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