Science Mom: Telling My Daughter She’s Beautiful Isn’t What’s Going To Hold Her Back At School

pretty science girlToday I told my 10-month-old that I think she’s beautiful. I know, I know; here I am, a Science Mom myself, undercutting my daughter’s potential future career in a science or technology field. What was I thinking? Or rather, what are people thinking when they write hand-wringing op eds called, “Powerful ad shows why we shouldn’t be telling young girls how ‘pretty’ they are”?


I’ve seen and heard a lot of talk about the Verizon ad featured in that article, most of it centered around how we can’t be telling our daughters they’re pretty if we want them to grow up to be Strong Women of Science, to which I say: screw that. I appreciate Verizon’s intent here, in saying that we should be telling girls that they’re “pretty brilliant”, but the execution is a little off, I think: if girls spend too much time thinking they’re pretty, they might spend their time putting on lipstick instead of going to science fairs! Or – and I’m just going out on a limb here – maybe giving girls space to feel good about their appearance and getting them interested in math and science aren’t mutually exclusive, and there are bigger fisher to fry than the phrase “Who’s mommy’s pretty little girl?”

Our daughters are going to grow up – are already growing up – under a constant barrage of media and advertisements telling them there’s something wrong with them. Their hair should be shinier, their skin is too spotty, their boobs are too small and their thighs are too big. They’ll grow up seeing Photoshopped actresses on magazine covers and CGI’d stars on the big screen. They need to hear that they’re beautiful, no matter what. They need to hear it all the time, from someone who loves them and who means every word.

And if you’re truly worried about the effect on their academic careers, well, guess what? Female faculty members are outnumbered by male counterparts, even in “female-dominated” fields like biology. Identical resumes sent to university hiring committees are more likely to be accepted (and to get about $4,000 more in salary) if they arrive under the name John compared to the name Jennifer. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told female tech employees not to ask for raises in spite of pay gaps and to just trust good karma to get them what they deserve. If you really think that your daughters ending up with good self-esteem is what’s going to hold them back, I don’t know what to tell you.

My daughter can be a sparkly science princess, or she can take after her mom and be a frumpy science hag, and either way, she’s going to hear from me that she’s beautiful as well as brilliant. (Or I suppose she can study something like English, and I’ll just have to try not to cry about not being able to chat with her about epigenetics and Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium at the dinner table.) Instead of eliminating words like “pretty” and “beautiful” from my vocabulary, I’m going to add some phrases instead. For example, “This hiring ratio is biased toward men!”, “What is this school doing to bolster girls’ confidence in math and science classes?”, and “Screw you, I’m going to tell my daughter she’s the prettiest rocket scientist in the galaxy and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

(Image: YouTube)

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