A friendly request from the mother of two beautiful children *awkward face*

19 December, 2013

A few days after her third birthday my daughter, Ramona, turned her enormous blue lakes of eyeballs upon me and implored; “Am I beautiful, mummy? Are my eyes pretty? I don’t think my eyebrows are beautiful though.”

THERE’S a gut wrencher for two parents who try really hard to get across the value of the heart rather than the face. There are a million places she could have gotten such a question; the songs we listen to and sing, conversations overheard, even the quite carefully chosen stuff we watch and read. But, you know what, I think the way adults interact with her is a big part of it.

Barely a day passes where someone doesn’t comment on her outfit or hair or prettiness.

Please don’t.

Please don’t greet my daughter by exulting her beauty. She IS beautiful, just as many rosy cheeked kiddos are, but she has enough indicators rushing at her all day about how wrongly important this is- it doesn’t need to be confirmed by friends, family and strangers.

I know how hard it is though- giving a compliment feels like a great instant rapport builder- I so often point out what a cool hoody my nephews are wearing as a way of engaging them. It’s especially hard not to exclaim about an outfit when the toddler has clearly dressed themselves and is wearing two frocks over pyjamas and a Santa Hat.


My advice is to go prepared. When you know you are visiting nephews/ grandchildren/ friends with kids deliberately avoid “Cool Jumper!” and “What pretty hair!” and have some other possibilities in your mind for rapport.

How was your journey here? I got the bus and there was loads of traffic!

How has your day been today?

What animals do you like? I love elephants the most.

Are you reading many books these days?

Who’s this dude? (Referring to the teddy/ action figure they may be holding.)

Mostly though, a simple Hello will do and more natural interactions can come a bit later, as you and this child get more comfortable with each other.

If you are wondering what possible harm a little “Aren’t you gorgeous!” can do – particularly when it is common for adults to compliment each other on their appearance – consider the TV programme Fat Talk. Cameras followed school kids around for a while as they did a simple experiment that involved avoiding ALL talk of body descriptions and compliments. The results were stark- the teenagers felt much, much better about themselves when it was all avoided- even compared to receiving really positive feedback on their image.

It’s not that the word “beautiful” needs to be yanked out of our vocabulary – not at all. I’m not sure there is a parent out there who hasn’t looked at their child and, with a heart bursting with love, spontaneously erupted with a proclamation of their beauty! But in this setting, where people have a close relationship with the child and all manner of things are spoken of, it exists as just one strand of a child’s intricately woven existence. Their physicalness sits next to their kindness, their rambunctiousness, their humour, their insightfulness- whatever other factors of that child’s personality there are, rather than being the primary strand always and constantly commented on.

So please, think twice about commenting on a child’s appearance.

I’ll do my part as a parent and will put The Little Mermaid audiobook in the bin. I will take seriously conversations with Ramona about marketing and advertising and we will don our open yet critiquing hats when it comes to stereotyped fairy tales and films.

Perhaps together we might be able to stave off body insecurity for a few more years at least.

PS For more parenting/ travelling / thrifty blogging follow through Facebook or Bloglovin

You Might Also Like

  • Janine 20 December, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I totally agree but don’t think that outfits count. Style is personal and has nothing to do with the beauty you’re born with, or necessarily with beauty at all. Anyone can have style.

  • Mama Bec (@becb1984) 20 December, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Ooh this is a challenging one. I probably tell my daughter she’s beautiful about 10 times a day – I can’t help it, I look at her and the words fall out of my mouth! And it does make me feel proud when people comment on how cute she is. But I can see your point – it’s putting too much emphasis on her looks. I do try to balance it with talking about how hard she tries at things etc, but maybe I should scale back my gushing. I think it comes from the fact that I have very low body confidence so I want Eleanor to know that she really is beautiful – but maybe the better approach would be to emphasise that looks aren’t that important? It’s a tough one!

  • Shannon Mawdsley 20 December, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Such wise words which I wish everyone would read and follow. I see the results of our societies fixation with image in the counseling room with young people struggling with disordered eating and feelings of low self worth all because they don’t match up to the ‘ideal’ we see and hear around us. Lets all see the inner beauty and strength of people around us, young and old.

  • Vicky 20 December, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I constantly tell my children that they’re beautiful and handsome (I have a boy and girl, but call them both beautiful and handsome, I don’t gender specify), but I equally tell them that they’re clever, and kind and generous too. I think it’s a bit tricky, because it’s a natural thing to say to a child – you think they’re gorgeous, and want to fill them with confidence and self-belief before the media sharks with their ‘you-must-be-thin-you-must-have-blonde/brown/red-hair-you-must-wear-dresses’ orders come marching into their lives. To me, they are beautiful outside and in, and I want them to feel that they are as well. As for commenting on clothes, I’d honestly never given it a second thought!

  • Katie 20 December, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I totally see where you are coming from and hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective so thanks for opening my mind up a bit!

    Like Vicky above says though it is hard because children are just so lovely and beautiful so i say it to mine and others a lot. It’s not exactly related to just their appearance though, just their whole wonderful demeanor.

  • Leslie Kendall Dye 20 December, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I just shared this on Facebook and I will share it every couple of weeks. I take snapshots of merchandise all over the city in storefronts that promote the notion of appearance as being paramount in importance for young girls. I sigh with frustration when a stranger says “Hey pretty girl” or “Hey princess” to my child. When I do decide to engage with a stranger in a friendly discussion about why I would rather they not call my daughter those things (or touch her without her permission, a whole other topic) I often get a lot of defensive criticism – oh, I am uptight, oh what’s the harm in knowing she is beautiful? Oh, you can’t change the world! Oh, but you CAN try to change it, in fact, you MUST! New Yorkers are an opinionated bunch, especially on the subject of the child in a mother’s arms and it is a daily fight. A thousand thank yous for this lovely, polite yet determined post. I will share and share and share again!

  • (Mostly) Yummy Mummy 20 December, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    This is such food for thought but I’m not sure that I entirely agree. You see I call my children beautiful every single day (and thoughtful and kind and clever and funny) I think I lavish them in compliments because I grew up never hearing very many myself. I want my children to be told just how beautiful they are, because quite frankly, they really are. For me though, beauty is inside and out.

  • Leslie Kendall Dye 20 December, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    While we are at it, can we work on people labeling our child “shy” and right to his or her face, no less, simply because he or she doesn’t immediately respond to a demand for a conversation with a stranger? This one drives me mad! I find myself telling shopkeepers and people on the street all day that in fact, “my child is not in the least but shy, she just likes to speak when she has something she wants to say and doesn’t have that need at present, thank you very much.” (And then a “buzz off and stop projecting your feeling of rejection or embarrassment onto my child” in my head, because, sigh, I am a New Yorker, after all. 🙂

    • ThaliaKR 20 December, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      Oh I totally agree about ‘shy’!

  • Rochelle 21 December, 2013 at 12:08 am

    People often comment on how beautiful my children are (and they are, of course ;)) and if the children are in hearing, I usually add: “Yes, and she is very brave and kind as well.”

    • ThaliaKR 24 March, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      Love this.

  • Justine 21 December, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Jesus another thing to tiptoe around! I give compliments to children when I genuinely think they do look good in something etc. I don’t feel the need to compliment to engage. It’s a sad place if it’s wrong to compliment! Too many children are told off and things are wrong etc. why is it so wrong to have a bit of positivity?

  • nyssapod 21 December, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    No-one ever told me I was beautiful or pretty when I was child. I was only told that I was clever.

    I think you are right when you argue that grown-ups should think about what they say to children, and the impact of their words. But I don’t think it would have done me any harm to have heard some positive words about my appearance as well as my brains.

    • Our Red House 24 December, 2013 at 10:09 am

      I agree. My parents told me I was bright when I was small but never pretty or beautiful. I was convinced for years that I was ugly. I would look at photos of myself and see them as ugly. Only now do I look at photos of myself as a child and realise that I wasn’t ugly at all.

  • Linda Hobbis 23 December, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Real food for thought. Although I still think that women, however wrongly are judged first by their appearance and second by their accomplishments. Look at the martyrdom of Nigella going on at the moment. You’re right though. We should think carefully about the impact of our words on our, and others’ children.

  • Umm Yahya 24 December, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Inspiring! 🙂

  • JessieD 28 December, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    I was bought up in much this way. My mum tells a sweet tale of how, in all her 70’s feminist be-dungareered ways she avoided all mention of beauty to me. Flowers, birds, days, beaches could all be beautiful but don’t mess with the little girls’ head! She then found me one day looking in the mirror and saying ‘I am BEAUTIFUL’ and said something along the lines of the well meaning but arguably joyless above, ‘you are better off being clever brave blah blah’ and watched as my face crumpled up in a complete lack of understanding as to how everything else in life could be beautiful and appreciated for how it looked but not me.

    I TOTALLY appreciate the sentiment and couldn’t agree more with the aim but let us think carefully about what we DO call beautiful when we decide that our children will go without. Its my bet you say something is beautiful about 800 times a day, totally unconsciously. Being beautiful is a nice feeling. being clever is nice. Being brave is nice. Its just one amongst many. Don’t get too hung up on it. xxx

    • Exsugarbabe 16 March, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      I thinks many 70’s childhoods were pretty messed up.

  • F is for Fellas & Fille’s alike | F is for Feisty 1 January, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    […] post on asking people not to greet her daughter with comments regarding her appearance HERE and I’ve also just read Role Reboot‘s post about her visit to Santa with her daughter […]

  • Marija Smits 2 January, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    An interesting post, Lucy, thanks! I think Steve Biddulph, author of the book ‘Raising Girls’ said something similar, how the word ‘strong’ is a more useful word then the word ‘beautiful’. I try to use better (and more descriptive) adjectives when I’m describing my children or their actions, but when I’m tired or at the end of my tether it’s not always possible!

    However, I would like to add that as a mum to a daughter who has a clearly visible birthmark on her face, NOT using the word ‘beautiful’ is also not the thing to do. Birthmarks and other visible blemishes bring about a whole host of other parenting dilemmas, so it’s worth bearing in mind that the word beautiful (in the right context) is useful too. Best wishes to you!

  • Tasha Batsford 30 January, 2014 at 3:08 am

    Oh my word, this. THIS!

    I judge the awesome of blog posts by whether it makes me get the thank-you-god-for-someone-who-gets-it shakes and I have those in the worst way right now.

    My elder daughter is going through a phase of commenting on physical appearance all the time: literally every conversation with me starts “I like your eyes/ hair/ tattoo/ lips mama” and for someone trying SO HARD to give her a sense of herself that doesn’t revolve around physical attractiveness it makes me crazy thinking how to reply.

    Except then I realise that actually to her, defining what she perceives as beauty is as important as any other trait. Her telling me she likes a part of my body and me telling her I like a part of hers can be a positive value judgement too. I like your eyes because they are so expressive. I like your hair because it sproings back up when I straighten a curl. Liking something isn’t intrinsically bad when as you so rightly point out it is a part of a well balanced whole.

    Thank you for making me feel less like crazy-mama

  • Exsugarbabe 16 March, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    70s childhoods did harm, you never told you were special in any way meaning kids were overly desperate for compliments and attention from anywhere. I was told I was beautiful by everyone other than my parents and this made me not trust any compliment from anyone ever, I decided I was hideously ugly from a young age and wasted so much thought on the subject it was ridiculous.

    I think kids should be told their beautiful but they should be told their clever, brave and capable with examples or compliments become pointless cooing and the trust goes. Yes you should tell your kid they look good but talk about effort even more. When they grow up they’ll be bombarded with what’s “ugly ” or beautiful, it takes a core of confidence to ignore it.