Please Don’t Tell My Little Girl She’s Pretty

Well, here’s an awkward topic for you.

My ex-mother-in-law always used to gush about how pretty Caroline was, to the point that it was almost uncomfortable.  (I’m allowed to say this now because of the “ex” part.  I think.)  And I’m not just talking about the way your in-laws can annoy you no matter what they say.  “You’re so pretty, Caroline,” she’d coo. “You’re such a doll.  A beautiful little doll.  You are gorgeous.  What a pretty girl.”  And so on, and so forth.

And I know this is horrible of me to think, and rude of me to say, but… I really don’t care for it when people go on and on to my daughter about how pretty she is.

It’s not that I don’t think she is.  I mean, she’s my kid.  I think she’s beautiful.  But must we zero in on little girls’ appearances and ignore all the other great qualities about them?

What’s wrong with “You’re such a smart girl”?  “You’re so creative”?  “You’re so good at drawing”?  “You know so many words”?  Sure, tell her she’s pretty, because she is… because all children are.  But don’t leave it at that.  She isn’t even three yet, but everything anyone says to a toddler leaves an impression, and so a repeated focus on “prettiness” only tells her that it’s her appearance that is important, that it’s her blue eyes or her blonde highlights that people think are her best qualities, and not her big vocabulary or her sharp curiosity about everything around her.

There are enough messages lurking out there in the world for our little girls about appearance, prettiness, skinniness.  There’s enough emphasis on it in the media and in society and in everything they’ll see and hear and read.  Must they hear it from their family, their friends, their role models, that what matters most to us, and therefore to them, is the curl in their hair or the length of their eyelashes?

It seems silly, it seems subtle, it seems frivolous and picky and unimportant and possibly even ungrateful, I’m sure, for me to be griping about this.  But I have seen so many times the way my smallest, most offhand comment can make the biggest impression on my little girl.  I don’t want everyone she meets to reinforce the message that is already rampant out there… that what’s important is not what you have in your brain, but what you see in the mirror.

I want her to grow up secure in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter what she looks like.  That although it’s all well and good to be considered attractive, her time is better spent learning math or biology or a foreign language than how to count calories or apply makeup.  When I was in middle school, I’d have given anything to be the pretty and popular girl, and now I’d give anything to go back and tell myself that really, none of that would matter in ten years, or even five.

I appreciate that so many people in my life think that my little girl is beautiful, because I think she is too… inside and out.  But she is also so many other things, and for the sake of her self-esteem, I’d prefer to focus on those.

What do you think?  Does it bother you when others focus solely on your child’s appearance, or do you simply take it as a compliment and move on?

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  1. by Katie H.

    On December 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I agree these comments drive me nuts. My il’s call my niece princess and it drives me insane! Focusing on a child’s looks to me is just teaching them the wrongs things to focus on in life. I prefer to tell children they are smart/awesome/ really good at things.

  2. by laci

    On December 12, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    take it as a compliment and move on. we tell her how smart, strong, brave, etc that she is all the time and she knows she is all of those things

  3. by Amanda

    On December 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I tell my daughter that she is beautiful when she does something kind to or for someone else! Rarely do I tell her she is pretty based on looks. More and more I see her doing kind and thoughtful things for others on her own :)

  4. by Erinn

    On December 13, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I take it as a compliment and move on – Most of the time, people say things about her eyes, and I gotta face it – She got her daddy’s eyes, and they are gorgeous, and one of her best qualities, and always will be. I’m fine with her being confident in the features that she has.

    Now what will get me is if someone gives her an UNHEALTHY dose of self esteem sapping backhanded compliments, or points out what THEY consider to be a flaw. I distinctly remember the moment when my grandmother told me I had gotten “heavy” – I’d moved up from a size 4 to a size 7 – And this is coming from a woman who is SEVERELY overweight, and hasn’t seen size 7 since the mid 1940′s. This was my senior year in high school, and I have literally spent almost a decade trying to feel good in my skin again…I will probably never feel the way I felt about myself before that moment ever again. If someone ever does that to my child, I would want to scratch their eyes out.

  5. by Anna

    On December 13, 2011 at 4:08 am

    I completely agree with you.
    I have a boy and a girl and it amazes me how much more looks-centered the compliments my daughter gets are. It’s gross.

  6. by krista

    On December 13, 2011 at 7:52 am

    I agree! There is such a detrimental effect. And that’s only the beginning. It reminds me of a TED talk I saw recently; I think you will appreciate what Jennifer Siebel Newsom is doing (you may have already seen it) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d77mMXahsME
    The documentary really fired me up. Especially now that I have a 9 month old daughter. I take it personally now. It’s time for us to take a stand. For their future.

  7. by Ryan

    On December 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Julia I agree completely! Why is the focus on a girl’s appearance at all ages? Why do none of their other qualities matter except to maybe offset being considered unattractive? “At least she’s funny, or smart (since she’s not pretty)”

    Even watching TV – like the Kardashians! Kris the ex says to Kim ” I love you baby, you’re so beautiful.” My mind yells at the TV – “Beautiful what, a beautiful person? Or do you just love these physical features? What about when she is 80?

  8. by Sarah Abbene

    On December 13, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I completely agree that concentrating solely on looks can be a detriment. I am aware of it already with an infant daughter. When people say how pretty she is I say, “oh yes, and smart too.” I understand that she’s only 6 weeks old but I want friends and family to know that as parents we value more than beauty.

  9. by carmen

    On December 14, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Take it as a compliment. It’s up to the parents (us), to remind our kids how smart, funny, clever, kind etc they are. We are with them all the time. We need to make our girls confident. We can’t depend or blame others for trying to help. I am proud when my daughter receives kind words plus I remind her of how smart she is as well as pretty

  10. by Lynn

    On December 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

    You can’t change how people act, only how you react to them, so accept the compliment & move on. It’s great that you’re aware of how even the smallest comments can make the greatest impact on Julia so it’s up to you to tell her how smart, kind, etc she is instead of emphasizing looks. Also, keep in mind that even though she is YOUR ex-MIL, she’ll always be your daughter’s Grandma.

  11. by alina

    On December 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Yawn, snooze and snore. Hasn’t this been said before?

    If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think she’s that cute at all. She’s just blonde. Really, that’s it. There are far more beautiful kids in this world.

  12. by Sarah

    On December 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I completely agree. I appreciate that people think my son is “so cute!” But I really appreciate it more when they tell me how smart he is. This is good for him and me, because I can’t control his looks, but I do have some say over his intelligence.

  13. by Heather

    On December 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Take it as a compliment. My daughter gets those comments too, and I agree that her appearance should absolutely not be the primary focus. However, I know first-hand how omitting that type of compliment in favor of more important qualities can also be harmful. My mother was never told that she was pretty growing up (even though she was), and her self-esteem is still destroyed at 51. She always made sure to focus on the positives, but having been very smart, the appearance-based comments took a backseat. My sister was gorgeous and creative, and she received more of the “pretty” remarks. Even though my mother did her best, when you factor in the type of comments received from other people, I always believed myself to be “the ugly one.”

    I said all of that to illustrate this: it is just as harmful to omit the focus on beauty as it is to over-emphasize it. I tell my 2 yr old daughter every day, “you are a smart, strong, and beautiful girl, and you can do anything. Don’t ever let anyone tell you any different.”

  14. by Annie

    On December 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I have never met your daughter. How do I know she is smart? I can look at her and see if she is cute or pretty, but smart?
    Take the compliment graciously and move on. It is not the job of a stranger to instill self confidence in your child, it is yours. It is also your job to make sure she has manners, so please, if you haven’t already, teach her it is ok to say thank you when some one gives her a compliment; even if the the compliment is “you are pretty”.

  15. by Lilly

    On December 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I understand your point and although it does make a valuable and important point, I feel that balance is key. When I was a young girl I was never told I was pretty. My father called me ugly often, he thought that was a harmless joke. My self esteem was extremely low, I didn’t like my complexion, my hair or the fact that I had what my family called a “bubble butt”. Once I got to high school I began to get lots of attention from boys who thought I was pretty. I ended up getting pregnant by my first boyfriend in high school just because I didn’t have the confidence to know that I was valuable , beautiful and smart enough to say no and wait until I was really ready.

    Our children are most influenced by what they hear at home, if they hear all the wonderful things they are at home they won’t go fishing for it somewhere else.

  16. [...] Please Don’t Tell My Little Girl She’s Pretty | Unexpectedly Expecting Well, here's an awkward topic for you.My ex-mother-in-law always used to gush about how pretty Caroline was, to the point that it was almost (Please don’t tell my little girl she’s pretty.)… Source: http://www.parents.com [...]

  17. by mom34

    On December 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    It depends how they say it and who says it. If your mother in law constantly boasts about your daughter being very cute, she is probably got something on her mind, like she is insecure about herself. Sometimes insecure people pay a lot of attention to how somebody looks. Does it matter? No.
    If someone gets pregnant because they were never told they were pretty….I don’t think it matters either….blame it on your parents never were telling you were pretty.

  18. by Jen

    On December 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Alina- really? You sound like a joy!

    Annie- I understand your point about a stranger, but this was her MIL. She is Caroline’s family- surely she can find something to compliment her on other than her appearance. She should know her well enough.

    Julia- I agree with you and as a young teacher I feel the need to say something about it to the girls in my class. Often one of my girls will come in to school and say “Mrs. G, you look beautiful today!” Of course I say thank you, but I’d much rather you compliment me as a teacher or person, than my looks. Those girls are 9/10 years old and are starting to care too much about looks. As their teacher and role model, I think it is important to teach them that they are more than that!

    I never mind the comments about my son, because damn he is cute, but I do think there needs to be a balance. He is smart, kind, loving, caring, creative, and I tell him this all the time- maybe too much.

  19. by Tonya

    On December 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I face the same thing with my daughter (age 6) all the time. No, I don’t want her to think that looks are all that is important, but fact is that her face is what people mostly see and what they comment on. Her two older brothers always heard about what strong, hansome boys they were.

    Instead of getting all freaked out that she could turn into some superficial, no-brain Barbie, I took the situation as an opportunity to teach her that when folks call her beautiful that her appearance is only part of it. Just looking pretty on the outside doesn’t cut it and isn’t the main priority. Living a beautiful life and having a beautiful soul is. Being kind and generous and working to have a sharp adn beautiful MIND is what makes a beautiful person.

    Trying to change society, or stupid people, never works on this scale. Instead, teach her the definition of what makes a beautiful person and include attributes you want her to respect.

    Point out things in her life that are “Beautiful” because of who or what they are inside. Include lessons like keeping a healthy body (makign good choice and when she’s older, abstaining from drugs/alcohol) makes her a beautiful person.

    Also point out Ugly behavior, ugly actions, etc Forrest Gumps momma always said, “Pretty is as Pretty does”. She was right.

    Your daughter is young eough that THEY are telling her she’s beautiful, but YOU are teaching her what that means. Teach her. That’s a much more productive, beneficial and helpful role than griping about your MIL or strangers on the street.

  20. [...] Landry over at Parents.com has written a short piece about what we do when we tell little girls how pretty they are.  She thinks that by focusing on [...]

  21. by Ev

    On December 21, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Seen the movie “The Help”? Everyday the girl was told: “You is smart.You is kind.You is special.”

  22. by Bunny

    On December 22, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I think that people are over-sensitive about such things. If you are parenting in such a way that reinforces all aspects of your child’s self-esteem, why do you care so much about what others do or don’t compliment. Seems as if this generation of parents has gotten way too sensitive about these things. Just get over it and focus your energies on other things.

  23. by Angie

    On December 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    It’s unfortunate that from the time kids are born, they are constantly hearing comments about their looks. And no matter how well-intentioned or offhand those comments may seem to the person making them, they DO stick with you and affect self esteem throughout your childhood and into adulthood. You can’t win. Tell them they’re good looking too often and it will go to their head. Don’t tell them enough and they’ll think they’re ugly. And even worse, comments about OTHERS’ appearances can be just as detrimental to a child’s self esteem as comments directly about the child’s!
    My mom was always very thin and growing up I remember her making negative comments about big women. Even as a kid I remember learning that, at least to my family, thin=good and heavy=bad. Being a naturally skinny kid myself, I didn’t get too self conscious though. Until about my junior year in high school, and I started birth control that caused me to go from a size 2 to a size 5/6. And I remember my parents telling me that my thighs had gotten big and they were “worried I was going to balloon up”. UGH. Even though in a year or so I had gotten back to my normal size, I still to this day dread gaining any weight since I now know they are going to be critical of my body.

  24. by Mom of Three

    On January 13, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Ugh. Lighten up, already! Yes, my two girls always hear about how gorgeous they are, but they’re brother also hears about what a handsome boy he is. AND they get compliments on how well they do at school, how well-behaved they are, etc. Instead of trying to ignore that they will be judged based on appearances by the outside world, we are giving them some early padding against the mean people that almost certainly lurk out there…whether it be magazine editors that choose to put anorexics on their covers, or a jealous girl at school who wants to hurt one of my daughters. If we never told them anything about how beautiful they are, they’d have no other opinion than the one of the insensitive twit at school. It’s all about balance, people. I don’t have them in pageants. They wear modest clothing. Nobody has makeup or dyed hair. They also dance and swim and do well in school. Balance, balance, balance.

  25. by Isabelle

    On January 19, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Julia,
    You are an idiot.

    You do realise that you can be pretty and look after yourself and still be educated?
    they aren’t mutually exclusive.

    I assure you, counting calories isn’t a bad thing. If she is fat i can guarantee she will be unhappy. Regardless of what people say, fat people are unhappy. Also, being healthy is important so if she wants to start counting calories to eat a healthier diet what is wrong with that??

    it is YOUR job as her mother to encourage her to do well in school, to study etc.

    I absolutely cannot stand women who think that to be intelligent you have to be ugly. Sorry love, its not the case.

  26. by Julia

    On January 19, 2012 at 6:50 am

    What? Really? You can be both?? I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know.

    Agree or disagree, I don’t care, but name-calling is ugly no matter what you look like.

  27. by Jami Van Brocklin

    On January 31, 2012 at 11:26 am

    I agree! Looks are not going to get a person an education or career. They don’t make a person who they are.

    I tell my daughter (10 yrs) and my son (2-1/2) how pretty/good-looking they are and that they are very intelligent, sweet, loving, caring, artistic, creative, funny, silly, and great kids! They really are! I never just leave it at their looks. Yes, I do have some extremely good looking kids (LOL)…I’m not just partial…we get it everywhere we go! (My daughter has strawberry blonde hair and blue-grey eyes, and my son has light blonde hair and big pretty blue eyes.) They are so much more than their looks though!
    My daughter is an A-B student, is well-liked and loved by her classmates and teachers, is a Girl Scout, volunteers, sews on her own sewing machine, designs fashions, paints, draws, writes and illustrates her own books and stories, does photography, reads a lot, helps others, and plays the violin. She’s a wonderful big sister and a great friend. She has so many wonderful attributes…other than just her beauty. My son is 2-1/2, but he’s the sweetest, most loving and caring little guy. He is not mean, angry, violent, or bratty like a lot of 2 yrs old boys I know. He has a lot of empathy for others. He’s highly intelligent and already shows musical inclination. He loves to dance and sing. He also loves to help out, especially with cleaning! :) I am so blessed to have the kids I do.

  28. by Lisa

    On February 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I guess I am lucky. My family, as well as my husband and I, tell my little girl she is pretty all the time. But we also compliment her on her intelligence and creativity/imagination. I think more than anything, we all focus on how smart she is. At 2, she knows how to count (even a little in Spanish) and can sing songs, knows most of her alphabet, and blows us away with the things she says. If the focus was on her looks, I do think it would bother me.

  29. by True Beauty | roses near running waters

    On February 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

    [...] Recently there have been numerous articles and discussions regarding what we tell children about their appearance.  Several articles have been written regarding the dangers of telling girls they are pretty.  The authors of such publications argue that comments regarding a child’s beauty place too much emphasis on outward appearance.  You can read two such articles here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html and here: http://www.parents.com/blogs/unexpectedly-expecting/2011/12/12/must-read/please-dont-tell-my-little-…. [...]

  30. by KB

    On February 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I completely understand what you are saying and you bring up a vaild point which has crossed my mind about my own daughter. This is what I came up with…young girls, teenagers, women, are always evaluated on their appearance all the time. Most are self conscious of some physical part of their image, even as a grown woman. We have magazines, Pageants like Miss This or Miss That, celebrities and all of their awards shows, it goes on and on. Let people compliment her image. It will build confidence in that particular area of life. As parents, you can build up the other areas and teach her how those are the most important assets in life. I always tell my little one how sweet, kind, smart, funny and adorable she is. You know how unimportant looks are because you are a mature, confident, intelligent adult. It takes a long time to get there. Feeling pretty is not a bad thing. Just make sure that there is more to it than that, which it sounds like you’re doing ;)

  31. by Stephanie Rolfe

    On April 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Ridiculous article!! Appreciate the compliment and move on. Take for example that strangers do not know your children well enough to call them “smart” or make compliments to their vocabulary…that’s our job as parents, not everyone else’s. There are SO many more important issues to focus on!

  32. by SugarMama

    On May 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Totally agree with Julia, and I liked how KB summed it up. I am working through years of being told I was pretty as we speak about such a poignant topic.

  33. by Kristen

    On May 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Isabelle,

    I disagree completely that fat people are always unhappy.

    My hubby and I are both “fat”, yet healthy (have good lab results, full of energy), and have been for years and we’re very happy. I have a great life and lots of people who love me for who I am and not what I look like.

    When I was thin (highschool and early college) was probably the lowest point of my entire life.

  34. by gwininator

    On November 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Have a great granddaughter who has been told her whole life that she is georgeous. When anyone tells her she is pretty or cute she says, no I’m georgeous. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she always says, a princess. She is almost 6 yrs old and it worries me that she is not encouraged to be anything but “georgeous”. I don’t see her frequently enough to have any impact on her perception of herself. Sad that people don’t think before they compliment.

  35. by Embracing All of You | Lady Firebird Rises

    On July 2, 2013 at 9:19 am

    [...] been a lot of talk recently about not telling their daughters that they’re pretty. This blog post points out that other attributes outside of appearances that should come to the forefront when [...]

  36. by A Mother’s Important Message

    On January 15, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    [...] people continued to gush, the only thing that got me to think twice was an article that went viral around the time Pink was 6 months old. A mom asked that people not refer to her [...]