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Experts Say, “Don’t Tell Your Daughter She’s Pretty!” I Say, Why Not?

These are two young girls I love. I love their beautiful eyes, their Mona Lisa smiles, their long, soft hair and oh the freckles are enough to make me swoon.

Two girls I adore. I love their beautiful eyes, Mona Lisa smiles, their long, soft hair and oh, the freckles are enough to make me swoon.

There’s a trend in parenting to compliment our children’s abilities rather than their appearance.

The lead in a recent Daily Telegraph article states, “Parents should stop telling their children they look beautiful because it places too much emphasis on appearance and can lead to body confidence issues later in life.” (A quote from Jo Swinson, Brittain’s Women’s Equality Minister).

Despite my many foibles as a mother, I still feel entitled to disagree. I don’t think we need an “all or nothing at all” policy when it comes to complimenting our children.

I have one daughter who likes to fly under the radar. She loves wearing a school uniform because she can blend in. She prefers wearing her luxurious blond locks in braids because she doesn’t want a lot of attention. She could care less about getting her ears pierced or wearing make-up.

Yet when I look at her in the passenger seat after I pick her up from school I can’t resist saying, “You are so beautiful.”

She’d like to pretend she hates it, but her shy smile gives her away.

However, the compliments don’t end there.

This daughter loves little children, so they immediately trust her and follow her around like little ducklings. She’s also an avid sci-fi fan and a cat lover/cinematographer (the self-shot documentary of her epic karate battle with our porcine tabby Marilyn Monroe is a must-see). I frequently praise her for her patience, creativity and hold-the-vermouth dry sense of humor.

Then we have my second daughter. She was practically born wearing nail polish. She loves fashion, make-up (although she’s only allowed lip gloss at this juncture) and when she walks into a room she’d love every eye to notice her (wonder where she gets that?)

I often tell this daughter that she’s beautiful because, to me, she is.

But she’s also a passionate, though slightly bloodthirsty, storyteller (there’ve been a slew of beheadings in her tales of late), a fierce soccer goalie, a voracious reader and a really good friend. I compliment her for her inventive mind, her bravery on the field, her intelect and her empathetic heart.

So yes, compliment your childrens’ abilities. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Tell your children they’re beautiful, too. Because soon enough the world will tell them different.

These are the things people said to me when I was an adolescent that negatively impacted my body image:

“You’d almost be pretty if it weren’t for your hair.” “It looks like you have pubic hair on your head.” “What are those strings hanging out of your shorts? Oh, they’re your legs.” “You have cellulite. That’s gross.” “Why do you even wear a bra? There’s nothing there.”

And my favorite. Right after proving all the naysayers above wrong and being crowned Homecoming Queen my senior year in high school I overheard the yearbook photographer ask his assistant, “How come the pretty girls never win Homecoming Queen?” His assistant replied, “Everybody’s too jealous of them. They always pick the nice ones.”

Nice is nice. But, ouch!

So. Where’s the crime in giving our children an approving gaze while they’re young to hopefully inoculate them against a world that is always telling them they don’t measure up?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And if you’d like to keep up with my polarizing views and occasional nudity you can sign up for our newsletter HERE.

Below are photos of the beautiful kids in our lives. Some of these children are mine and some of them belong to dear friends and each one of them is heart-stoppingly, uniquely exquisite.

Ringlets and Flaxen hair.

Angel ringlets and flaxen hair.

Ari on the beach

Gorgeous, vibrant red and dimples for days

Rowan and crab

Cuter fangs than Edward Pattinson’s.

Arampic

Mischievous, twinkling eyes.

Lylapic

Bewitching doe eyes.

Rowan Two Oceans

Sleeping beauty who can wield dwarf ax if need be.

Don’t Tell Your Daughter She’s Pretty? Why not?



17 comments

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  1. pia
    pia 9 February, 2014, 15:58

    They’re all beautiful. There will always be somebody smarter, funnier, more talented etc but there will never be anybody as uniquely beautiful.

    I used to play the Lesley Ann Warren version of Cinderella for all the girls in my life and at the end I recorded a bit where I said “and then she went on to start a school so all the girls in the kingdom could read, write and never be dependent on their wicked stepmother or the prince.” It felt so stupid but I was compelled to….

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 10 February, 2014, 09:14

      Hi Pia — love this! I did read some of the fairytales to my girls when they were little, but I always added my own ending, i.e. the princess lived happily ever after because she got a degree in biochemistry and helped solve the erosion of the glaciers. It became a bit of a running joke with my kids as they got older.

      Reply this comment
  2. TJ
    TJ 10 February, 2014, 06:08

    I’m not sure where these trends start, but good grief, they get more and more ridiculous. Your parents start the foundation for your self-confidence. They encourage you to walk, to talk and assure you that you won’t die if you eat a lima bean or try to ride a bike. Why in the world would someone say it’s a bad idea to compliment your children? Nuts. We believe what our parents say, so if they say you’re beautiful, obviously you are! My mother and grandparents told me all the time how beautiful I was, inside and out. I am completely convinced that is why I am attractive. I don’t even believe it’s that I’m pretty as much as they raised me to have a good heart, so I’m open, friendly and approachable. Like the ones you pictured above, all children are gorgeous and deserve to be told so. ALL THE TIME.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 10 February, 2014, 09:18

      Amen TJ! When my daughter Bridget was in kindergarten a little classmate of hers told her that her freckles looked like dirt on her face. She came home very sad and wanted to “cut” her freckles off of her face. I did damage control by telling her, truthfully, that her freckles are one of my favorite things about her. That her freckles contribute to her own, rare beauty. Over the years people have thought some of her freckles are dirt and she replies, “No, no, those are just my beautiful freckles.”

      Reply this comment
  3. Sharon Greenthal
    Sharon Greenthal 10 February, 2014, 07:12

    I think we should all tell our daughters (and sons) how gorgeous they are. Especially fathers. What I don’t like is when people share photos of their kids on social media and say “look at my beautiful child.” Just share the photo and let OTHERS say it. We know you think your kids are beautiful, folks!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 10 February, 2014, 09:20

      Hi Sharon — Yes, we certainly don’t want to become obnoxious about it. xo

      Reply this comment
  4. Jen W.
    Jen W. 10 February, 2014, 11:02

    First off, love these pictures! I give my daughter compliments on her looks all the time..and on her behavior, her manners, her performance in school, etc. I try not to overdo it, and many times I will focus on things that she controls- i.e. “I like how you did your hair” or “I like the outfit you picked out.” Life will give her more than enough negative feedback for humility later on. Of course, when you have the most beautiful daughter in the world, it’s tough not to share it!

    Reply this comment
  5. Julie Phelps
    Julie Phelps 12 February, 2014, 06:01

    Enjoyed this. I have recently found myself a bit concerned that the parents of my youngest grandson frequently exclaim about how cute he is. And he is. He is also learning to be kind and loving and demonstrates daily that his young brain is a very good one. So I will continue praising his accomplishments and actions as well as his appearance.

    Reply this comment
  6. donna
    donna 12 February, 2014, 10:06

    Balance, balance, and again…BALANCE is key :0). I could never imagine NOT telling my 4 kiddos how beautiful I think they are. I feign to think of how my own self-criticisms have impacted their views {especially my only daughter}. The world can be cruel and people say mean things. Home needs to be the place they come to and KNOW they are loved and accepted and are thought to be beautiful! They should always be confident in *home*!
    That being said, this should be balanced with the truth that they are beautiful from the inside out. When they choose to give up a seat to an elderly person, or they choose to attend the no so popular kids birthday party despite the “social risk”, or when they respond with kindness towards to *other* team that won…they should be told THEN that they are beautiful because of their actions.
    Just a few thoughts :). Great post. Got me thinking…and missing my “little” kids!

    Reply this comment
  7. Annie M.
    Annie M. 12 February, 2014, 23:54

    I’ve wondered about this myself, and I decided that not talking about their appearance wouldn’t make it any less important to them. We have twin girls who are almost 13. They are told constantly that looks are important when they’re out in the world. I get the same little smile you described when I tell them they are beautiful. And, of course, I also tell them they are funny, and sweet, kind, warm, talented….

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 13 February, 2014, 12:26

      Annie what you say is so true. Not talking to them about their appearance EVER, is strange and unnatural.

      Reply this comment
  8. Rosie Carrillo
    Rosie Carrillo 14 February, 2014, 14:30

    Love all of the “beautiful kids” photos! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  9. Doug Smith
    Doug Smith 14 February, 2014, 14:37

    We were never blessed with kids, but I 100 percent agree with you. I can see where it could be over done, but in general I think every parent should praise their children, not only how they are outwardly, but what they are like on the inside and everything in between.

    Reply this comment
  10. KymberlyFunFit
    KymberlyFunFit 14 February, 2014, 19:23

    Good lord – people actually said those stupid things to you? Reminds me of the time a popular boy told my twin sister to ask for a collar for Christmas as she was such a dog. She showed him by growing up to still look good. He has a beer belly, little hair, no manners -Duh! – and constant flatulence. And you got your vengeance by being beautiful and having amazing, beautiful girls.

    Reply this comment
  11. Meredith in SA
    Meredith in SA 20 February, 2014, 06:43

    Here’s the trick, I think: Tell your children they’re beautiful the same way you tell them you love them: No Matter What.

    My 3 year old daughters are beautiful when:
    the are fresh out of the bath(oh my god their perfect little bodies!)
    they are fresh out of the sandpit
    they have chocolate frosting smeared hither, thither and yon
    they “dress” themselves
    they wear the lovely Christmas outfits (costumes) my mother bought them
    they allow me to brush and braid their hair
    they have a crazy crown of gossamer spikes
    they become elegant ladies by draping themselves in blankets and adults’ hats
    they don one of my old scarves so they can “go to work”

    And the tricky part is to tell them they’re beautiful, but that it’s not the most important or the best thing about them.

    Reply this comment

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