I’m So Fucking Tired of Pretty

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“Well, I guess we’ll be the brains, and you can be the beauty.”

These words hit me like a ton of bricks, when they came from some well-meaning male friends in high school. We had joined forces, two guys and myself, to work on an English project. I had thought we were coming together because we were the smartest in the class, but that comment made me question my assumption.

Fuck pretty.

I don’t mean, “fuck looking pretty,” or, “fuck other people thinking women look pretty,” or even, “fuck trying to look pretty.” I mean I’m tired of everything that “pretty” means.

This is for my sweet 3-year-old daughter, who likes trains and cars as much as dolls. Who chooses pink cupcakes, but says her favorite color is blue. For the past three years, I’ve been trying to figure out what to tell you, when you finally started asking what I was putting on my face as I applied makeup.

I could tell you it’s stuff to make me look pretty. That’s partially true, but doesn’t that imply that I don’t think I’m good enough without it? What kind of a role model does that make me? I don’t want you to think that you need makeup to make you look pretty. Because you already are.

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But I’m afraid to tell you that. Because you’re so much more. You’re pretty last, after being smart, brave, precocious, funny, silly, generous, spunky, and a whole host of other things.

Fuck pretty.

This is for my amazing 14-year-old stepdaughter, who is beautiful and petite, but hates every picture taken of her and seems to honestly think she is fat. I wish I could revert to a time before selfies. A time when the only way to examine yourself was in the mirror, not through multiple filters at various angles, with the option to photoshop out flaws, all through the scrutinizing and impersonal lens of social media. Being a teenager was hard enough before all of these things.

I wish I could get you to believe that it wouldn’t matter if you were “fat” (although you’re not), and that even if you were, you’d still be intelligent, kind, thoughtful, independent, creative, and yes, you’d still be pretty. Because pretty isn’t about having a smaller nose or thinner thighs.

Fuck pretty.

This is for my incredible 17-year-old niece, who is quickly becoming a face to watch on the Canadian modeling scene. Scouted by the top agency in Canada at the sweet age of 16, she is hurtling into a career where it is all about being pretty. I wish I could tell you how proud, but how worried I am.

I’m worried you will succumb to an eating disorder, to keep up with other models, or get ahead. I’m worried you will forget that you are so much more than your face, your hair, your legs. Because you are smart, sassy, hilarious, sweet, and generous as well as pretty.

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Fuck pretty.

I wish I could explain, after all these years, why I still want (and sometimes need) to wear makeup. I see other women who don’t wear makeup, and I think, “Wow! She looks amazing, and you can tell she’s not wearing anything.” Why would I assume no one thinks the same of me? My husband prefers me without makeup. And yet, I would never be caught dead going to a party without makeup on. What am I so afraid of?

It’s a complicated thing, this idea of pretty. I continue to want to fill the role of looking pretty, but I find myself getting angry when that’s the first thing about me that is recognized by others. And I am fiercely protective of my youngest daughter’s exposure to the word and all of its implications.

In this Disneyfied girl culture that we’re raising our daughters and nieces in, I worry that our girls are learning that the heroine always has a tiny waist and perfect makeup and hair, and is saved by a prince. That’s not who our girls should be aspiring to be. The heroines are girls like Malala Yousafzai, who took a bullet in order to get an education, and is the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala, who is courageous, eloquent, intelligent…and pretty. Not because she has a tiny waist, and perfect hair and makeup, but because she is all of those other things.

Fuck pretty.

Related post: To My (Maybe) Daughter

Things I Need My Daughter to Know

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My Dearest Daughter,

One day you will be old enough to find a computer and Google me or yourself and maybe you’ll find this list of things that I want you to know.

I guess I could write them on a real piece of paper and put it in the top of my closet with your brother’s baby teeth and the shard of glass that I pulled from your other brother’s butt cheek, but I think we both know that it would get forgotten up there. Or lost.

I’m sorry I’m not the normal kind of mother who makes baby books and writes things down on paper, and I hope that when you read this, if ever, you choose to apply it to your life instead of freaking out because OMG MY MOTHER IS SO WEIRD. Please don’t rebel and post half-naked selfies on the Internet. That is not advisable.

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Just … don’t.

Things I Want My Daughter To Know:

It’s important to act like a lady, but some situations warrant unladylike behavior. If you’re going to act like a crazy bitch, make it count. When the deed is done, fix your hair, reapply your lipstick, and carry on.

You’re beautiful. Make the most of what you’ve got. But also? Your behavior and your words will make or break you. Spend just enough time on your appearance to make you feel confident, and spend the rest of your time being the kind of person that others want to be around.

Be real. I want so much for you to be comfortable enough with who you are to actually be yourself all of the time. That person rocks. Don’t try to hide her.

Other women will try to tear you apart. I want you to carefully select girlfriends who will lift you up and support you. Pick friends who GET YOU. Band together with people who make you laugh so hard you cry happy tears, and who cry sad tears with you when appropriate. If you have friends like that, it won’t hurt as much when the haters hate.

Haters are gonna hate. One day you’ll stop caring. Until that day comes, it hurts.

You don’t owe anyone anything. If anyone touches you in a way that you don’t like, don’t just sit there and allow it to happen to you.

You’re going to be underestimated. I hope that you focus more on the high that comes from surprising people with your intelligence, than the temporary attention you’ll get from being a pretty girl. Anyone can be a pretty girl. No one can be YOU.

Your father and brothers are going to make it very hard for you to date. I’m sorry about that, but hopefully the boy who manages to impress those three will be worthy of your time and affection.

If you find a boy you like, then date him. You don’t have to marry him. Even if he asks you to.

You come from a long line of strong women. I expect you to uphold your heritage by finding yourself, settling in, and being true to yourself no matter what life throws at you. When in doubt, see #3.

Please, don’t have sex until you’re ready to have babies. Don’t have babies until you’re with the man you want to father them. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t stop educating yourself until you’re employable. Yes, I wrote all of that in bold. Take heed.

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Even if you’re terrible at it, do something. Eventually you will find the right thing, the thing that makes you happy. The thing you’re not terrible at.

If you don’t like your situation, CHANGE IT.

And finally, go get a proper bra fitting. It’s well worth the extra time and money. It’s amazing what proper undergarments can do.

Related post: The Multiple Personalities of a Tween Girl

Teaching Our Girls About Friendship

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My daughter is in 7th grade in a small private school. She’s known most of the kids in her class since kindergarten and even one or two since preschool. While they’re not all close friends, there isn’t much overt bullying going on. The teasing and undermining is much more subtle than that.

At the beginning of the school year I began hearing from my daughter about some of the comments zinging around the class, most often among the girls. They go something like this:

“Why are you wearing those leggings?”

“What did you do with your hair? Just, no.”

“What is that smell? Don’t you use deodorant? Gross.”

These comments are made in a derisive tone, well within earshot of others – in the classroom before everyone’s settled, in the hallways while switching classes, in a small group at lunchtime. It’s bad enough being called out publicly about bodily functions and personal fashion choices, but what breaks my heart is that my daughter, who occasionally has been the target of these careless words, considers some of the commenters her friends.

Which makes me wonder: do our girls really know what it means to be a friend?

I think back to when my daughter was young and I supervised her little girl play dates. When there was bickering over who got to play with what toy first, I helped the girls take turns. If someone used unkind words, we talked about hurt feelings and how we could say what we needed to say in a nicer way. We practiced sharing. There was no screen time. Two hours and a bowl of Goldfish later, the little ones would smile and hug each other goodbye. Easy. Simple.

Now my daughter and her friends don’t have play dates; they hang out. They ask to be dropped off at Starbucks. They squirrel themselves away in her bedroom, whispering and giggling. They share their lives through Instagram, Snapchat and grammatically incorrect texts full of emoticons and acronyms. As a parent, I’m mostly on the sidelines — available but rarely called on. The opportunity to help her navigate relationships in real time is so limited, yet it feels like this is when she needs the most guidance.

Middle school is a time of tremendous change and increased demands for our daughters: breakouts, boobs, periods, crushes, school dances, fear of missing out, fear of being left out, constant connectivity through technology, more rigorous homework, more challenging classwork, plus an array of after school activities. It’s a lot to handle.

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At home, my daughter gets a lot of love and support and a fair amount of structure, but I know she’s relying more and more on her peers for direction as she begins to piece together who she is and what she’s all about. When I hear about this lack of compassion among the girls in her class, it makes me think it’s time for us to step back in to their social lives – even if they don’t like it, even if it’s awkward.

Teaching our girls not to bully and to speak up when they see or hear one person being unkind to another is the first step, but we have to do more than that. We have to teach our girls to build each other up everyday. A true friend will offer support instead of giving in to jealousy. She will say yes instead of no, awesome instead of lame. She will pull you aside in private to let you know something that might be embarrassing, not call you out in front of the class. She will listen to you with an open heart. You might be competitive with each other, but that competition is inspiring instead of mean-spirited. You instill confidence in each other. You accept each other’s differences and champion each other’s creativity. In a true friendship, you choose compassion over judgment. Our girls should not settle for less.

I don’t think this kind of behavior is atypical for the age, but that doesn’t make it okay. I don’t think my daughter’s never said a careless or inconsiderate word to a peer or a friend. I don’t expect her to like or get along with everyone she meets and vice versa. To those people I tell her, at the very least, do not be unkind. If that means saying nothing at all, then say nothing. What I want her to understand is how to be a good friend, how to recognize friendship in others and how to disengage with girls who undercut her confidence.

Girls don’t need to tear each other down – there are plenty of other people in this world who will do that for them.

Instead, I want to encourage my daughter and her friends to be each other’s biggest fans, to believe in the power and beauty of friendship and to start with compassion. 

This post is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion Campaign.

Who Will Tell Her She’s Not Beautiful

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addybeauty

“Mommy, come quick!” my daughter shouts at me from the upstairs bathroom. I fly into the room expecting to find a child half-drowned in the bathtub. Instead I find my five and a half year old standing on the stepping stool and staring at her underwear-clad body in the mirror.

“I tilted it down and now I can see my whole body,” she exclaims as she twists side to side and smiles at her reflection. She flexes her arm and comments on her growing muscle. “I’m super strong.”

To my eyes she is perfect. She is perfect in her own eyes as well.

Someday though, someone will tell her that she is not perfect. As this thought crosses my mind, I feel the anger of a thousand voices welling up inside me. Someone, some asshole is going to come and tell my perfect child that her feet are too big and she has her father’s nose. They will look at her skinny torso and suggest that she should eat more or they’ll look at her little thighs and suggest she eat less. Someone is going to come in one day and change the way my daughter sees herself forever.

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As she sashays in front of the mirror, my mind is racing as I try and think though who it might be.

She has a gaggle of girlfriends at school and some of them have older sisters. Will it be one of them? It’s so hard to imagine. She’s at the age now that the worst insult possible is “I won’t be your best friend ever again”, a situation generally resolved within twenty four hours. Telling one another “I don’t like the way that you look” is not even in their lexicon.

It won’t be the TV…Dora dresses like a third grade boy, Caillou practically is a third grade boy and even Minnie Mouse manages to keep her assets covered. No, I don’t think that the nefarious confidence-sucking body image vampire is going to come in on the television cable.

I step over to my gorgeous child and give her a hug. “Look at us, mommy,” she says, pointing up towards the mirror. I stare up and absentmindedly begin fingering the grays in my hair. As she primps and poses, I frown and poke at the bags under my eyes and reach to try and smooth my forehead. I hear a giggle and turn to see my daughter copying my crazy faces. Then she looks over at me and says, “Mommy, you’re beautiful.”

It turns out that I’m the asshole. I’m the jerk that is teaching her about what society thinks. I’m the one introducing the ugly thoughts. She tells me to flex and I start moaning about arm fat. She tells me to wear my black pants and I tell her that my butt is too big. She says, “You’re beautiful, mommy!” and I say no and start pointing out my faults. I will be the one to tell her that her definition of beauty is wrong. I’ll start her second-guessing. I’ll be the one to bring the magazine definition of attractive into the house and tell her every single way I don’t measure up.

“I want to grow up and look just like you, mommy.”

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She isn’t seeing the same person I see – a haggard, middle-aged mom who constantly belittles herself. She wants to look like the wild-haired goddess she sees – who scares away the bad men, holds her close and showers her with love and affection.

I extend my mental fingers and claw the negative thoughts right out of my head. I will not be the one that sucks away her self-confidence. I will not subject her to a death by a thousand cuts…the never-ending stream of judgement and doubt that runs through my brain.

I will wake up tomorrow and tell her that we are beautiful. And I will do it again day after day after day until I believe it as firmly as she does. Someday, someone may tell her that she isn’t perfect. But dammit, I swear that this person will not be me.

Related post: Sometimes I Cry

15 Things I Want My Daughter To Know

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Nine years ago, a doctor handed me a pink bundle and said, “She’s yours”.

And while it may not have been said out loud, I’m pretty sure the “Don’t screw her up” was implied. I swear I heard it through my morphine haze.

Since the day that pink bundle was resting on my C-section scar, the weight and enormity of raising a confident, plucky, strong girl has never been far from my mind.

These days, with social media, celebrities who weigh approximately 46 pounds, mean girls, and Kim Kardashian breaking the interwebs with her derriere, parents of girls have their work cut out for them. I have my work cut out for me when the pages of magazines hold pictures of practically naked women, their oiled hineys and sky high coifs (Seriously, Kim? Seriously?).

Lately, I have found myself quietly watching the little girl we used to have transform into a young lady and if I’m being honest, that transformation has me running scared. She just turned nine this week which means, I only have nine more years to get her ready to fight for herself in the real world.

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Nine more years to make sure she knows how to braise a roast, manage her iCloud storage and distinguish between a douchebag and Prince Charming.

That’s not a lot of time.

And it makes me twitchy.

What if I forget to tell her something? What if I miss an opportunity to impress upon her the importance of never buying sheets with less than a 200 thread count? What if she leaves my house without ever having learned how to make the Thanksgiving stuffing her father’s side of the family eats (it’s DISGUSTING but, dammit, she needs to know….).

There are just so many things I want my daughter to know. Like…

1. Girls should never apologize for saying NO. Say it to boyfriends, bosses, scary PTA moms, and the pushy lady at Bath and Body Works. And own it. Because you are allowed.

2. Every girl should own one couch that they picked out with no one else’s opinion except their own.

3. You may love him now, but his mother loved him first. Respect that.

4. Knowing how to cook will save you hundreds of dollars in your first apartment.

5. Tampons suck.

6. When money is tight, peanut butter has protein, oranges prevent scurvy and $10 bottles of wine are necessary.

7. The girl is always entitled to an orgasm. Every time. It’s not just about him. And if he says otherwise, put your clothes back on and go home.

8. Life is too short for cheap haircuts and flimsy pink razors. Pay extra for both.

9. Every girl needs a good pair of tweezers. Because chin hairs.

10. Jackie Onassis never wore Daisy Dukes. You shouldn’t either.

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11. The man to marry is the one who will stand next to you, not in front of you.

12. Shoes and handbags ALWAYS fit. So buy the good ones.

13. Nothing makes a woman look more in control than a well cut dress, spike heels and red lipstick. Work it. Even if you think your hips are too big.

14. There will be women who will judge you, challenge you and try to break your spirit. Ignore them. Smile at them. Pity them.

15. If you are going through it, your mother probably did, too. Ask for her advice.

And this list is just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even get into the merits of binge watching Netflix after a stressful work week, the necessity of milk chocolate or the fact that her thighs won’t always look like they do when she’s sixteen.

I have so very much that I want to tell her, that I don’t want to forget to mention or expound on. To somehow make it easier for her to grow into the woman I know she’ll become.

As I look at her now, sitting next to me, quietly doing homework, I am in awe of her.  Speechless, really, as I watch this beautiful creature grow right before my eyes.

Fortunately, I still have nine years to remember what I want to say.

Related post: 5 Tips For Raising a Tweenaged Daughter