I Feel Pretty

My earliest childhood memories where I remember feeling incredibly beautiful were interwoven with feeling magical. I was a mermaid, I was a fairy who could talk to animals, a star who could control the weather.

I’m about to go be a mermaid

My friend, Lara, recently pointed out an article about a book by Lisa Bloom who claims that we hurt girls every time we tell them they are pretty. That we set them up to be insecure and to face a future where they feel their value fade along with their looks as they inevitably age. You can read all about it here, and here, and here.

I was five. six. seven. I felt like a flower facing the sun when my mom would tell me, her voice full of awe, how beautiful I was becoming.

My only foray into flowergirldom

If my dad, who I rarely lived with, ever told me I was beautiful, I don’t remember it. He focused more on fitness. Thin or fat (of which I was the latter.) He actually followed the modern approach of complimenting hard work, character, and achievement. He gave compliments for good behavior freely, and I was convinced that he wished I was a boy.

These messages were confounded by a sexualized household where my own erotic appeal was judged by my step dad as casually and frequently as the erotic appeal of a grown woman – and it was clear to me that sexiness was parallel with goodness.

“Have I told you today how pretty you are?”
“How can you still be hungry?”
“You are pretty enough to be my very own Playboy model.”

At 36  I’ve graduated from ingenue into a ball busting middle years lady. When did everyone start calling me ma’am? When did I stop plucking white hairs from the crown of my head and just let them come?

As a kid I was confounded by the relationship between my age and my sex appeal. And now at 36, the pendulum has swung but the conundrum persists.

flirt face

Not too long ago, I was sitting at the breakfast table with my niece, who was seven and prone to self doubt. We were coloring, and out of nowhere she looked at me and in an accusatory tone said, “You never tell me I’m pretty.” I panicked. I stammered. I reassured. “You are beautiful. Are you kidding? I’ve never seen a pair of lips as sweet and lovely as yours.” I started listing physical attributes – each compliment completely sincere – in an effort to prove not that I thought she was pretty, but that I loved her.

she really is beautiful.

“She’s fat” has become code for “I don’t like her” among young girls. “You are fat” means “You are terrible.” It certainly means “you are not beautiful.” We are raising a generation of people who give each other the same consideration that tabloid editors give to stars without makeup. When did this get so out of hand?

Standing in front of the mirror, regarding our own aging bellies and breasts, what are we really telling ourselves when we think “you are fat.”?

I have no idea what to tell anyone anymore. Can I tell you that you’re pretty? Can a compliment about your accomplishments possibly compete with a compliment about your beauty in this world we live in?

How do we capture that magical feeling? Mermaid. Fairy. Star.

About dhanamura

When I was ten years old, I owned a mustard yellow sequined dress that I got at a garage sale. I stuffed it with rolled tube socks so that I would look more glamorous. That year I also got my first bottle of Chanel No. 5. I felt beautiful in my room, in that dress, smelling like Chanel. What you wear matters. It makes you feel things... or helps you to express things you already feel. Your feet aren't firmly planted on the ground, they are crammed into a pair of shoes. Love those shoes, or take them off.

6 responses to “I Feel Pretty

  1. Jen Anderson

    Wow. Just wow. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Lynnea Fleming

    Love this post! It speaks to so many of the questions I’ve had in my mind recently.

  3. Lara

    You are much more articulate than I could ever be. Thanks for writing.
    While I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with telling a little girl that she is pretty, I don’t believe that it is the primary message that we should be sending them about how their value is determined. It can also reenforce dangerous behaviors in girls. Beauty should be a secondary message intertwined with positive affirmations about intelligence, independence, and an adventurous nature.

    How boring would it be to be a mermaid that just sat around all day and looked pretty?

  4. Lara

    also, reinforce is not spelled how I spelled it

  5. dhanamura

    Exactly, Lara – learning and unlearning at the same time are part of the solution – at least for me!

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