I Tell My Girls They’re Beautiful…and That’s OK.

IMG_0636I just read an article that has me all twisted up and irritated. I have that feeling you get sometimes when you are just uneasy…like you did something wrong but aren’t really sure what?

So, in this intelligent and well-written piece, the author basically chastises parents, friends, and society for habitually lauding a young girl’s appearance. For example, upon seeing a 5-year-old girl dressed up, most of us would smile warmly and compliment her hair or dress or wand or, in Haddie’s case, the entire coordinated ensemble. The author argues that we are perpetuating our society’s emphasis on beauty instead of brains.  And, in the process, our young girls are taking a self-esteem beating.

Here is my take.

My girls are beautiful. No, not in their souls (actually by some accounts, Hadley has a dark soul) or in their minds. They are pretty. Period.

Take my Maisy.  She is tall and thin. Her legs are about a mile long.  She has thick luxurious hair (chopped off a few months ago as I wept) and crystal blue eyes. Her eyelashes are so long that they literally cast a shadow on her cheeks.

However, despite her most natural beauty, she is not into her own appearance. She does not spend hours in front of the mirror or agonize about her clothes. She is confident and strong-willed and not afraid to stand out from the pack. She thinks nothing of wearing sweatpants and oversized t-shirts most school days.

She is also brilliant.

No, I am not just saying that as her mom. She really is one of the most self-motivated, organized, and driven kids I have ever met. She is also an amazing writer and gifted cellist.

And, on most days, she is a pain in my ass.

When I was Maisy’s age, we had May Day at my school. All the eighth graders dressed up and marched into the auditorium. A few “smart”  kids were selected to give speeches about different activities over the school year.

Not only was I chosen to speak about our class trip, but I had  begged and pleaded until my Mom splurged and bought me a new dress and iridescent pumps for $25–a small fortune for us back then.

That night, my stomach was in knots. My father was even going to come to the event.

For the first time I could remember, I looked in the mirror at myself and felt good. My hair was smooth. 45 minutes of trying later and I had managed to get my hard contacts to stick. I had even put on a little lipstick. My mother pinched my cheeks and gave a tiny, wordless smile.

The school lobby was bustling with all sorts of girls dressed to the nines. Tall ones, short ones, blond ones, and brunettes. In the early eighties, I was definitely the ONLY Egyptian kid in my school, and probably the county.

I ran into the bathroom to settle my nerves and came out to overhear my mother talking to my grandmother in Arabic.

“…bes mish zay il Amrican.”  She tisked. Translation: “..but not like the Americans.” She was telling my Tayta that while I was, in fact pretty, I did not hold a candle to the tall, blond, blue-eyed, REALLY pretty American girls.

My bubble burst, I went into the packed auditorium and before long it was time to deliver my speech. As I approached the podium, my nerves seemed to melt.  I remember feeling strong, loud, confident., and relaxed…everything EXCEPT pretty. I kept scanning the audience for sight of my Dad. Finally, as I was getting to the end, I spotted his unmistakable curly head poking through the double doors way in the back of the room.

Later that night, I asked my Dad what he thought of the event. I was busting with pride at my flawless description of the eighth grade trip to NYC.

He put his head down and mumbled something about traffic and getting there late.

” I did  hear a girl talking about the Empire State building though! She was good!”

His 5’5″ stature, terrible astigmatism, and the packed auditorium had collectively obliterated my father’s visual of me.  He had no idea that I was the one giving that speech.

Thinking back on that night, I would have given anything for my mother to grab hold of my shoulders and look down at me and say “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!”  What I would do to hear my father say “You killed that speech Cat!”

So, I will take every opportunity I can to tell my daughters that  they are smart and strong and powerful. I will also, without fear of dashing their self-esteem, tell them when they are annoying the crap out of me.

However,  with all due respect to Latina Fatale, I most certainly and with unashamed repetition, tell them they are beautiful. Because, even a smart, sassy, self-made girl needs to hear that from her Mom now and again.bm1


  1. Anonymous says:

    Agreed, I still tell Ness she is beautiful and daughter in-law Andrea… I tell Dane and grandboy they are handsome… It hasn’t appeared to go to their heads in any way…don’t we all like to hear these words from time to time, no matter our age?

  2. Debbie Czepiel says:

    I tell my daughter she is beautiful , always have. It has never gone to her head, she is kind and generous. I wish she had more confidence in herself but at almost 25 she is getting there. I think moms and dads should always tell their kids how great they are , and also tell them when they are getting on your nerves .
    Christine your girls are beautiful and Sam is handsome. I loved when they would come in the office.

  3. Tell them tell them tell them and tell them all the time! Telling our children they are pretty, or smart, or brave, or organized – etc. tells them that we are PAYING ATTENTION and that WE CARE. And at some points in their lives – that is EXACTLY what they need to hear.

  4. I too have two beautiful daughters. One named “Cat” too. Lol!
    On my nerves at times — in my heart 4 ever. I clapped like a lunatic at the recital this week– her first ever. I praise her unruly curly beautifully luxurious Portuguese/Irish hair. Lots of hugs.letting them fail .., Dealing with their conflicts on their own sometimes. Putting aside time for undivided attention.having boundaries.. Sticking to them. …….And, wait for it- —the hardest part .. Looking at myself in the mirror and saying and feeling that I too, am beautiful. They are listening. They R.

  5. One word or even a verse from an old Italian song that was meant to be humorous such as “I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s to fat for me” can shape, literally and figuratively a young girls mind and self esteem forever. Struggling with weight issues, making poor choices due to a lack of self worth, not believing in myself are a few symptoms of this totally unintentional treatment that has haunted me since I was a child. Now, was it my mothers goal to screw with my head and thought process? Not at all, it was a playful, thoughtless song that had probably been sung to her the years before, hence her yoyo dieting. I am thankful that after 46 some odd years I “get it”, however, I sometimes wonder if I was nurtured with positive songs about beautiful, successful and smart girls where I’d be today!

    • Anonymous says:

      Absolutely spot on Maria. Don’t you feel like we then swing way back the other way…careful not to criticize AT ALL for fear of making lasting (negative) impressions on our kids? Like, I notice one of my kids had a tiny little pot belly….I agonized for days about whether to say something or just letting it go…in the end, martial arts and menstruating took care of it….

  6. Doc Shannon says:

    Perfect. You dear doctor are an amazing and beautiful person and a great mom. I would think the article wrong. I get the authors point, but our kids are in the real world where parents let their kids wear makeup in elementary school, they are bombarded by advertising about beauty all day. If they don’t hear us say it, their confidence suffers. Even when they do hear it from us, they see and hear differently from others. You have met my beautiful and talented daughter, thanks to years of bullying you know the results. Praise on, Mom!

  7. You and your family are beautiful Christine! We love you all!

  8. I hear you, but I have to say that I think your story is the point she and others that talk about this are trying to make. What if instead of needing to feel pretty you were able to get the same feeling of completion and self worth from knowing that you rocked your speech and that you were top of your class. My kids are beautiful and they hear it from strangers all the time. So I tell them how strong they are, how hard they work, how proud I am of how they are practicing their skills (gymnastics, reading, math, whatever it may be). I do it not because I don’t want them to feel pretty – but because I want them to value their minds, their strength and their spirits more than they value their facial features. I want my two girls to grow up and care more about the impact they have on the world than the impact their faces/bodies have on others. I agree – going to far one way or the other isn’t healthy either, but I’d much rather raise kids that get their energy and satisfaction from being smart, gifted, well mannered, kind and skilled than for being pretty.

  9. I thought you might find this article by Latina Fatale interesting as well. If we’re going to talk about their looks (and we all do) here are some interesting takes on how to do it in a more empowering way. http://latinafatale.com/2011/09/04/how-to-raise-girls-who-love-their-looks/

    • Ah Andrea! Now that is more like it. We can and are both: empowered by brains AND beauty (even if just in a mother’s eyes). This post was so much more realistic to me than swallowing the compliment and spitting out the “what book are you reading now” redirect. Thanks for sharing.

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