I’m thinking about this today because I came across a post on Reddit written by a mom who flatly admits that she finds her nine-year-old daughter physically unattractive and wonders if this means her daughter will have a hard time later in life. User UglyKidJoan writes:
“As our daughter matures, and believe me, I hate myself for saying this, please don’t lambast me, it just is a logical fact, she’s very physically unattractive. She got the worst traits of both my husband and I. His wide set eyes and strong nose, most of his facial bone structure, actually, my stocky build and curly hair, her skin tone is pretty much right between mine and his…
We love her dearly, and she IS a beautiful person. I wouldn’t want any other child, even if I could have the most physically beautiful child on earth. But the facts are still what they are. She’s not attractive.”
The user goes on to explain that her daughter is kind and generous with a beautiful heart, and that they never ever allude to her being physically unattractive, but other kids notice and say rude things about their daughter, and she wonders how they can possibly make it easier on the girl as she grows up and enters the awful world of puberty.
“…how can I help her look HER best? How do I answer the ‘am I pretty mommy?’ questions?”
My initial reaction to her post was, of course, shock and maybe even a little anger. I had the urge to clutch my pearls and think, how could someone say that about their kid? The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I had no right to be mad at this mom.
We live in a society where looks are everything, especially for women. We’re constantly surrounded by harmful messages and assholes who tease anyone who isn’t conventionally beautiful. This mom’s feelings and concerns aren’t the problem. They’re a symptom of our incessant need for girls to be pretty in order to be seen as valuable. Even the responses are a symptom of that, with people telling this mom over and over again that her daughter will grow out of it and transform into a gorgeous swan someday.
What if she doesn’t?
Not everyone is destined to be the prettiest girl in the room. In fact, very few of us ever will be, and it matters how we deal with that. It matters how we teach our kids to deal with it. The bottom line is you get to choose how much you let it bother you. You can buy into the narrative that looks matter and you should find a way to be prettier at any cost, or you can decide for yourself where you’re going to place your value. Other people may think differently than you, but ultimately you’re the one with control over how you see yourself and the world, and you’re the one tasked with empowering your kids to see it differently too.
Puberty and the teen years are rough on everyone, and there’s no real way to shield your kid from the inevitable insecurities and embarrassments they’re going to face. You just have to roll with it and give them a strong foundation. You can teach your kids how to be pretty, or you can empower them by showing them that they’re more than pretty. It might not sink in at nine, or even at 14, but one day the fog of youth will clear and they’ll be secure enough in themselves to understand the lesson. Pretty may be the most important thing to the world, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the most important part of your self.