Why not to tell my daughter how beautiful she is

I know, it’s a nice problem to have.  Almost every time my daughter enters a room, a home, an office or a restaurant, she hears someone says “you’re so beautiful.”  Or sometimes “your’re so cute.”  It’s true.  My Chinese daughter is stunningly gorgeous, a gift no doubt from her first mother, a woman I have never met but whom I deeply admire.  I give her thanks daily for her choice to bring Ava life, and to shelter her and love her for the years that she could.

So what could be wrong with you telling my daughter how beautiful she is?  After all, I  tell her that at least once a day myself!  I tell her that because she is a gorgeous person. Because she is smart and strong and tender and vulnerable.  I tell her that because in her fear and her insecurity and her weakness she is beautiful. I tell her because it’s the soul that sparkles out of her that makes others come alive.  She is beautiful because she brings joy to the room.  She is beautiful because she is determined.  She is beautiful in her bravery.   Oh yes, and she also has incredible lips, a perfectly shaped face and gorgeous black hair and eyes.

My two daughters are both beautiful, inside and out. The problem is that like most other humans, they often learn to value most in themselves what others value in them.  And my daughters hear so often that they are physically beautiful that they just might be starting to believe that it’s the most important thing about them. When my handsome son enters a room he gets comments and questions about his interests and his achievements.  But when my daughters walk into a party, a friend’s home or an appointment?  They almost always hear something about their looks.

You see these wonderful comments are actually objectification all over again.  They come as a compliment.  They’re very well meant.  They’re intended to be kind and to affirm and build up.  But what they do, unintentionally, is to reduce a complex, intelligent, thoughtful and artistic person into an object of beauty.

So please, when you meet my daughters, notice their new clothes, the fun things they do with their hair, the pretty earrings they put in. But ask them too about sports, their academics, and their interests.

Please, keep telling my daughters they are beautiful. Just don’t let it be the first thing you say, the only thing you say, or the thing you say most often.  Don’t forget to remind them that it’s their whole person’s that are beautiful, not just their outsides.

My daughter’s need to know that they are so much more than pretty faces.  They are incredibly beautiful beings; complex and multi-faceted.  Perfect and whole in their own skin.  Full of the wisdom, kindness and creativity that can change the world.


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