'll ever forget that moment. I don't know that the emotional impact of it will ever fully dissipate. 

I know from experience that she’s going spend her whole life being defined, at least in part, by how she looks, good or bad. 

I want her to know that the things that make me love her are the things that she CHOOSES to be: brave, kind, generous, thoughtful. 

I want her to know her worth is in her character. I want her to know her worth is in her essential human-ness. That she’s deserving of love and kindness and dignity because of those things. 

The world is going to confuse that message. The best I can do as her mother is to never, ever deviate from it.

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