Motherhood, bullying, and “being pretty”.

I am raising a daughter. A daughter who, without being taught or prompted, has turned into the girliest girl I know. It seems to come naturally to her, and has left me to think – should I be worried?

Before I get started, let me give you a few examples. Keep in mind, she’s not even quite 2 years old yet, and won’t be until October.

– When I get her dressed in the morning, she will run over to the full length mirror and check herself out. She will pose, turn from side to side, and say “Ooooh”. I have never taught her this, nor do I “Ooooh” at my own image in the mirror. Usually I barely have time to get myself ready at all and am lucky if I catch a sideways glance at myself as I’m walking out the door.

– On the very few rare occasions I actually decide to put on makeup for work, she takes notice. She demands that I kiss the top of her hand and leave her with “kissy lips” for the day. She stares at that kiss, makes the “mwah” sound, and kisses the kiss for hours.

– She is obsessed with all things pretty. Necklaces, earrings, purses, scarves, accessories.

– She twirls and spins, and makes her stuffies give each other kisses.

These are just a few examples. While they may not be in themselves something to worry about, I do worry that at such a young age, she seems to be enamoured by them. I wish her to be able to focus on more than just “pretty things” as she grows up.

Looking back to my own childhood (from what I can remember) I feel as thought I was a pretty good mix. While I thrived at more girly activities (dance in particular), I was also one who had fun out playing in the dirt with the boys, playing with tonka trucks, and had more male friends than female for many of my school day years. I found that a lot of females while I was growing up were so catty, and too obsessed with the superficial aspects of life, and not things with substance.

The thought of raising a daughter in today’s day and age terrifies me. News reports are rampant lately, with stories of teenage girls who ended up victims of gang rapes, and cyber bullying. Girls who drink too much in order to “fit in” and then pass out and are taken advantage of by groups of boys who are no longer taught in school that “no means no”, and that a girl who is passed out is not compliant. That’s right. They are no longer taught this in school. When I went to school, sex ed and learning about what constitutes rape was taught. These days, it is out of the curriculum because some parents think it is inappropriate.

Is it more appropriate for our kids to be participating in unsafe situations because you were too uncomfortable with them being taught facts? If you’re not going to be active in teaching them as their parent what is right, what is wrong, and how to stand up for themselves and others, who will? Nobody, if you’ve gotten it out of school curriculum.

Too many of our kids are committing suicide due to bullying. And I get it. It seems there is no way out. I myself was bullied horribly from grades 6-9. It was awful, and I dreaded waking up every day to go to school. Dreaded it. I can’t tell you how many times I faked being sick, or told the gym teacher I wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t participate to save the humiliation of being the only girl nobody wanted to be partnered with – simply because one “popular girl” decided I wasn’t cool anymore.

Stop-Bullying-Girls-with-words-written-all-over-bodies-Jan-12-p112

(photo from Chatelaine.com)

The only thing that got me through, was dancing. It was my outlet, and the friends I had there were my saviours. Thankfully, I had that outlet and made it to High School, because it all turned around there, and I have made friends that have lasted a lifetime.

But what about those kids who don’t have that outlet? That safe zone, and those friends? These days it is hard to escape bullying when the school bell rings, because the internet follows you home. Kids these days are cruel. Much more cruel than they were when I was young.

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(photo from http://www.sidedooryk.com/cyber-bullying-by-james-fox/)

What terrifies me, is how much value my daughter already seems to place in “pretty”. What may happen to her down the road if people keep saying to her “Oh you’re so pretty” and not “Oh you are so smart, and valuable”. What may happen to her if some bully down the road makes her feel so badly about her appearance, and she’s left feeling she’s got nothing else to fall back on. What may happen to her if she feels the only way to be pretty and popular is to drink too much and pass out with people who aren’t taught right from wrong?

My job as a mother is going to be a hard one. I must teach her the lessons that are no longer considered important enough to be taught in school. I must teach her that although she now knows right from wrong, and that “no means no”, not all people have been taught the same. I must teach her that if she decides to go against what I have taught her and drink alcohol, to NEVER leave her drink unattended, and to always know she can call me at any hour and from any location, and I will always come and pick her up. I will never get mad at her for calling me late, and will always be proud of her for phoning me, rather than getting in the car with a drunk driver.

I must teach her that “pretty” doesn’t last forever, and while she is gorgeous, there is more to life than that. I must teach her the value of her intelligence, her creativity, and her talents. Be an example in her life, and not obsess over my body – which as any Mama who is post-birth knows, is not an easy feat.

Above all else, I must try to establish the type of relationship with her that is open. One where she feels comfortable and safe to talk to me about anything. Where she doesn’t feel judged. I feel this will be the hardest one of all, and am already anxious about how I will manage to do it. I’ve been a teenage girl. I know that usually, the last person you want to talk to is your mother. I hope that it won’t be the case with my daughter.

All these thoughts and anxieties, and she’s not even two. But this is how my brain works, and what goes through my head.

If I don’t start now, it might be too late.

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32 thoughts on “Motherhood, bullying, and “being pretty”.

  1. Thank you for posting this. I have a (nearly) 10-month old daughter and already she gets so many comments about her weight and shape (yes, she is a chubby little breastfed baby but not outrageously so – 20 lbs at 10 months is pretty average if you ask me). I have often been told, “don’t worry, she will thin out as soon as she starts walking.” Like I was worrying about this. WHY are people so obsessed about her body already? I would bet it wouldn’t be the case if she were a boy. I am an eating disorder treatment professional so I know better than most the damage that focusing on appearance, being pretty and thin can have on young girls. Sometimes I think I am crazy for worrying about this already but, like yourself, I feel like if I don’t start now, as she starts to understand language, that it might be too late.

    • You’re absolutely right! I have a 1 year old who is all rolls and he gets comments & compliments on them daily.

    • I got the same before my daughter walked. “Oh don’t worry, once she’s running, she’ll thin right out and get a little girl’s shape”. Really? So to have a little girl’s shape, you must be thin?! It’s just awful that we put this on our girls before they are even able to speak, let alone develop a sense of self worth.

    • My little boy was a big baby also and it seemed to be the focus of people around also. Not just girls. First it was “how old it he” then “wooooow hea a big baby” … followed by the thin out comment when they start walking. Every time! Its super annoying I agree.

      • It’s awful, and extends to boys as well as girls.
        I simply wrote from a “daughter’s” perspective because I have a daughter, and was a daughter.
        But it is absolutely an issue for young boys as well.

  2. I hear you I worry about my daughter as well. She love to wear pretty dresses and have pretty hair and the like. I feel one of my most important jobs in life is to instill in her a sense of worth that goes beyond pretty. I read somewhere that dad`s become the arch typically guy for their daughters, that by what I do and say I communicate what is ok for other guys to do and say, I only hope I do it right,

  3. First of all RELAX!! Lol. Just keep communication open-that’s the best you can do, and even when they go thru that spiteful stage, if you have an open relationship with her, you will be able to survive it. Looking back at my teen years, I hid alot from my parents because they were not open at all. I know there’s a fine line between parenting and being your child’s friend, but if being your child’s friend gets your foot in the door and promotes honest communication, then you gotta do what you gotta do. You will know what to do when you get to that time.

    • It’s not that I’m not relaxed…like I said she isn’t even two yet. It is however, difficult to think about. Especially when almost everyone who sees her (family included) always say “Oh look at your pretty dress” or “Oh your hair is so pretty today” or “Oh you’re just the prettiest little thing”.
      It would be nice if it were more like “Yes, that is the letter ‘E’, look at how clever you are”, or “that was very nice how you were gentle with the puppy, you’re very caring”. My point is, that the physical can’t be “it”.
      It can lead to feeling inadequate in other areas down the road.

  4. My girl (turning 3, also in October) was also a fat and happy baby and I see nothing wrong with that! She was all smiles, all the time and HEALTHY! I actually had the nurse practitioner at my Dr’s office sit me down and ask me what she ate on a daily basis and that obesity can start from a very young age…SERIOUSLY?!?! She is now running and playing and has, like all the babes in my family, “thinned” right out. Not that that should matter. She is also quite a tall girl and gets comments on that constantly. “oh she’s so big! She’s going to be huge! She’s a giant!” Personally, I don’t think she’s huge…She happens to be taller then the other kids her age that we know but they are on the short side. Again, not that it matters….I too have these thoughts of raising a daughter in such an image conscious, media saturated world. I tell her she’s pretty and beautiful but also that she’s smart, kind, funny, brave, clever. She’s anything but girly and prefers cars, trains and planes over dolls but still likes to wear her “dressers” (dresses) For now, I’m just going to let her be who she is and encourage and nurture her interests. The teenage years will be hard no doubt, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    • Encourage and nurture her interests – that’s exactly what I hope to do.
      To be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong to tell your child they are pretty, beautiful, handsome, etc. In fact, I think it can be quite healthy.
      But like you said, there needs to be other things that are complimented, like their bravery, their accomplishments, their intelligence, etc.

  5. Your so right J schools should be teaching our children sex education in school, to many young boys/ men have no respect for women and young girls think by letting boys treat them badly l and use them is ok.
    I think as a parent it’s our job to teach our children right from wrong what is excepted behaviour what’s not. Your parents raised a very beautiful intelligent women and your values as a human being are awesome!! your values are on the mark J !! Beauty doesn’t last for ever but intelligence does, part of who you are as a person with education, values on life and your up bringing make you the wonderful person you become when you grow up if you have that steady up bringing and open discussion with your children they will come to you with issues in life because your the beacon in their lives to guide them !! Awesome J love your blog !!!!

    • It is awful. I remember when Mom was still an EPA in the schools, and her grade 5 class (I believe grade 5, possibly grade 6) were going to be given little information booklets. Nothing too graphic, just simple stuff like “Your body is going to go through some changes. You might have to wear deodorant now. If you’re a girl, you will get your period. If you’re a boy, you might have wet dreams”.
      I don’t find that stuff graphic, simply informational. It happens. I’d rather my child get correct, and factual information from a trusted source, than learn from rumors and “friends” who think they know.
      But apparently so many parents found it inappropriate, that the booklet ended up not being handed out to the kids. They learned NOTHING.

  6. Great message, and as a Mom of a boy the lessons have begun nice and early since I don’t count on anyone or any other organization (school/church) to teach my child life’s lessons and rules. That’s what I am here for.

    • That’s so good to hear, and I wish all parents thought as you did.
      Unfortunately, I don’t think they all do.
      That’s what is scary.
      I feel as though our kids are worth it, and we owe it to them to teach them facts, and encourage them in all aspects of their existence.

  7. It’s amazing how this post hit the nail on the head with my fears when we found out baby Zoey was indeed a little girl. I hope to raise all 3 of the kids with the knowledge and confidence to be contributing members of society. It worries me that we live in a society that puts so much emphasis on how we look rather than what we can contribute.

  8. It’s funny that I would come across this today…my 17-month-old just discovered bows and shoes (as in, shoes as accessories and not just neccessities). While it is cute that she screams for her hairbow and tries on several pairs of footwear – especially after having two boys, I’m ready for some girlie stuff – it also scares me. How do I foster her love/interest in this sort of thing without putting too high of a priority on “pretty” or outward appearance? Ugh. And I’m not saying boys are immune to this, but for them it hasn’t been as much of an issue. This is all compounded by the fact that I’m currently trying hard to lose weight, but I continue to work so that they see their mother trying to be healthier and feel better – not just look better on the outside. At any rate, I can certainly relate to this concern!

    • It’s so hard to not focus on the “pretty” as much with our kids, when as adults we find it hard to look past our own perceived flaws.
      I think it’s something a lot of Mom’s are faced with. You’re definitely not alone on that one!

  9. I have 2 daughters and the one thing I strive for is to make sure that they can talk to me and I can talk to them. The open communication you speak of is the source of so many positive things in a child’s life and it is one of the hardest things for a parent to accomplish. I try to be honest when they ask me uncomfortable questions. How did the baby get out of mommy’s belly? “Well, most times, when the baby is ready to come out, the mommy goes into labor and goes to the hospital where the doctors help her deliver the baby.” I always try to keep things simple and realize that I am talking to a preschooler. And, I don’t say things like “That’s not something you need to know” or “We’ll talk about that when you are older” because I want to encourage her to talk to me and those types of responses simply shut down a conversation. Also, the whole body image thing is so important too! She knows that I am not totally happy with my body right now, and that I need to exercise. I frame it all in that I want to be healthy, not that I want to be pretty or thin. But, if I am being honest, I really do kind of want to be thin. 😉

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  11. It is hard to compliment young girls. They look so adorable in their girly dresses and crowns et all. I discussed with a therapist friend and she shared this article with me – http://latinafatale.com/2011/07/21/how-to-talk-to-little-girls/

    It’s a wonderful piece. I think whether we consciously try or not, the girls do get attention for how they look and dress. My father told me a very interesting thing, he said, “K your clothes, make-up and dress are like props, they will get you instant attention but what will make the attention stay is your personality, your knowledge and how well you speak.”. His words ring in my ears till date and I am happy about being pretty, healthy and SMART. It is the whole package. So if there are days I am not looking pretty, I try harder to make it up with my smart ass attitude! 😉

    • I have read this article before, and it is good. I think it should be in balance though. I feel it can be just as damaging to a little girl our boy if they NEVER hear they are pretty/handsome. It just can’t be the only thing complimented on.

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