Why I’m Not Telling Your Daughter She’s Pretty Anymore

Your daughter is beautiful – you and I both know that.  But I’m working on not telling her that anymore – at least not very often. 

Our culture is obsessed with beauty.  We are constantly bombarded through subtle and not so subtle messages that we need to be skinnier, less wrinkly, more toned, and more trendy.  Adults are bombarded with beauty messages, but so are kids.  Disney Princesses all have the same curvy figure and gorgeous big eyes.  Hannah Montana looked like a Barbie.  And Barbie…  well, we all know about the complex she has given to generations of women.

But it’s not just the big bad media sending out the message that women and young women need to be beautiful, we are all sending that message.  Next time you’re around a group of little girls, listen to all the compliments offered.  And listen to what is being complimented.  “You’re so pretty!”  “Your dress is darling!”  “Oh I would kill for that hair!”  “You’re gonna need to invest in a shotgun for this one!”  And the list goes on.

I’ve been catching myself doing this a lot lately, and not just with little girls.  I do this with grown women, too.

My go-to compliment with women is typically something appearance-based, and I get it, we get nervous around each other, and we say the first thing that comes to mind.  Sadly, the first thing that comes to mind is often a commentary on appearance.   And if we’re being totally honest here, many times the first thing that comes to mind is external stuff because we’re playing the comparison game.  Doesn’t it go something like this?

Internal dialogue: “Wow, she’s lost a lot of weight, I wish I could lose weight”

External compliment: “That dress is really flattering on you”

Internal Dialogue: “She is so beautiful. I wish I had good genes like her.  Thanks, mom for passing on your cellulite and big nose to me!”

External Compliment: “You’re so pretty.  I would kill for your figure.”

Internal dialogue: “She always looks so cute.  One day, when she has kids, she won’t be able to wear scarves because her kids will choke her… or earrings like that…  because her kids will rip them out”

External compliment: “I love those big earrings – you just always know how to accessorize.”

We were all raised with ideals of beauty bombarding us, and look where it has gotten us -We are caddy, jealous, and never satisfied with the way we look.  I don’t want your daughter to live this way, and I know you don’t either.

I don’t want her to read between the lines when she is told she is cute.  I don’t want her to ask herself, “Am I being told I’m cute because I’m chubby and chubby girls can only be cute and not pretty?”  I don’t want her to hear that she’s beautiful and ask herself, “Is it only because of my ample chest?”  I don’t want her to see other girls being asked to dances and going on dates and question her beauty when she’s not.

And that is why I am starting to think before I speak.  That is why I am filtering my compliments.  That is why I am intentional with my words these days.  I want your daughter to find value in herself that goes deeper than her exterior.  I want your daughter to know that she is breathtakingly beautiful because her character is stunning!  I want to encourage her to be trustworthy, diligent, smart, savvy, strong, hard-working, generous, fearless, good with money, wise, and humorous.  I want your daughter to know that she is beautiful on the inside, which is the best kind of unfading beauty!  I want your daughter to find her value and worth in who God has created her to be, not what society tells her to be. 

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:30

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20 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Telling Your Daughter She’s Pretty Anymore

  1. Good post, especially with how we talk to our nieces. I like the Prov 31:30 as translated by DC Talk, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she ain’t playin”

  2. Being the Dad to Three girls and a boy I couldn’t agree with you more. My boy gets some compliments on appearance, but the girls it’s all they hear. Granted I will never stop telling them how beautiful they are (that’s my job) but I would so appreciate it if they recieved thoughtfelt compliments about something other than their clothes or hair, or other fleeting things. It’s a good thing to think about! Thanks!
    p.s. Is it wrong that I chuckled thinking about that famous line “Ya, but she’s got a nice personality”

    1. Paul, thanks for wagering in! I love that you are the kind of parents that “get” that it’s your responsibility to affirm the whole self of your children. I think it’s especially crucial for parents to affirm the beauty (physical and internal) beauty of their children, because that sets them up for relationships and self-worth for a lifetime.

      I just want to reaffirm my friends’ parenting and encourage greatness in their children. I don’t want to be the shallow friend that doesn’t get to know her kids deeper than the cuteness of their new pink boots.

      And no you’re not wrong to chuckle, I’ve chuckled at that line, too!

    1. I love me some Elsie Wo! She’s gonna be such an amazing woman. I’m so glad that I’ll get to watch it all unfold! Her parents are setting her up for a life of intentionality and compassion and I love it!

  3. Speaking of compliments, I saw an interesting study the other day about how the *kind* of praise a child receives has a massive impact on their psyche. For instance, telling a kid “You did so well on that test, you’re so smart!” conveys a vastly different message than “You did so well on that test, you must have tried really hard!”

    When kids are told “you’re so smart” they tend to avoid challenges/etc that they may fail as that will undermine their identity as “smart.” If they’re told “you tried really hard,” they are more likely to take on a difficult challenge as that only reinforces their identity (regardless of outcome).

    As a kid (and now adult) whose identity was/is very much wrapped up in being “the smart kid,” this idea resonates with me — if I were in a position to be exposed as “Not Smart,” I was very uncomfortable. If my identity was instead “The kid who tried hard until he figured it out,” I can’t help but imagine my approach to academia would have been extremely different.

    Here’s a link that discusses the study (my google-fu is lacking as I can’t find the actual study):
    http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/too-much-praise-is-no-good-for-toddlers/

  4. While I agree with your premise, as a mother of a nearly nine year old girl, I find equal value in affirming her external beauty. My daughter is kind and compassionate, honest and steadfast. She is beyond funny, extremely loyal, tender and loving and I don’t hesitate to affirm those qualities in her on a consistent basis. But, I also don’t intentially choose to ignore her external beauty. I think it’s important for children to know they are beautiful. And I don’t mean only the “beautiful by society’s means” children… I mean ALL children. And I mean, ALL beauty. Character, Spirit, Physical…
    Where I can see your concern that complimenting children can be cause for future moral decay and/or potential self esteem issues… I personally believe the lack of complimenting appearance can do the same. I suppose my “opposition” to your sentiments comes from personal experience and raising my own daughter… I watch my Kylee look to her dad for approval and compliment. She wants to hear him say how pretty she looks when she twirls in a skirt. She also wants to be the first of the three kids to throw her hand in the air with her scripture memory verse before bed. It’s not solely appearance but some of it is. And I believe it to be healthy. I also believe it helps create a young lady that respects her body- presents it in a Godly, modest way. Each time Kylee dresses herself and spins for us we are given the opportunity to help her establish her grooming and clothing habits. We are able to encourage her as we celebrate her attire/hair victories (everything matches/ no clumps or knots) and redirect her in her failures (if you only saw some of the things she’s come up with)… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told her she is pretty, or her outfit is beautiful, and that her smile rounds it all out!! But regardless of how much I confirm the obvious (OK, I’m biased…) I am equally pursuaded to disclose that her beauty ( physical, spiritual, etc ) comes from God alone. That every good and perfect gift comes from Him. That we are made in his image and can do nothing apart from Him. I remind her that she is beautiful because she is a reflection of Him and that there are responsibilities that go along with that.
    I suppose my point is that there is value in affirming a little girl’s beauty. Both inside and out. Ignoring either will be inevitably be the foundation for future issues. (Pride, insecurity, low self esteem, etc)

    1. Chelle, thank you for your thoughtful response. I love that you are parenting intentionally, and that you are cognisent of what your daughter needs. I agree that it is incredibly important for parents to affirm all beauty in their children, including physical beauty. I agree that they need to have a healthy self esteem. I think my point of this post is that I as a non-parent am going to be careful about how much I affirm young girls’ appearance. This was more of a commentary of me as an onlooker to friends’ children. I am being especially careful of girls that I don’t know, so the stranger comment “You are so beautiful” just isn’t going to be a part of my repitoire. I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t affirm their children’s beauty, I agree with you, that your daughter and your son are learning from you how to love and accept compliments. I just worry that when little girls hear mostly compliments about their beauty, especially from those outside their families, they will learn that they are objects to be enjoyed, not complex souls who are capable of accomplishing great things. I don’t want subtle messages to seep into my friends’ daughters lives, that limit their dreams. And I know you don’t want that either!

  5. I agree with what Chelle’ wrote above. I have several female friends who, for one reason or another, were rarely told they were beautiful. I’ve seen it manifested two ways in them: 1) They are very uncomfortable with anything “feminine,” to the point where they have no idea how to dress appropriately feminine. They dress more like little boys than grown women and seem afraid to acknowledge their femininity. 2) They recognize their inner beauty, but they think that because all they hear about it how smart, funny, or kind they are, men don’t find them physically attractive enough to pursue a romantic relationship.

    We cannot deny that one of the unique characteristics of woman is that she is created physically beautiful. Song of Solomon is full of imagery of woman as physically beautiful. Of course, society has twisted the idea of what that should look like. I think it’s about balance. We need to affirm the women in our lives for who they wholly are- not just parts of them.

    1. Thanks for your thoughful comment, Lisa! I agree with you that balance is probably a good approach. I feel strongly that parents should be aware and complimentary of the whole self of their children. I think that fathers and mothers play a key role in developing their children’s positive (or negative) perceptions of self, and I think that parents should affirm the beauty of their children, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. My blog was my commitment that as a non-parent, I will not play a key role in affirming the physical attributes of my friends’ daughters. As a supporter and “aunt” to many friends daughters, I don’t want to copout and only get to know the “girlie”, fluffy, external stuff, I want to encourage greatness. I don’t want my friends daughters to get stuck on beauty and forget that they can change the world. And even with the greatest of parents, who affirm whole self development, I fear that if my friends daughters only here from non-family about their beauty, they will have a warped view of who they are and who they can become. You are absolutely right, women are beautiful and Song of Songs illustrates that so well, but according to Proverbs 31, and the example of Deborah, and Ester, and Priscilla, and Junia, and many more, we are a lot more than just beautiful, we are a force to be reckoned with!

  6. When I worked in high school ministry, I wrestled with this all the time. Several of my girls really enjoyed fashion, and I wanted to celebrate their creativity and ability to shop the bargains like nobody else. But every time I said something about their clothing–regardless of how often I affirmed their spirit, their hard work, etc.–I always felt like I was subtly communicating that externalities were the most important thing. Then one day, I added, ‘But I also affirm your inner beauty.’ It kind of turned into a joke–they would frequently say it to each other after complimenting a new hairstyle, etc.–but it worked. Even as we spoke about the externalities, we were constantly redirected to other, more important things; years later, they’re still doing it.

    1. Becky, thanks for your thoughtful response. I appreciate the intentionality with which your pastored those girls. I think you were right to affirm their strengths and also to bring it to the inner stuff. Sounds like your approach was really effective!

  7. Thanks for this post Allison -it struck a chord with me. You know I grew up with a brother, and my parents often praised us both. My brother was always complemented for his intelligence, his athleticism, his steadfastness…I was usually complimented for my poise, grace or yes, beauty. My parents did tell me I was smart, don’t get me wrong, but it often came as an afterthought.

    As I grew up, this did a few things. One, I tried harder to show off my intellectual side, because that was the kind of praise I wanted. The other consequence, however, was that I am, as you mentioned in your post, now very suspicious of compliments to my appearance. Without fail, I think, “If I were male, is that what you’d be complimenting me on?”. Perhaps the comment is meant only as praise and with no underlying implications (in fact, I’m sure it it). But whether we realize it or not, every time we comment on a woman’s appearance, we perpetuate what our society believes about physical beauty, for better or for worse.

    1. Thanks for wagering in, Sarah. Our society makes for confusing interpretation of compliments for sure. I appreciate your honesty. Hopefully people can read this and get a good perspective about how to speak with their daughters and friends’ daughters.

  8. Great article. I know for certain that if I meet a child, regardless of sex, my first compliment is how pretty or handsome they are. I guess the real question is how do you meet a little person for the first time and let them know that you see them, appreciate them, respect them, and delight in the joy of their creation in an age-appropriate way? How should we meet our friends or acquaintances children if it’s not going to be an on-going relationship where we get the chance to compliment them on their kindness, ability to do something, etc.?

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