It’s a faint memory shared by many women I’d imagine..we show up to our 2nd, 3rd or 4th birthdays wearing the complete birthday ensemble: an adorable little princess crown, a pink birthday dress, and that smile that no one can wipe away from our impressionable, squishy little faces . That’s when the adults ooh and ahh, grab our cute little cheeks, tell us to give a cutesy little twirl, and lavish about how pretty we are. How beautiful we are. How 10-15 birthdays from now our dads better watch out for “those boys”. And in that moment it almost seems that if all we ever are is beautiful, we’ll be perfectly okay.
The problem is just that. We are constantly feeding the minds of little ones (especially young girls) with the idea that beauty matters above all. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely adults out there who are feeding their brains with the good stuff too. But I say above all else, because usually, it’s the first thing to come pouring out of our mouths when the little ones come running up to us. It’s almost like we can’t help it. It’s almost like….we were taught…the exact same thing.
Honestly, I don’t blame us. I personally can’t help but get teary eyed when I see a little toddler in a dress or a suit. It’s engrained in my head to gush about how beautiful the little ones are. Sometimes I forget I’m even doing it.
If you’re still reading up to this point you might be thinking something like “Yeah but if we don’t tell them they are pretty then they won’t be confident in themselves!” or maybe “My daughter is so beautiful and I want to tell her every single day so she knows and owns it.” I get it, I really do.
But why does it matter to you so much that they believe that they are beautiful? Could it be because we are scared they won’t get anywhere if they aren’t? Is it out of fear that your little girl won’t succeed? Won’t find a life partner? Won’t have friends? All because she isn’t beautiful? I’m sure you’re saying absolutely not…but why, really, do we insist on constantly telling them they are so beautiful?
It’s because we have learned to value beauty above all else. Because that little voice that was talking to us on our 3rd birthday thinking “I’m so pretty that’s all I need to be”, was actually kind of right.
I know I’m making a big claim here. Believe me, it’s been tough to actually write down what I’ve been thinking. But let’s put it into practice.
You ask your guy friend what he likes about his new girlfriend. He says “She’s hilarious, she comes from a great family, she’s smart, and she is so hot.”
Okay, so maybe it’s not the first thing out of his mouth, but it’s definitely included. It’s definitely “of value”.
You host a tryout or an audition of some kind…and you’re on the selection committee. It might not be said out loud, but the committee is definitely keeping some of the “lookers” in their top choices.
You’re waiting in the longest line ever to get into the bar and suddenly three cute girls get priority.
What’s actually happening in these situations? We’re placing value on beauty. We’re placing A LOT of value on beauty. Sometimes (in extreme situations) we’re placing ALL THE value on beauty.
And we’re taught these things from the moment we walk into that birthday party. We compare ourselves to each other. We want to be more beautiful than the next girl. We cry over how ugly we are. We diminish all of our other incredible characteristics because we feel like we are worth absolutely nothing if someone, somewhere doesn’t think we’re beautiful.
Next time you are about to geek out about how cute a little one looks, try holding your breath and saying something else first. It might be really challenging. You might even find yourself tongue tied, out of things to say to this little human in front of you. As I’ve been experimenting with the idea, I’ve found myself shocked at how frequently I want to say “You look so cute”. And that’s okay. We have to retrain our brains after years of being told by society that beauty holds this much value.
So what does it look like? A world where we aren’t telling our kids how beautiful or pretty they are? Is it a sad world? Or a hopeful world? What does the world look like if we stop placing the value of a woman on her beauty and start placing it on other things? What can you tell a little girl? What can you ask a little girl?
You can ask her what she has in common with her brother. You can ask her what she likes about the doll she is holding. You can teach her to see how great her mother is by giving her a compliment while she’s watching. You can ask her how old she is. What she learned in her third year of life, what she hopes to accomplish in the next year. You can ask her why she looks up to her dad. You can ask her why she loves to color with the purple crayon. And if you must ask her or compliment her about her appearance, you can ask her why she likes to wear the bow in her hair. Ask her why she picked that color dress and what it means to her. Ask her if she wants to look like mommy someday. Just ask her. Ask her anything else.