Why I Stopped Trying To Make My Daughter Be Pretty

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My 10-year-old daughter Clare only likes to wear clothes from the boy’s section. Preferably a boxy, shapeless t-shirt with pictures of Spiderman or any other superhero on them. She always wears two braids. Always. Even to bed. Her hair is thick, blonde and gorgeous. Clare has beautiful, wide-set blue eyes, high cheek bones and long, slender limbs that remind me of a baby colt. I think she’s beautiful. She doesn’t care. She’s not interested in being beautiful.

Last year I made her take her braids down for her class picture. It was an epic battle and I played dirty. I used psychoanalysis, telling her I was afraid her braids were like a security blanket (which I am) and that I wanted her to be comfortable in every Hair Iteration and that I didn’t want her to fall prey to bullies who might socially ostracize her (which is true) and to that end I was willing to bribe her with an Obi Wan Kenobe FX lightsaber that could have paid for a month’s worth of groceries.

But underlying my bid for her emotional well-being was the down-and-dirty truth: I wanted her to look pretty in her school pictures, her cascading hair framing her face, so I could show her off to friends and relatives.

On picture day she wouldn’t actually wear her hair down. She wore it in ponytails, then took it down just for the picture. Apparently the entire 4th grade female student body had to witness this anomaly. Shrieking and cooing and telling Clare how gorgeous she looked. After the picture mission was complete one of the little girls carefully, respectfully braided Clare’s hair for her.

When I got Clare’s school picture a month later my mission was achieved. She did indeed look very pretty with her flowing locks. But she also looked, well, not quite like Clare.

I’m over it. I’m letting it go. My daughter doesn’t need to fulfill my vision of how she would look most beautiful. She doesn’t need to care about being beautiful. She DOES have to wash her hair at least once a week. There I will not budge. But my girl won’t define herself by her appearance the way I did. The way I still do.

What defines her now are her passions: making weapons out of paper, learning to sketch manga characters by following tutorials online, playing a version of Dungeons and Dragons with her dad all night, reading The Hunger Games with me, playing the piano and taking up Judo. And so many more things she’s passionately interested in. These kids man, they teach you how to live.

She also loves Little League and trading baseball cards. She just came out of the womb cool.

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34 comments

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  1. Susan
    Susan 25 September, 2012, 08:28

    Oh, I loved this! I have also had to learn this lesson. I can also tell you, and you probably know, that she will change as she grows and at some point, she probably will care, but you are so right to let her be herself for as long as she can be before outside influencers step in and try to change her. Great article!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 25 September, 2012, 10:17

      Thanks succulent — I am loving her at 10. It’s a sweet, tender age where she still wants me.

      Reply this comment
  2. Sharon Greenthal (@sharongreenthal)
    Sharon Greenthal (@sharongreenthal) 25 September, 2012, 09:02

    When my daughter was 10 her passion was softball. She wore her team t’s and short leggings all the time. She didn’t wear braids, she wore a messy bun. I was a little bit concerned about her femininity.

    Now she’s 22 and she has a great style. She wears tight jeans, sky-high heels, subtle but pretty makeup, and her hair is long and streaky blonde. The tomboy is gone.

    Your daughter is adorable, and someday she’ll be a beautiful young woman. By letting her be what she is now, you are helping her to get to where she’ll be when she’s my daughter’s age.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 25 September, 2012, 10:17

      Hi Sharon — Someone said I’ll miss her braids one day and I suspect they’re right.

      Reply this comment
  3. Lillian from It's A Dome Life
    Lillian from It's A Dome Life 25 September, 2012, 09:17

    I love this! I spent some time trying to keep my daughter from being pretty. I wanted her to not worry about her looks. Turns out, she loves pink, and sparkle, and shoes that match her purse. I finally realized the best thing to do was support her in her own interests and so that is what I have been doing.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 25 September, 2012, 10:18

      My youngest is like that. she hasn’t met a sparkle or a mirror she doesn’t like.

      Reply this comment
  4. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon 25 September, 2012, 09:29

    My daughter, too, was (and still is) very physically beautiful. But I never told her that. As her aunt noted when she was an infant, there would be (and were) plenty of people who would tell her how beautiful she is. I praised her for being smart and kind and other things.

    When she was a teen, tons of people would exclaim “You should be a model!” I know they meant it as a compliment, but it annoyed the heck out of me. Like they had any right to tell my kid what to do with her life, let alone turning my brilliant, mouthy, wonderful girl into a glorified clothes hangar for an industry that promotes anorexia? I don’t think so!

    Your job is to teach Clare appropriate and kind behavior and the basics of personal hygiene (something that gets a little rocky in the 10 to 11 range, but sorts itself out soon enough), not to decide who she will become and you do not want to fight that battle. I know because my kid calls me voluntarily and wants to spend time with me – not something a lot of parents can say.

    Clare is wonderful as she is and will always be wonderful as she is, whether she eventually sheds the tomboy thing or never does. By letting go, you’re giving her the best chance to not only feel comfortable in her own skin, but you’re giving her the tools to put aside negative peer pressure as a teen and all the other negative attitudes our society pushes on our girls about their looks and their ability to lead, etc., ad nauseum.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 25 September, 2012, 10:20

      Hi Anne — thanks for the advice. I will heed it well. I want her to be able to be her own person and not give in to peer pressure. Or even misguided pressure from me.

      Reply this comment
  5. McKenna Ryan
    McKenna Ryan 25 September, 2012, 09:43

    Your daughter is absolutely beautiful! I used to be a major tomboy when I was younger, I even played pop warner football in fifth grade. I loved that my parents let me be whoever I wanted to be and they still did when I became a complete girly girl in Highschool. You are a great mom for letting her dance to her own drum beat.

    Reply this comment
  6. Ann Dunnewold
    Ann Dunnewold 25 September, 2012, 10:58

    Ahh, what a great tale, reminding us about how much we can learn from our kids–rather than working so hard to make them internalize the lessons we deem important. I agree with Anne Louise about what you are teaching her by letting go.

    Step back and realize, too, how much she has already internalized the lesson that beauty comes from being comfortable in your own skin! You’ve already taught her that–way to go!

    Reply this comment
  7. Tee
    Tee 25 September, 2012, 13:24

    Your daughter is beautiful and I’m sure she eventually grow out of her braids. I tried to get my daughter to stop wearing dresses. I don’t know why… I just wanted her to wear something different. I eventually stopped fighting with her about it which was the best thing for our relationship.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 25 September, 2012, 13:47

      Dresses are a no go for Clare. I’ve made her wear them to her piano recitals because there don’t seem to be any formal clothing for girls that don’t include ribbons or flowers.

      Reply this comment
  8. Yvonne Condes
    Yvonne Condes 25 September, 2012, 14:37

    We went through the same thing. I made A wear a button up shirt for picture day. “I feel like an idiot,” he said. “It’s just for one day.” I told him. I think I told you this, but he said, “Why can’t I wear clothes that represent who I am” and I said “I want you to wear clothes that represent the person I want you to be.”

    I have countless other pictures of A hiking, biking, reading, playing video games – capturing his essence. I just want one picture where his hair is brushed and he has on a colorful shirt.

    Reply this comment
  9. Trina
    Trina 25 September, 2012, 16:04

    Your daughter is beautiful! I think it’s such a gift that she has a strong enough personality to like what she likes particularly in an age where kids can be mean. Having this confidence at an early age can only mean she will soar in the future.

    btw, I’m totally jealous that she got that lightsaber. ^_^

    Reply this comment
  10. Jane
    Jane 25 September, 2012, 16:41

    Luckily, she is a cutie whether she’s dressed as Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker.

    As for school pictures, my favorite of my younger son is when he made a sly grin and looked off to the side in a picture. The photographer made him retake it. But the first is the one I bought. Eight years later, it’s the only school pic of his I still have up in the house.

    You’ll always like the one with her hair down, though. It will be a fun memory with a good story. My mom made me wear a dress in a photography session when I was four. I told her I wouldn’t smile if I had to wear the dress. I am stone-faced in every one. My mom still likes the pictures and the story.

    Reply this comment
  11. Shannon
    Shannon Author 25 September, 2012, 17:12

    Hi Jane — I would love to see that sly grin. Rowan without braids was a bit too Stepford kid for me. She’s such an original. I wish I’d had her unequivocal “me-ness” when I was ten.

    Reply this comment
  12. tania luviano
    tania luviano 25 September, 2012, 18:29

    She’s so pretty! And you should be happy and proud of how confident she is with what she likes!

    Reply this comment
  13. Dina
    Dina 26 September, 2012, 06:30

    I, too, struggle with a beautiful daughter who shops in the boys section. I still tell her she’s beautiful. She drags around action figures (not dolls!) and all manner of boy type toys. I miss having the experience – which I had looked forward to – of making doll clothes, and cute dresses for her. Still, she is an awesome person, and I love her they way she is. At 9, there are days when I’m actually glad she chooses to wear clothes that cover her up more than some of the current fashions would.

    Reply this comment
  14. Delfin Joaquin Paris III
    Delfin Joaquin Paris III 26 September, 2012, 18:31

    Just remember that it’s crucial she learn the most important female maxim:

    You can never be too rich or thin.

    Reply this comment
  15. sandee
    sandee 27 September, 2012, 00:51

    aweee, and we could go on and on. they don’t come any cooler than her. We all have that sort of problems with projecting our needs onto our kids. The great thing about having daughters is every time you except them and nurture them, a piece of yourself is excepted and nurtured. Being a mother has been one big never ending therapy for myself. Indeed, they do teach you how to live.

    Reply this comment
  16. Julie
    Julie 28 September, 2012, 20:16

    I love this post. You’re such a sweet mom and she is such an adorable extension of you :)

    Reply this comment
  17. Alexandra
    Alexandra 28 September, 2012, 23:44

    She is exquisite.

    Gloriously beautiful.

    Reply this comment
  18. Lady Jennie
    Lady Jennie 30 September, 2012, 10:01

    She is beautiful. Just like that, as I’m sure you know. :-)

    Reply this comment
  19. cakeburnette
    cakeburnette 4 October, 2012, 04:59

    Oh wow…SHE IS BEAUTIFUL.

    Reply this comment
  20. hal ackerman
    hal ackerman 21 March, 2014, 22:20

    Your posts are always so honest and insightful. But true uit is, our kids teach us if we are open enough to learn from them. AS you are. And as you help your readers to be

    Reply this comment

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