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Teaching My Daughter About 'Pretty'

Photograph by Getty Images

“Pretty.”

Being the mother of a little girl is a scary thing. It's scary because, in so many ways, the world seems out to get little girls especially, telling them they aren’t good enough. Skinny enough. Pretty enough.

They simply aren’t enough.

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Our television screens and magazines are plastered with unrealistic images of what it means to be a woman. Plastic enhancements, fake eyelashes and far too much airbrushing shape our ideals. Our little girls are plagued by unattainable expectations of who they should be and what they should look like, driving them to think they need makeup and diets and liposuction to make them somehow worthy.

To make them pretty.

To make them enough.

It seems like these messages are seeping into the heads of little girls younger and younger, wiping away the innocence of childhood long before it should ever be lost. And it scares me, because as the mother of a little girl, I want so much more for her.

I want her to grow up knowing that she is special and beautiful just the way she is—that she doesn't need an extra nip here, tuck there or the perfect shade of lipstick to make her worthy. I want her to learn to value people and experiences, above vanity and things. And I don’t want her to grow up thinking she needs to spend hours in front of a mirror trying to alter what I already view as perfection.

I am careful not to linger in front of mirrors, or to talk about myself or my body in a negative light.

I don't want her to ever get the impression that her looks should define her. Because even at just eight months old, I can already tell that she has so much more to offer the world.

I say all this, even while acknowledging that I am not some shrew or uber feminist who balks at the concept of physical beauty. I appreciate compliments on my appearance just as much as the next girl. I relish the opportunity to shave my legs, love an occasion to put on a good dress, and I am known to at least swipe a splash of blush across my cheeks and a dab of mascara along my lashes before walking out the door. But I grew up with the same messages that exist today, enduring many periods during my youth of being positively sure that I didn’t quite measure up. I was making all the wrong decisions and exploiting myself in the saddest of ways, simply because I was desperate for someone to deem me worthy.

To think of me as pretty.

To tell me that I was enough.

I want so much better for her, and so I am now conscious of the words I use and the messages I send. I believe it starts with me. How she views herself and the priority she places on the physical begins with the perception she has of how I do the same. I am careful not to linger in front of mirrors, or to talk about myself or my body in a negative light. I use makeup only with a delicate touch, and I make a point of valuing “healthy” over “thin.”

I would like to believe that I have come to realize how fleeting physical beauty truly is. For the first time in maybe my entire life, I can say that I finally have a healthy relationship with my body and an appreciation for all I have to offer—exceeding far beyond the image I see looking back at me in the mirror. I want her to grow up achieving that confidence so much sooner than I ever did, though, cultivating a personality and sense of self that exceeds far beyond what others can see with their eyes. So it starts with me. It becomes my responsibility to shield her from the negativity and to show her a better way.

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I can’t change the messages she gets from television and movies, and I won’t be able to guide the conversations she will one day have with her friends. But I can start by setting the example with myself, beginning in our home, and by building an army of women around us who are willing to do the same. I want to teach her to love herself for exactly who she is, without compiling a list of alterations that need to be made in order for her to simply be worthy. To be pretty. To be enough.

Because she is already that, and so much more.

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