Why I'll Stop Arguing With My Daughter About Her Need to Be Pretty

little girlIn many ways, my daughter is quite like me. We share the same blue eyes. The same ability to talk and talk and talk and then talk some more. But my daughter, quite simply put, is a pretty girl where I am more of a tomboy. 

It's mystified me from the first time she chose a sparkly pink doll over a Tonka truck, but there it is. I have a daughter who makes straight for the dresses in the clothing store, who once poured an entire pot of glitter in her hair in the hope that she could truly sparkle. Who is unlike me in more ways than I can begin to describe.

It's a challenge as a mother, but not in the ways that so many moms of my generation see it. My challenge is to resist the urge to unpretty my daughter.


If you're not familiar with the term, perhaps it's because I just made it up after reading Shannon Bradley-Colleary's essay "Why I Stopped Trying to Make My Daughter Be Pretty." In her realization that her desperate attempts to fix up her daughter's hair for her school pictures was -- at its root -- a selfish attempt to create one particular aesthetic to share with friends and family, I saw a mother who is troubled by the battle between "pretty" and "letting her just be herself."

In many ways, I identify.

I'm a child of the '80s, raised in a time when the hard work of a generation of feminists was finally being realized with measurable successes. By the time I was born, the battle for a woman's right to choose had already been waged and won. I was a little girl when Sally Ride rocketed into the history books as the first woman in space, and Margaret Thatcher was one of the most powerful people on earth in my childhood.

I grew up in a time when mothers could truly begin to tell their daughters that we could be anything we wanted to be. We took it, and we ran with it, and now that we are mothers ourselves, we continue to push for equality for our own daughters.

We do it, however, with our own angst over every Barbie Dreamhouse and LEGO Friends figurine. Every purchase we make is fraught with questions about what kind of "message" this sends to our daughters. We find ourselves buying things because they scream "girl power," not because anyone asked for them ... or needs them.

Pink, we have been told, is bad. Toys should be gender neutral! Pretty, we have been told, is bad. Women should be judged not on how they look, but who they are underneath.

It's true and not true. Gender neutral toys should be available in mass quantities. Women should be judged on who we are at our core. But in the rush to gain equality, we can't forget what we're fighting for, whom we are fighting for.

We aren't fighting for the color blue or waging a war against eyeshadow. We are fighting for girls to be who they want, be it a ninja warrior or a pretty, pretty princess.

I fight for my daughter. I fight for a little girl who last year requested a bubblegum pink bedroom not because we'd told her it was what was best, but because, when told to choose any paint sample in the hardware store, that was the one that she liked best. I fight for a little girl who has a dresser drawer full of jeans but who still begged to wear a dress and stockings to the holiday parade in 19-degree weather.

I wear blue jeans and hooded sweatshirts with sneakers nearly every day of the week, but that's my choice. It isn't hers. Forcing it on her will not make her smarter or more powerful. A focus on being "unpretty" will make her bitter and uncomfortable in her own skin.

It is not who she is or who she is trying to be, and I have found I'm prouder to be raising a girl who knows who she is than I would be to have a carbon copy of me. 

Realizing that has, in many ways, made parenting easier. I have stopped buying blue. I have stopped pushing dinosaurs and other interests she simply does not wish to pursue (side note, I still bring things up as you don't know you don't like something until after you've tried it).

I fight, not every day, but probably every week, to bite my tongue when my little girl comes traipsing out of her room in yet another outfit I wouldn't be caught dead wearing to the bathroom, forget wearing in public. I buy the little Hello Kitty nail stickers she wants without comment. I accept hot pink cards covered in unicorn stickers with heartfelt emotion equal to the amount poured into making them.

This is what women have been fighting for for years, isn't it? The right for a little girl to be who she wants to be?

Do you ever feel guilty letting your daughter be "girly"? How do you fight the guilt?


Image by Jeanne Sager

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