“I Don’t Have to Be Nice, I’m Pretty!”


People, these are the words that came out of my two-year-olds mouth. TWO YEARS OLD. And a fresh two, like closer to one than three. I couldn’t believe it.

A little background, I consider myself a feminist. I’ve also given dozens of talks to young women about the importance of learning to view media with a critical eye as a way to combat many of the bad messages girls are getting these days. Let’s face it, in our society, looks are valued above all else. Women are given a very unrealistic and unattainable idea of what being pretty means (thin, white, blond). And since the vast majority of us don’t fit that ideal, most women have some degree of body image issues.

I’ve struggled with body image myself, probably since my early teenage years when my boobs developed and I started trying to hide them. I know how terribly it feels to believe the most important thing about yourself is how you look. I want to do whatever I can to help my daughter grow up to be confident, valuing her other attributes like how smart she is and how kind & caring she can be. I do not want her to grow up thinking that her appearance is all that matters and I most certainly don’t want her to grow up thinking that just because she’s pretty she doesn’t also have to be nice.

Our conversation went something like this (as we were driving in the car):

“Mommy be nice!”

“I am being nice. But you have to be nice too.”

“No, not. I’m a pretty girl.”

(Pause for utter shock)

“Lillian even pretty girls have to be nice.”

“No mommy! I’m a pretty girl!”

(Continued horror)

“Lillian being nice is more important than being pretty. It’s always important to be nice to people.”

“OK mommy.”

“You know what love? You are also really, really smart, you love animals and you are so loving to others.”

(Big smile on her face)

Please bear with me as I know I already said this but I cannot believe I had this conversation with her at the young age of two. I’m in shock. I’m sure she doesn’t really understand but I feel it’s my duty as her mom to reinforce, even now, that being pretty is not the most important thing in life.

I ended up talking to my husband about this and expressed that I think we should scale back on how often we tell her she’s pretty. She hears it many, many times a day (cause you know, we think she IS pretty!) and we usually do also tell her how smart she is, how loving she is and how thoughtful she is. But clearly she is already getting bad messages about beauty.

I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I guess I’ll have to figure it out as we go along. The one thing I do know is that raising a girl in the U.S. is damn hard when you want her to believe that being intelligent and compassionate are of utmost importance, because everywhere you look, every billboard you see, every magazine you read is saying something very, very different.


My kind, loving, smart, compassionate, silly AND pretty little girl.
My kind, loving, smart, compassionate, silly AND pretty little girl.

11 comments on ““I Don’t Have to Be Nice, I’m Pretty!””

  1. Ok MIchelle, so I had to dig this one up and come back to it, because when you posted I couldn’t get to it to comment (I am so behind, perhaps unfixably so, on reading and commenting on everyone’s fabulous posts lately!). Just wanted to add my support and that I struggle with this too, as a mom of 2 girls and who knows how many more. This hasn’t happened to us yet, but I’m sure it will at some point. I do like to tell Mackenzie how pretty and cute she is, because it makes me smile to say it out loud. I also try to tell her she is “smart” (you know my caution around that word!) or variants of it: brave, creative, adventurous, clever, etc. I completely abhor princess stuff and anything that reeks of entitlement, but at the same time, I can see how the kids love it and I don’t want to censor so much out of her life that she finds it on her own and just indulges even more than she would have otherwise. It’s tough but it sounds like that dialogue you had with her went very well!

  2. Ugh this would make me cringe too! I think reminding her of the other qualities is so important and you aleady do this. Maybe we just need to say it more since there are so many more influences only speaking to looks

  3. Hi Michelle
    My daughter is 13, Trying to instill confidence self esteem and a positive self image and body image without turning her into a diva has been a balancing act. I love Judge Judy’s book “beauty fades, dumb is forever”
    Recently watched a documentary highlighting the reality that girls spend more money on beauty than they spend on education. And it wasn’t hundreds of dollars, it was in the thousands.

    You’ll do great, because you have your eyes open, which I believe is important. My daughter gets on my case because I am so laid back and down to earth. My profession makes nail polish, excessive make-up, provocative clothes etc. impractical and unethical. Plus I like myself just the way I am. I hope my daughter will someday realize that being comfortable in your own skin is the best reward.

  4. Oh boy! Silly Lillian 🙂 First off – she is two – so take anything that comes out of her mouth with a grain of salt. I have volumes of crazy things my kids have said. Second – I think it is great that you and Dan tell her she is pretty, but obviously not at the expense of being nice. You handled the situation very well and I’m sure as your daughter is and will be a wonderful, compassionate soul. In my opinion it is fine to be smart AND pretty, but never at the expense of being nice.

    1. Yes, I totally agree with you that she has no idea what’s she’s saying! But it still totally caught be off guard as I pictured this kind of thing coming later in life. She keeps me on my toes!

  5. I am sooooo guilty of telling little girls (um, like yours for example…ah!) how adorable they are. I do the same thing to my boys, too, though. I’m constantly telling them they’re SO CUTE. Once, my older son actually said “Pleaaaase can I have a treat? Don’t you see how CUTE I am??” I think it’s wise to be conscious of it, but I think it’s normal for kids in the 2-4 age group to really “own” the gender roles (I’m a beautiful girl! I’m a tough superhero!), and even to experiment with the opposite gender’s roles (as in boys with make up fascinations and girls who want to be tough). I wouldn’t panic, because I think this kind of speech (though upsetting to grown ups for sure!) is developmentally appropriate, but you are wise to let her know that it’s not the way things are going to be going down 😉

    1. Thanks Sarah, I appreciate that. I think I just want to be more aware of the potential messages we are sending her. My gut feeling is that by telling her like 10 times a day how pretty and nice she looks, we are over emphasizing the importance of being pretty, you know? And for me, I just don’t want to do that. But where’s the balance? Just going to have to figure it out as we go forward.

  6. I might be slightly in the minority, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling someone they are pretty or beautiful as long as it’s used in the proper context – I think all girls need to know that they are pretty and beautiful inside, and have the capacity to express this beauty outwardly. I think where this messsage gets misdirected is when people (teachers, other strangers) imply that because someone is “beautiful,” they can get something extra (favors, opportunities, etc that other people might not get. I frequently tell both of my kids that they are beautiful because they’re happy, or because they’re kind, or because they does something endearing or innocent. This is the beauty that comes from the inside.

    My parents NEVER told me I was pretty – it’s just not part of their cultural norm. They sometimes said I was smart, or funny, or a smartass. And trust me – this does have an impact on the way in which a girl looks at herself. This has left a hole of insecurity that will forever be the missing piece in my puzzle.

    You are a great mom. ❤

    1. I love the idea of saying “you are beautiful because you’re kind” and “you are pretty because you are so happy.” Focusing on beauty coming from the inside is a great way to put it. I hear you on that last part – I’m not sure where the healthy balance is in telling our kids how pretty/handsome they are. Going to have to keep thinking that through…

  7. Ugh. I struggle with this all.the.time. It’s very difficult because you don’t want to cloak your feelings for your children…you want to tell them everyday how gorgeous and beautiful they are, but at the same time, at what cost? My daughters say things like, “that’s a boy color, that’s a girl toy, that’s a boy shirt.” It drives me crazy. I have a hard time balancing what they want to do (dance, dress up like princesses) versus what I want them to do (play soccer, basketball, wear jeans…everyday!) For the upcoming fall season we have reached an agreement, Parker can sign up for dance if she agrees to play soccer. We will see how it goes, and good luck!

    1. Oh Sarah I couldn’t agree more with your statements. We want to tell her all the time how gorgeous we think she is, but to your point, at what potential cost? At least we have each other to talk about these challenges and troubleshoot together!

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