The Ugly Truth

I had lunch with some female friends this week and we were swapping news and updates in the usual way, when one older lady revealed she was soon to be a grandmother.

“I don’t mind whether it’s a boy or girl, as long as it’s healthy,” she said, and we all nodded dutifully and agreed because that’s what you’re supposed to say, I guess.

“When I was pregnant, I didn’t mind if it was a boy or girl,” added another friend. “I just didn’t want a baby that was ugly.”

And we all looked a bit shocked because, well, that’s not what you’re supposed to say. 

My friend went on to confess that when she had her daughter, she was initially disappointed that the baby wasn’t cute. In her family, there’s a lot of praise for big, bouncing, beautiful babies and her daughter was rather scrawny and grumpy looking. When she was pregnant for the second time, she silently hoped for a beautiful baby.

“Luckily, my eldest has really grown into her looks now,” said my friend. “I know all children are beautiful in their own way, but I just wanted my children to actually be beautiful.” 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a feminist. So this kind of conversation doesn’t sit easily with me. I hate the idea that people are judged by their appearance, and I consider the way that girls are raised to feel they must conform with certain standards of grooming and beauty is nothing less than tyranny.

And yet…

I look at Flea and I see that she is undeniably cute. She has long blonde hair and big eyes, and skin that makes me weep with bitterness. Her nose turns up at the end and her ears don't stick out. I appreciate there’s a degree of parental bias at play here, of course.

I know part of what makes Flea popular is the fact that she has a brilliant sense of humour. She is generous and quick to laugh, and has a well-developed sense of the absurd. But I also suspect part of her popularity is about how she looks – research confirms that kids as young as 4 prefer to play with children they consider to be attractive, and I’ve seen time and again that adults indulge Flea because she is small, cute and blonde.  Would they like her as much if she looked a bit weird?

As a feminist, and someone who believes that it’s what’s inside that counts, I am very uncomfortable even typing that sentence. Of course, all children are beautiful and precious and loved. Obviously.

But as a Mother, and someone who wants my child to have the very best life she can, I breathe a (slightly uneasy) sigh of relief that my daughter is pretty. I know that people who are considered attractive tend to have more friends, are more likely to get a great job, will probably earn more over their lifetime, and have more successful love lives. Who wouldn’t want that for their children?

So… when you make wishes for your children do you wish for health and happiness  – and a quick shake of the pretty stick in their direction?   Or do you have a great tip for helping kids understand it’s what’s inside that counts?

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