Because You’re Gorgeous…

Flea

Like most four-year-olds, Flea rarely stops moving. She resists anything approaching a cuddle during daytime hours, submitting to a moment or two of stillness before wriggling free to get on with her current project.

So one of my favourite times of day is bedtime. Flea has eczema, and each night she lies on my bed while I rub cream into her skin. While she lies there, we tend to make up stories together, or chat quietly.

Tonight, as we finished the story of Steve the Monkey (his favourite food is bolognese), I looked at my little pink girl in her Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas and said, “You’re gorgeous.”

Flea sighed contentedly. “Yes. I know.”

“Oh, you do? What’s most gorgeous about you, then?”

Flea didn’t skip a beat. “I have a gorgeous smile and I like the way I look in my clothes,” she said.

I really love that Flea likes herself. But almost immediately, I start to wonder: how long does that last? How long before she starts to wonder if she really is gorgeous, if she’s tall enough, thin enough, pretty enough?

God forbid, will she end up thinking she’s ugly? I once knew a woman who put on her make-up each day without looking in the mirror. How does that happen to otherwise smart, rational women?

How can we, raising our gorgeous girls, help them to keep that confidence a little longer?

I don’t have any brilliant plans. I think limiting TV helps. I think not having glossy magazines helps. I think regularly telling Flea that judging people on their appearance is utterly stupid might help. I think single-sex schools can protect girls from some of these issues, for a little while.

But what do you do? I’d love to know how other parents of girls protect that precious self-belief.

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

27 Comments

  1. 18th February 2010 / 10:19 pm

    I do the same things as you – she only watches cbeebies (no real body issues there) and not very much of it, and we have no glossy magazines in the house. I’ve never been one for those anyway. And, I keep telling her that yes, she is gorgeous.
    I don’t believe I am gorgeous and I would hate for her to feel like I do so I’d rather give her too much self confidence – is there such a thing?

  2. 18th February 2010 / 10:19 pm

    An excellent post! I’m worried about my little girl and she’s only 8 months. I think telling your child they are beautiful just the way they are does help them as it will build their self esteem. Unfo the media portrays that we should all look a certain way and sometimes it’s unavoidable. If I limit it here then surely she’ll just find it somewhere else. Who knows, maybe in 10 yrs the world will be a different place. Am I being rather optimistic? I don’t know about single sex schools because I think girls can be more cruel than boys but that’s just my opinion. Again, excellent post! Can’t wait to read other thoughts!

  3. Jane Brocklebank
    18th February 2010 / 10:22 pm

    Great post, I so want to pass “self-esteem” on to my daughter somehow … but is that possible? No matter how many times I tell her she is gorgeous, will she believe that in 10 years time? Over a few bottles of wine one night, some girlfriends and I were discussing the same subject, and one said that her mother always told her she was beautiful when she was growing up. But … (and here’s the controversial bit) what she really wanted was approval from her dad, who was usually busy, tired or working late. Who knows how we can instil this self belief in our girls – the important thing is that we try. Oh yes, and model that self-belief for them in ourselves!

  4. 18th February 2010 / 10:27 pm

    I’d have to disagree with you on the school thing too. My 6yo has had horrid things said to her by other girls in her class regarding her appearance (and she is a nice looking child with nothing obvious about her to pick on, if you see what I mean) but never by the boys. In my own experience boys really aren’t bothered by those sorts of things at all.

  5. 18th February 2010 / 10:35 pm

    @Barbara – I don’t think there is such a thing. I think too much praise can seem insincere, but if it’s sincere, I don’t think it can be too much.
    @Laura/Abby – For me, the school thing was more a benefit during my teenage years – I think we felt insulated from the need to attract boys between 8am and 4pm and I know I used to feel the relief of getting off the school bus (shared between us and the local boys’ school) each morning and getting into school.
    Yes, some girls are bitchy but certainly at my school I don’t remember ever being targeted or seeing anyone targeted over their appearance in particular – but I lost count of the number of adolescent boys and young men on the bus or out and about who felt it was okay to shout remarks about young girls’ breasts, figures, height, weight and general attractiveness – in a way that I thought was very aggressive and intimidating.
    @Jane- yes, you may be right. I think girls often expect to be treated as their fathers treat them. Which isn’t great if you’re a single Mum or from a single parent family yourself 😉

  6. 18th February 2010 / 10:35 pm

    I think (or at least I hope) that telling them, and telling them, and telling them again just how beautiful they are will mean that at base, however nasty people can (and will be) they’ll just, in their bones, know it. But if you come up with something better than that, let me know.

  7. 18th February 2010 / 10:44 pm

    Oh if you find out please tell me. I believed myself to be hideous by the time I was six. I would do anything to save my daughter from that.

  8. Liz (LivingwithKids)
    18th February 2010 / 10:45 pm

    I love her confidence, how fabulous! As someone who was teased for having ‘googly eyes’ at primary school (by girls, not boys) I think it’s unlikely going to a single sex school can protect a child from nasty comments forever – but it sounds as though Flea is going to have enough self-esteem to deal with any unpleasantness/jealousy in years to come. As far as the glossy mags debate goes… well, I’ve spoken to numerous anorexics/bulimics over the years, who have all told me that images of models/celebs had nothing to do with the development of their eating disorders, but everything to do with a deeper rooted emotional trauma, although I’m sure that’s not the case with all body dysmorphia.

  9. 18th February 2010 / 10:56 pm

    @PlanB – yes, someone needs to invent a cast-iron self-belief jacket we can dress our little girls in. But in the meantime, I’ll keep trying to drill it into her bones!
    @Kat – six? Gosh, that’s horrible for you – I hate to think something would make you feel bad at such a young age. I hope you know how fab you are now, mind.
    @Liz – Reading these posts, it occurs to me maybe I didn’t pay attention to nasty comments as a kid. I was probably quite an easy target, but I just WAS very self-assured. I hope Flea gets that, I’m just not sure how *I* got it!
    I think with glossy mags, it’s not so much about body dysmorphia (did I spell that right?) but just about this idea that being beautiful and female is being a certain way, or that ‘cool’ can be equated with having the right handbag, mascara, designer dress or whatever. It’s more a feminist/liberal thing, maybe, than an ‘thinness’ thing.

  10. 18th February 2010 / 11:50 pm

    Ohhhh, painful. I do think that one of the advantages of having a boy is not to have to face the pressure girls are under appearance-wise… maybe I’m being naive… I feel, possibly naively again that much of our self-confidence comes from how we are raised and I think Flea has a head-start there…

  11. 19th February 2010 / 12:40 am

    Sally, confidence and self belief are I believe positive traits that you are born with. Some kids have them and some dont.
    I have four children. Two boys and two girls. I have treated them equally and with the exception of my first son – they have have had the same environmental factors.
    My first two children were boys… I longed for a girl.
    I got her. Baby number 3. My soul mate…???
    In reality she should be the most balanced of all my children – but she is not. She lurks in middle child land even though she has been doted on by me from the moment she was wheeled out of the SCBU unit she craves affection.
    Though she is deeply insecure she has a gift. She is an amazing model. Where in her everyday life she cant sit still for as much as a minute, when working she can sit – in the same position for more an an hour. She shrinks in a group of classroom peers but glows at a casting for a job.
    She is a worker – but one of those kids that tries hard at whatever she does … but is always pipped at the finish line by those kids who seem to have it all.
    Then her younger sister came along. She wasn’t planned but she has luck on her side. Whatever she turns her hand to she does with ease. People warm to her – she is funny…. our FunnyGirl. You can’t stay cross with her because she has the ability to melt your heart… I realise that I am digressing here… but my point is that FunnyGirl is just like Flea.
    Happy within her skin… she watches TV (more than she should) and she feels the constant emotion from her sister (we all do) but she would still stand up on stage in front of a room full of people and tell them that she is the most wonderful thing in the world.
    You know…
    You either have that – or you don’t.
    I fight a constant sadness as a mother that one of my children has something more.. But FunnyGirl has that something… the thing that you cant put your finger on that shines and makes you smile.
    Flea quite obviously has that too and it is a precious gift that is to be loved and cherished… a gift that I wish I’d had and that I wish I could bestow on each of my kids.

  12. 19th February 2010 / 7:01 am

    I would worry about this so much if I had a little girl, it’s such a tough one.
    I think your approach is about the best thing you can do – raising Flea as you do, with love and an attitude that fills her full of confidence in her self and the world around here. And I think it is about accepting the fact that yes, she is going to have to grow up in a world where beauty is given unrealistic value and she is almost certainly going to have times of feeling insecure – I think that as a woman that may just be part of growing up, but she will have you with her to talk about insecurity and doubt and I’m sure she will do just fine.
    The only thing I would say is that as much as we SHOULD tell our daughters that they are beautiful, we should also tell them equally that they are clever, imaginative, funny, brave etc. Let ‘beautiful’ be just one of many adjectives you use to describe her and give her a confidence in all areas of her personality. I don’t know, but maybe those days when we don’t feel beautiful, as we almost inevitably do, knowing we are plenty more besides makes it feel less important.

  13. 19th February 2010 / 9:31 am

    it’s terrifying, isn’t it? All you can do is teach them self belief and self love.

  14. 19th February 2010 / 10:03 am

    @Sparx – yes, weirdly I think I’d worry a lot less for boys, although I’m sure they have insecure moments, too.
    @MummyTips – such an interesting perspective, thanks. Perhaps some kids just are born with more self-belief than others. I sort of hope so, for Flea’s sake – she’s shy, sometimes, and careful of social interactions, though, unlike FunnyGirl, but she certainly seems to like herself, and thinks she’s pretty funny.
    @Josie – Good point, I remember once arguing with my Mum about that – I said I made a point of not constantly praising Flea’s appearance when she was a toddler because I didn’t want her to feel that being PRETTY or whatever was the be all and end all of success – so I’m a lot more likely to praise Flea for being kind, or patient, or polite, or funny, or whatever, than attractive. Hopefully you’re right and it means when she maybe doesn’t feel so attractive, she will still feel good about herself.
    @Heather – utterly terrifying. So many women seem to hate themselves so completely, and I can’t bear the thought of flea having to endure that.

  15. 19th February 2010 / 10:16 am

    My daughter is nearly 4 I make a point of pointing out things in people that are beautiful & rarely physically so I will say she’s really beautiful as she’s so kind, or he’s beautiful as he shares nicely. Eliza does watch barbie movies but she never comments on their looks she often says she’s ugly mum she was nasty to that girl. She of course adores herself but I try not to say to much about her body she aspires to be fat she goes around telling people she’s fat lol & I get a fierce look & have to say she actually wants to be fat telling her she’s thin upsets her lol
    It will happen for sure school will I imagine add the pressure but I hope she knows that yes while people can be pretty on the outside they might not be on the inside.

  16. 19th February 2010 / 11:40 am

    I wrote a longish comment last night and it never arrived! The gist of it was that I tried to raise my daughter to feel loved and secure and I tried to encourage her to think about things for herself. She was always ready to go her own way. I remember feeling really proud of her when she was about 9 when she challenged a group of girls for bullying in her class. She didn’t have an easy ride all the time for not running with the pack but she has grown up to be a fabulous, funny, creative adult, very comfortable within her own skin. I did tell her she was beautiful every now and then but it was almost by the by!
    It sounds to me as if you have given Flea that basic self confidence – I wonder whether it is genetic or just so much easier to pass on if you have it yourself? or a bit of both?

  17. 19th February 2010 / 11:48 am

    I dont just think this is a girl thing. I read somewhere that people dont smile at boys as much as girls, so I smile at my boys all the time and tell them they are stunning, gorgeous and have peachy deletable bums. If you ask them they will tell you they are very handsome, very nonchalantly indeed!

  18. 19th February 2010 / 7:25 pm

    Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Josies comment. I have a three year old daughter who is extremely beautiful. I tell her so often, but I make a point of balancing that by telling her how strong and independent and clever she is aswell.
    Sadly self esteem is always going to be an issue for women in an unequal society. We just have to do the best we can do in the face of that.

  19. 19th February 2010 / 8:23 pm

    Great post. I can’t comment on daughters as only have boys but I can only hope that a rational mother and positive role models (i.e. Not Cheryl Cole or Britney) can help. In the end though, I think we all have to be prepared for the fact that our children will ultimately find their own way. 🙁

  20. 20th February 2010 / 3:34 pm

    Such a great post, Sally.
    I have boys so while not quite the same as raising girls, there is still the issue of instilling that confidence in themselves. And, I think just wholeheartedly loving them and accepting their little personalities is a good start.

  21. 20th February 2010 / 7:19 pm

    Great post. My mum has always been quite fixated on weight, and subsequently I always feel very self-conscious about my weight when I’m around her – she notices every pound gained or lost. I brought this up with her a while back and she said she knows she does it and wishes she didn’t, but it’s her own personal hang-up that has been passed onto me.
    I echo people’s sentiments about single-sex schools. I went to a girls’ school and though I think it had huge advantages over mixed-sex schools, not worrying about appearance was definitely not one of them. Girls are usually much more aware and competitive about looks so I think there was actually more pressure, rather than less.

  22. 21st February 2010 / 7:39 pm

    Great post – she is gorgeous and I really hope she keeps thinking so
    This worries me about my girls, also planning on limiting TV and exposure to magazines etc

  23. 21st February 2010 / 9:48 pm

    @Nat – really interesting technique, thanks for that. I might give it a try with Flea next time we’re talking pretty. Although last night she told me she’s the prettiest person she knows, so I don’t really want to mess that with that story!
    @Elizabeth – sounds like you did a great job. I aim for the same sorts of things with Flea, I hope I do it as well as you!
    @MAdHouse – quite right, too! I hadn’t read that research, how interesting!
    @Gappy – of course you’re right – the insecurity is part and parcel of a wider inequality. And (liberal tendency alert) it’s about consumerism, too – insecurity makes us really very good shoppers, doesn’t it?
    @Hot Cross Mum – God, don’t start me on role models. Who ARE those people raising girls who go to Katie Price book signings and say “You’re my hero”???

  24. 21st February 2010 / 9:49 pm

    @IfICouldEscape – yes, you make a great point about personalities. I think one of the reasons I’ve never been overly concerned about the thin/pretty thing is because I’m confident that I’m a good person, which seems more important somehow. I hope I can pass that on to Flea, definitely.
    @YoungMummy – Gosh, I can imagine how self-conscious you must have been in that siotuation. Does it affect how you’ll be with your kids, I wonder?
    @Crystal Jigsaw – yes, I think some influence is inevitable, it’s just trying to work out why that influence is so pernicious for some kids while others seem to sail through unscathed. So tricky.
    @Metropolitan Mum – She is, and I agree there’s only so much you can do. It’s interesting you mentioned your mum. My mother once told me that she remembered a comment that her own mother made for 40 years – it was about Mum getting so many boyfriends because she was plain. My Gran did’t want my Mum to have a big head about being pretty. Despite being upset, I think my own Mum took a similar approach – I don’t remember ever being told I was pretty or anything like that. It’s funny because I don’t make a conscious choice to tell Flea she’s gorgeous – she just IS, I can’t help but point it out sometimes!
    @Muddling Along – thanks, I really hope so too!

  25. 22nd February 2010 / 7:22 am

    I have 5 kids, 2 of which are girls. Aged 12 and age 3.
    I have to say the biggest thing in my opinion is the self esteem of the parents and the parents relationship. (with single parents I am assuming the parent who is raising them has the most influence but I don’t really know). If a mother has issues with her own self esteem, there is no way the kids are not going to pick that up and copy part of it at least. And even if they don’t copy anything, they are still affected by it.
    I do also believe that different kids are different. I personally believe that children chose their parents and the lives they are being born into. (For people who don’t believe in souls and things like that, just disregard this paragraph) I believe that each one of us is born to experience certain things and learn certain things that our soul wants to learn and chose prior to being born to learn. I believe some people come wanting to learn about self esteem through a family that gives them lots of love, affection and self esteem, while others come to learn through opposites-being put down, having bad role models as parents-and they learn their strengths from themselves through opposites.
    BTW-with boys the self esteem issue is just as tough. For them it may not be so much the beautiful stuff as how the heck am I going to be able to support a family, I am not good at anything… And believe it or not-that is an issue they already have relatively young.
    I think the bottom line is that we have to learn to love ourselves as much as we love our kids.

  26. 22nd February 2010 / 10:59 am

    @Susie – great comment, I do make a real effort not to put myself down in front of Flea. I see so many women who are constantly talking about looking fat or old or having big teeth or a big nose in front of their daughters and I do worry what those girls are learning about self-worth and what’s important.

  27. 24th February 2010 / 8:58 am

    It’s lovely that Flea is confident about herself (she is gorgeous!) as it shows that you have loved and cherished her enough to give her that easy going self esteem which is important, perhaps even more in today’s world. It has to be counter balanced with the knowledge that you mustn’t judge a book by its cover; I think that tends to come across in films and books for my daughter’s age group (10) – the gorgeous girl with the glossy hair and the cute nose isn’t necessarily the nicest of people, in fact often is horrible, spiteful and unpopular because of being unkind and, thankfully, not a role model at all. I usually say to mine, when sayihg her she is gorgeous, that she is such a gorgeous, kind person on the inside, which is far more important, and she warms to that idea and says ‘I hope so’. Hope this makes sense – I hadn’t meant to ramble but we could all converse for hours on this one!

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