Last night as I was putting my 3 year old, Keira, to bed, she asked to give me hugs and kisses. As I bent down to receive her tight little squeeze she grabbed my hair and started to pet it, almost in awe. She then proceeded to say to me, “Mommy, your hair is soooo pretty! I love your Queen Elsa hair!”
To explain, I had washed my hair the night before and hadn’t yet had the chance to straighten it. My hair is long and thick and curly and so I straighten it because I honestly don’t know how else to deal with it. I braid it into a big thick loose braid when its not straight to prevent it from knotting. I suppose it would look quite a bit like Queen Elsa’s hair to a Frozen obsessed three year old.
I smiled back at her and let her know she has gorgeous hair too. She doesn’t have my thick, loose wavy curls. Instead she has an amazing little Afro when its not done up in cornrows.
I often hear we shouldn’t tell our girls they are pretty. They will hear it enough from everyone else. We should focus instead on telling them they are smart, they are capable, they are strong. Only, I know too well that girls do need to hear they are pretty as much as they need to hear that they are smart, they are capable, they are strong.
I spent much of my school years having my faults pointed out to me on almost a daily basis by my peers. I had acne, I didn’t wear just the right clothes, I had glasses, I was just a little weird. The hair my daughter thinks is fit for a Disney Queen? That was too frizzy, and in fact some girls, who didn’t even know me, thought it would be funny to call me Frizzle for two years straight. At one point, in grade 7, a friend of mine asked me when I was going to get curves. I’d get asked why I wear a bra. I’d hear jokes about my “stick legs”. Things only worsened as I hit my ugly duckling phase going into high-school.
By the time I was in my twenties and finally catching the attention of boys, I was convinced I wasn’t pretty enough. I thought that boys hitting on me were just playing some kind of cruel joke right out of Carrie. Admittedly, I was a broken young woman thanks to years of my peers bullying me for my looks and it took too much time for me to snap out of it and feel confident and pretty.
So, as I lay there beside my daughter in bed, as she praised my Disney Queen hair, I started thinking about how soon she would be starting school. I couldn’t help but feel a little sick right at the pit of my stomach. I am not afraid of being separated from her. I am afraid of how other little girls and boys are going to change her. How they might damage her in ways I cannot see. My innocent little girl who sees beauty everywhere, laughs so easily, finds joy in everything and loves with every fibre of her being. I am terrified of those little girls and boys extinguishing her bright and beautiful spirit.
I know I can’t control what others say to her when I am not around, but for now I will do my best to help build her up in every way I can, and will continue to do so all my days. So yes, I do tell her she is pretty or beautiful or gorgeous. I tell her she is smart when recites the alphabet, or counts to 20 or recognizes written letters. I tell her she can do it when she seems unsure of her abilities. I build her up every single chance I get, careful to never tear her down.
My hope for her and for my younger daughter, Ava, is that they will never encounter bullies, that they will never feel the sting of words against them. That they will never feel the heartbreak of their best friend turning from them because they aren’t cool enough. More realistically though, I hope that when the world tries to tell them they are not beautiful, that they are strong enough not to let it get to them and damage them.
So no, I do not see the harm in telling my girls they are beautiful when I know soon enough the world is going to tell them otherwise.