Ever since Darling Daughter’s birth, I am witness to people constantly telling her how cute she is. Everyone who met her commented on her appearance, her dress, shoes, hair style. Initially I thought maybe because she’s a baby people didn’t have much to comment on. Soon she was a smart and active toddler. She was a good talker and before long you could have a meaningful conversation with her. Still people continued to compliment on how pretty she looks. It sort of bothered me but I never took it too seriously until Darling Daughter started giving a lot of importance to how she’s looking. She was old enough to understand and smart enough to process that she received more compliments when she looked more girly. As a result there came a time when she refused to wear anything but dresses. She still refuses to tie her hair up because she feels she doesn’t look very nice that way.
I have been guilty of giving such compliments myself. I understand its a habit we get into because our culture expects women to look beautiful before they can be termed smart or intelligent or creative. Media also reinforces these stereotypes. Around an year ago Darling Daughter was watching a cartoon about a dinosaur family she had not watched before. She told me something the Mumma dinosaur said or did and I asked her how she knows it’s the Mumma and not the Daddy dinosaur and my daughter who was all of 3 years that time told me because she has longer eye lashes and pink cheeks!!
We may think they are too small but they notice the tiniest things. I was so unhappy with the animators. Why did they have to beautify female animals for a show meant for kids? The books of opposites often have picture of a boy with shabby clothes under ‘Dirty’ and a dolled up girl under ‘Clean’. I am yet to see a book that has the reverse pictures.
This is what we are feeding into our children’s minds unconsciously and it’s extremely unhealthy. During my short stint as a Pre-school teacher I first hand saw many little girls’ aversion to paint, sand, mud… Anything that would make their hands dirty. Hardly any boy was concerned about dirt and appearance. It can’t be all genetic, somewhere we are responsible for it.
Seeing how Darling Daughter is affected by so much importance to vanity has made me change the way I talk to little girls now. I have also started requesting family and close friends to tone down their appearance-centric compliments and focus on her other qualities. Whenever she says something about looking pretty or beautiful I tell her that being kind and smart is more important than being pretty. On every possible occasion I drill into her mind that people who are kind and polite always look good no matter what they wear, but people who are not very kind don’t always look nice despite wearing lovely clothes.
Thankfully Darling Daughter has started to respond, and is getting more open about wearing clothes other than dresses and occasionally tying her hair differently. I’m not against her wearing clips or frocks, but the reason why she makes these choices bothers me. I know how our society expects too much from a woman and I want my daughter to overcome those expectations. I want her to feel comfortable in her skin and not be vain.
I want her to love her body the way she is and not let anyone define the benchmarks of beauty for her. I don’t want her to look at others for approval where her appearance is concerned. The earlier generations have suffered enough, this generation needs to have healthy self-esteem and body image.
There is nothing wrong in making an effort to look beautiful and to dress well but there is a right time for that. This is her time to run wild, jump in muddy puddles, get her hands and clothes messy doing things she enjoys – not playing Miss Prim and Proper.