Why I Stopped Trying To Make My Daughter Pretty


My ten year old daughter Clare only likes to wear clothes from the boy’s section. Preferably a boxy, shapeless t-shirt with pictures of Spiderman or any other superhero on them. She always wears two braids. Always. Even to bed. Her hair is thick, blonde and gorgeous. Clare has beautiful, wide-set blue eyes, high cheek bones and long, slender limbs that remind me of a baby colt. I think she’s beautiful. She doesn’t care. She’s not interested in being beautiful.

Last year, I made her take her braids down for her class picture. It was an epic battle and I played dirty. I used psychoanalysis, telling her I was afraid her braids were like a security blanket (which I am) and that I wanted her to be comfortable in every Hair Iteration and that I didn’t want her to fall prey to bullies who might socially ostracize her (which is true), and to that end I was willing to bribe her with an Obi Wan Kenobe FX lightsaber that could have paid for a month’s worth of groceries.

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But underlying my bid for her emotional well-being, was the down-and-dirty truth: I wanted her to look pretty in her school pictures, her cascading hair framing her face, so I could show her off to friends and relatives.

On picture day, she wouldn’t actually wear her hair down. She wore it in ponytails, then took it down just for the picture. Apparently the entire 4th grade female student body had to witness this anomaly. Shrieking and cooing and telling Clare how gorgeous she looked. After the picture mission was complete, one of the little girls carefully, respectfully braided Clare’s hair for her.

When I got Clare’s school picture a month later, my mission was achieved. She did indeed look very pretty with her flowing locks. But she also looked, well, not quite like Clare.

I’m over it. I’m letting it go. My daughter doesn’t need to fulfill my vision of how she would look most beautiful. She doesn’t need to care about being beautiful. She DOES have to wash her hair at least once a week. There I will not budge. But my girl won’t define herself by her appearance the way I did. The way I still do.

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What defines her now are her passions: making weapons out of paper, learning to sketch manga characters by following tutorials online, playing a version of Dungeons and Dragons with her dad all night, reading The Hunger Games with me, playing the piano and taking up Judo. And so many more things she’s passionately interested in.

These kids man, they teach you how to live.

About the writer

Shannon Bradley-Colleary is a Beauty Maven, Mom Butler and Wife Dominatrix who blogs at TheWomanFormerlyKnownAsBeautiful and is slightly Mustachioed. She's contributed to The Huffington PostThe Today ShowCNNNPR and The Daily MailOnline. She's won BlogHer's Voices-Of-The-Year three years running. You can follow her cruel infamy by subscribing to her newsletter here or following her on Facebook.

From Around the Web


Regina 4 weeks ago

Thank you so much for this.

I am 45 years old, and this exact battle, waged throughout my life, played an ENORMOUS part in my decision not to have children. I was not going to make a child feel about herself the way I felt–feel–about myself, and that was that. Even if I couldn’t help it, I wasn’t going to take the chance.

I would have been an amazing person if I had been allowed to be me. I might have even been pretty, if my clothes and my weight and my hair weren’t constant points of contention. Instead I grew nto someone who is actually unable to perceive my own body accurately (when you’re a normal child who is constantly told she’s fat, you believe what you’re told, because what you see is “wrong”). I have no sense of style; I live in t-shirts and jeans, with my hair in a ponytail, and no makeup–because that look draws the least attention to me. Even if I was thin I’d wear the same.

I am 5 years shy of 50 and I still dream of “someday”–when I will be able to be ME. But unlike my 25-year-old self, I no longer have the luxury of that dream; I’m old enough to recognize how much of my life I have wasted, how much I have thrown away by trying to please someone who could never accept me, because she never accepted herself.

So: thank you for this.

Katie 1 month ago

My mom tried to put me in dresses until the teachers at kindergarten asked her to put me in pants or keep me right side up on the jungle gym. I was so slender we had to get them from the boys section and I had to wear suspenders. I hated girly clothes anyway. Holey jeans, oversized shirts, no pink! Mom did require that my hair be out of my face and my nails clean. Now, I’m a belly dancer obsessed with feathers, sparklies and janglies!

Liliana 1 month ago

Wow! I felt like you were talking about my own ten year old girl! She only wears clothes from the boys section: t-shits with pictures of Spider-Man, Minecraft, Star Wars, etc. And similar interests as well! I too tried to make her look “pretty” for a while, but then gave up when she was about six years old. It was the same realization: it just wasn’t her when I made her wear girly clothes or wear her hair down. No more battles with her and she is happier.

Kristina 1 month ago

Thank you for sharing! My daughter is the same way! She’s 12 and I spent a millisecond trying to make her “girly” before I realized that then she wouldn’t be her! I love her for her passions and all that she is!

Moira 1 month ago

I wish I could share this with my mum. So many years wasted trying to make me something I wasn’t and now not accepting I’m the girliest tomboy ever. I pray I never do this to my daughter :(

Nicole 1 month ago

My mom gave up on me early on, and I didn’t start trying to look girly until my early 20’s. Think of it this way: you won’t have to worry about teen pregnant or jerky high school boyfriends:) I was a late bloomer and I definitely don’t regret it

Natalie 1 month ago

I only allow my children to wear what they’re comfortable in. I grew up swimming in visions of spending hours doing my daughters hair, but I was blessed with two girls who prefer their hair down and brushed. That’s it. So I only insist on pony tails on PE days. They wear cowgirl boots in summer, and dresses as long as possible. My only requirement is that they’re happy and feel comfortable.

cut them down 11 months ago

you should just cut the girls locks cause it will get messy soon!!

Misty 1 year ago

My eldest dd was the same, except it was sweatshirts and a ponytail. I worried so much about her! It seemed as though she only had two friends at school, and she was so sensitive that I was terrified she’d be bullied by the other kids. But I figured it is what it is and stopped worrying, and when I did I realized something remarkable. She truly did not care what any of the other kids thought of her! And what’s more, all the other children realized this and went out of their way to be nice to her. If she missed a day of because she was sick, her classmates and even other, older kids would crowd around me when I went to pick up her sister and ask if she was ok and when would she be back. Even when she was in high school, I could ask almost any kid there if they had seen her and where, and they not only knew her, but could usually point me in the right direction! I didn’t push her in any way about how she dressed or fixed her hair, and when she started eighth grade she decided she wanted to wear contacts instead of her glasses and asked me to show her how to apply makeup. She even had her nails done and wore false eyelashes to her JROTC ball and the prom, with no prompting from me. Her sister was a diva lol and could talk her into trying new things, and would drag her along to ball games and school events by acting like her feelings were hurt if she didn’t go. She was married two years ago, and was the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen, only equaled by her sister at her own wedding a few months later. And most importantly, she has the most beautiful soul you could ever imagine.

Peggy 1 year ago

After 2 boys, I really enjoyed dressing my daughter in the frilliest clothes I could find, and lots of pink. When she got old enough to pick out her own clothes, she became the “tomboy”. She has been beautiful to me in all her stages, and still is. I tried to teach her that what you do and how you act is so much more important than how you look. She must have believed it, because her career now is helping abused and neglected children. She dresses up so beautiful for work, and still enjoys her “grubby” clothes at home. She also has made a home for and takes care of me and her dad since we retired.

Evan Hughes 1 year ago

I was raised by a single mom. When I got to my rebellious stage, I grew my hair out; not to rebel against her or anyone, because I got in to the whole grunge thing, but on a certain level I hoped I would meet resistance. Such is adolescent childishness.

My mom supported me in all of it.. The only time she laid down the law was when I tried to shave the sides of my head for a mohawk.

Now, as an adult, I see how much sexier I look with a traditional hairstyle to most women.

The most important lesson is to be yourself. The rest might come and go, but as long as you’re happy, you’ll find yourself.

If you find yourself being that 27 year with a spiked Mohawk, more power to you. But most people get past such superficial expressions of themselves.

Basically, who gives a shit? How much do you care if they do?

Rachel Khan 1 year ago

How sad that she felt that way originally.

Sarah Juttner 1 year ago

I do want my child to know appearance is important… she can wear whatever she wants but be presentable…. I wish a lot more people took pride in their appearance…. including myself! I am definitely working on getting ready every day…. and not going out without my hair done and yoga pants left at home…

Adriana Allt 1 year ago

I loved this article because it’s true! I tried with my daughter but I gave up soon because I remember how i hated dressing up as a child ( of course that change lol) but as a child i was obligated..and i was was not girlish at all…and it seems like my daughter it’s the same and im glad!! W are not here to only teach as a parent, we are here to be thought by our own kids too and some times we learn more from them than with any other human..

Nadine Healey 1 year ago

sometimes people need to realise their children are human beings and not dolls to be paraded around.

Britta Pischer 1 year ago

My daughter is the most feminine, stereotypical gurl you have ever seen … wants to wear dresses, always plays the nurturing role. I am however not stereotypically the most feminine women, I can dress up and be very elegant. But, I was raised a cowgirl and work in a male dominated industry. So I would have to agree genetics/nature plays a huge part in who we are. Isabella was also at home with me no siblings or day care to push her one way or another until after the age of 2. Everyone is an individual we should allow our children grow into the people they were meant to be.

Josie Baladez 1 year ago

While hormones definitely have an impact on a child’s gender roles, I feel society and culture has a much larger impact on them. The color pink used to be considered incredibly masculine and blue was seen as feminine because it was more “dainty”. Society changed its views on this and now it only seems natural for boys to gravitate towards blue and girls to pink. Dressing “pretty” is an opinion. Some people think that the “pretty” girl looks ridiculous with her hair and face done up so much.It’s hard to please everyone when they all want something different but if my daughter wants to wear a frilly dress today and then a superhero shirt tomorrow I don’t feel I should discourage or encourage either choice. It’s clothing, not gender reassignment surgery.

Danielle Bergum 1 year ago

I’m going to be ostracized for this… however, I feel in many cases there are also underlying hormonal concerns. We have gender roles because our male and female hormones trigger those desires. Yes, culture plays into things we like and dislike – but genetics are a large part of this… even to the colors we are drawn to. Many modern cultures are loaded with hormone-disrupting chemicals… not to include the vast amounts of medications in our cultures – especially during the childbearing years and gestational periods. It is both OK to encourage our daughter’s to be “pretty” because hormonally, this is natural – from a male and female perspective. Rather than constantly degrading our culture for what people like and dislike… I think people also need to look at why the past generation or two have different hormonal structures compared to that of the past. Considering, also, infertility rates…etc. Just offering a different perspective. Not for trying to change our children’s desires… but to realize that some of those gender roles are because of biology… what are we doing prenatally and pre-conception to affect this?

Elizabeth Rahbar 1 year ago

I love this! My toddler wears tutus and rain boots every chance she gets. My teenager prefers button downs, vans and long hair. It’s less of a battle to let them dress how they want as long as they shower properly and wear clean clothes.

Melanie Harpole Langer 1 year ago

I love it!!!!

Cheryl Bromley 1 year ago

How true…our children can be our best teachers.

Sara Navarrete 1 year ago

It takes to be a mom to get this. Before I would have been very judgmental about a little girl wearing jeans and rainboots in the middle of summer, but my kids have taught me to not be judgemental, and to those who still are being mothers, you just need to let your kids be. I love my kids uniqueness and self esteem.

Mikhaila Lamb 1 year ago

I don’t get why we have to put a label on kids. If they want their hair done, great, if not, who cares. Let them be who they want to be and stop saying oh they are a girly girl or a tom boy. They aren’t either of those things, they are unique. Right now my daughter is very young, almost 2, she loves having her hair done and she loves sparkly clothing but guess what, she also like to eat rocks and play in the dirt. I’ll follow her lead as she discovers who she is, not who I want her to be.

jgagnepain 1 year ago

Wow, your kid sounds awesome!

Federico 1 year ago

This was beautiful! Thanks for sharing :-)

Emma 1 year ago

I think it’s great that you’re accepting your daughter for who she is. As a child I dressed in what was comfortable, hated dresses, and loathed makeup. My family was constantly trying to dress me up. At family gatherings I was frequently trapped in a bathroom and covered in makeup and put in nice clothes. I also have very frizzy and curly hair that they would try to style endlessly.
All I learned was that I should be ashamed of how I dressed and it taught me that I wasn’t beautiful in my own skin.
As an adult, I am now beginning to wear some nicer and more feminine clothing, mostly due to the fact that I want clothing that fits and shows my figure well, especially since I need to look professional at work. However my childhood has made it difficult. Despite being constantly forced into feminine clothing and makeup, my family mocks me when I wear a dress or lipstick if my own accord, therefore I never learned how to dress in a feminine or professional way. Moving out has made it easier, since they can no longer see what I’m wearing most days.
The best thing for your child is to let them look how they please. If they choose to change they wont be embarrassed about it, and they will learn to be confident in their appearance.

Jordan Fisher 1 year ago

I am not a mother, hoping to be one some day (definitely not now) but I completely know how this feels from the perspective of a “different” 17 year old. I think I look my best in wigs, with vertical striped pants and black lipstick. Or pink go go boots. Or in a fluffy princess dress. My mother never understood my style but she always accepted that what I wear, I think is beautiful even if it is not what other people define as. I love the fact that your little girl feels confident to say she feels pretty with out having to dress like it! Your daughter is what I wish to have <3 or at least a confident little ball of fierce.

DubyaWife 1 year ago

Truly… from the bottom of my heart… Thank you for this article. Change the names and a few of the details and you have my daughter, my video game, poetry-writing, sword collecting, D&D playing, boys clothes wearing girl. I’m not giving up on making her beautiful, I’m redefining my idea of beauty. Cause she already IS beautiful. No change needed. Thank you again.

Amanda Wasylik Geer 1 year ago

I enjoy reading her blog, so cool to see her on SM. Thanks!

Jennifer Slipakoff 1 year ago

A friend forwarded this post to me and it tugged at my heart strings. We have the opposite situation in our home. We now have a 6-year-old daughter (who used to be our son). We have embraced her, loved her, supported her, and given her a soft place to land and I’m so happy to see other parents doing the same for their children who are trying to just be themselves. It is truly inspiring!

Jodi 1 year ago

I think colors are colors period, I really don’t believe there is one special color for a boy and one special color for a girl! I recently bought my 3 year old son a pink wading pool because it was the one with crabs on it, the blue one just had sharks and whales, and he loves crabs, so pink it was!!

Amber Turner 1 year ago

Great article! What made me sad about my own daughter’s appearance was that fact that she loved being girly and wearing pretty clips in her hair…. until 1st grade when girls started telling her she was a baby for not looking for boyish. She LOVED wearing a dress every day in Kindergarten. That all started to change and so did her confidence. She broke out in rashes we ended up taking her out of school for more than one reason and found an alternative school and homeschool her the rest of the time. She likes wearing dresses again and noone at her new school calls her names.

Viviana Pino 1 year ago

I grew up wearing my brothers clothes Lol… so I wear dresses now but not really. I almost never wear make up. My daughter is a big tomboy who wears a costume on her birthday parties! Its all fun and what ever makes people happy :)

Sharon 1 year ago

>>What defines her now are her passions<<
And this is how boys/men are allowed to live EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Roshni 1 year ago

Man, I wish my mom had read this article when she was battling with me to wear cute lacy dresses with matching jewelry!! :)


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