Through no effort of my own, I gave birth to a darling little baby who is now a beautiful 5-year-old girl. She has long golden hair. She has eyes as big as marbles. And she has one well-placed dimple, which genetics had the good sense to place perfectly in the middle of her left cheek.
If others’ opinions are a good metric then my daughter is, at least for now, beautiful. An aging blonde once begged to take a photo of my girl’s hair because, “It’s the exact color I want my colorist to do for me!” Nope, that didn’t happen. And, teachers, friends, and parents at the park will comment on her adorable hairstyle, her new silver boots, and the way her eyes light up when she wears that sparkly navy shirt we got at J. Crew.
But, life is very different for my son. In fact, as the mom of both a boy and a girl, I’ve seen the double standard first-hand. I see how my son gets rewarded for his actions and accomplishments. If he says something intelligent then those who are listening will say, “He’s so smart!” There will be no mention of his looks when he is being applauded for doing something wonderful. But when my daughter says something wise or does something kind, anyone within earshot will say, “Such a pretty girl.”
What does all this mean? My young daughter is learning that what she does is far less important than how she looks. She’s learning to get approval for her looks. She’s learning that smarts and success are nice, but good looks are even better. And I just can’t accept that.
Looks are fleeting and smarts are not. I want my kid to be applauded for her efforts and for her character, not for the color of her eyes and the shine of her hair. Although she’s pretty now, in a day, year, or decade, she may not still be a pretty kid. I don’t want her to think she’s somehow less valuable to the world, or to me, because the strangers at Starbucks or her teachers at school no longer comment on the way she looks, or notice her darling new outfit.
So while I’m so appreciative of the kind words about my daughter, consider yourself warned: The next time someone tells my daughter she’s pretty, I’m going to tell her to respond by saying, “Thank you, but what really matters is how smart I am.” Then hopefully she’ll grow up believing it.
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