This is a personal story about something that happened at our house this week. If you are kin to a little girl, teach a little girl, know a little girl, or most especially if you have a daughter, please read our story. I hope it gives you some food for thought, and I hope you’ll start thinking about what messages you are passing along to those CUTE little girls in your life.
This past week our whole family has been sick. Coughing, fevers, coughing, runny noses, coughing, and…did I mention coughing??? One evening the four of us–DH, me, and our 2 little ones–ended up in our queen bed before dinner. Lounging turned into silliness and silliness turned into all out horse-play. After awhile, we agreed we needed to start dinner, and we all headed downstairs. DH and I stood talking in the kitchen about what to make when we heard a loud crash. I ran into the adjacent living room–separated from the kitchen by only a half-wall counter-height bar–at full speed. Isn’t it interesting how you just *know* the difference between the harmless sounds and the ones where you know you need to move fast?!?
Lilah, our 2 year old, was lying face down between the love seat and the train table. I picked her up and the first thing I saw was two drops of blood on the rug. I sat her in my lap, trying to get her not to hold onto me so I could actually get a look at her face. There was blood, lots of it, coming out of her mouth. DH got us a rag and I took her into the bathroom to further check her out, while he cleaned up the rug and couch in the living room. Upon further examination, she had busted her top and bottom lips, and there was blood behind at least 4 of her front teeth, one of which was loose.
When she was no longer having to spit pools of blood from her mouth, we asked her what happened. We had only been downstairs a few minutes before we heard the crash. She replied without hesitation, “I was jumping on the couch!” I guess she was still in horse-play mode, and even though we were only feet away, we hadn’t seen her climb up to stand on the couch. We got her to hold an ice pack on her lips for a long time that evening.
The next day, we took her to the dentist to have her teeth checked out. They did a brief exam and took some x-rays. They are going to see her again next week as well to follow-up, but for now, everything looks okay.
While I am very concerned about her teeth (Did you know teeth can “die” anywhere from 6 months to 5 years after an accident???), and even more so with her lack of fear of potentially dangerous situations (she has busted a lip before jumping off the train table, and is just in general, our fearless one) I am most concerned with a parenting error I have been making that I didn’t really want to admit to myself.
I’m sure most parents think their kids are cute, and I’m no different. I think my little girl is, well…pretty. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Cute. Adorable. And all those other words that describe good looks. I think my little boy is adorable, and handsome, and beautiful, too. But I do find that I *say* how I feel about my daughter’s looks to her much more than I say those things to my son. And when I talk to my son, I’m much more likely to point out things like how compassionate he is, or how witty something he said was, instead of always praising his appearance. I’ve always known deep down that I did it and I shouldn’t, but I just kept asking myself, “What’s the harm in telling her how nice she looks??”
The morning after her fall, my little girl wasn’t gorgeous…or pretty…or even cute. Her top lip was swollen to several times it’s normal size. The area under her nose and above her lips was beginning to turn black. Her lips had dark scabs on them. Add to all that the fact she still had a runny nose from her cold, and her blue eyes were missing their normal sparkle. If I had passed her on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t even have recognized her.
Oh, I knew she’d get better from her fall. Her lips would heal and the swelling would go down. The bruises would fade and her cold would eventually go away. Ideally her teeth would be fine, and she’d look just like she did before. But I couldn’t help but think, “What if it had been worse? What if the damage was permanent? What if this was the way she was going to look from now on? What if she went from hearing people–including ME!!–comment daily about her good looks to never hearing those things again? How would that affect her body image? Her self-confidence? Her self-worth?”
I personally wouldn’t feel any differently about her; she’s beautiful through and through to me because she has so much happy energy, and somehow she always seems to know just when I really need a hug, and because she bursts into song when she’s on the potty which always makes me smile. She’s beautiful because she has such an amazing vocabulary for being so little, and because she tells us she loves us “to the moooooooooon and back!!!” at random times, and because when we’re memorizing a new dinnertime prayer she’s always the first to learn it, and because when we’re out, she slips her hand into mine and says softly, “I like holding your hand.” No matter how my little girl looks on the outside, she will always, always be beautiful to me.
But I was reminded of this Huffington Post article I had read in the past — How to Talk to Little Girls. It was a good read, but I didn’t take it to heart before. “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.”
I want my little girl to know I value her because she’s unique, she’s smart, she’s sweet, and she’s one of the most compassionate kids I’ve ever met. I don’t want her to think her value lies merely in something as superficial as her appearance…especially knowing that one day it might change…perhaps not through an accident like it was temporarily in this case, but even just by growing older, or gaining weight, or just not fitting the world’s current view of beautiful. Yet, what messages have I been sending her??? “Hey, cutie! I love that outfit on you. You look just darling today.”
I’m going to go back and read How To Talk to Little Girls again. And this time I’m going to take it to heart. Oh, I’ll still tell my little girl she’s beautiful–because she is to me no matter how she looks on the outside–but I’ll be sure to focus on her personality, and her accomplishments, and her skills a whole lot more so she knows there are so many great things about her. Because being pretty is certainly not the most important thing, and if she ever becomes less than beautiful in the world’s eyes, I want her to know she has a lot more going for her than just her looks.
Other articles worth reading on this topic:
- Jezebel’s Should We Tell Little Girls They’re Pretty?
- The Golden Gleam‘s 25 Ways To Keep Our Kids Feeling Beautiful
- Kindergarten & Preschool for Parents & Teacher’s 7 Ways To Improve Your Child’s Self-Esteem
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