How many times have you referred to a little girl as pretty? I will be the first to admit, I have done it a million times or more, I have even used this seemingly harmless word to describe our own daughters on more than one occasion. It’s the natural thing to do, we complement young ladies on their physical attributes as the default. Girls are pretty, boys however, are most often referred to as smart, funny, ambitious or strong among others. Why do we compliment girls on their physical characteristics but we compliment boys on their personality or skills?
Young girls are bombarded with multiple images of physical beauty every day. Beauty is redefined in their world every moment. This fuels the obsession more and leaves young women objectified by a voyeuristic public arena. There are more than enough studies out there suggesting that these images can and do negatively affect how young girls (and grown women) see themselves.
I want to suggest that the words we use can also have a negative effect on how young girls see themselves. Words are powerful, so we should use words wisely. We should use words to inspire, uplift, transform, and instill confidence. We should use words to empower our young ladies. They should look in the mirror and see beyond the pretty girl.
I’m wondering if we paused for a moment the next time we think about complimenting a young lady on how pretty she is if we instead focused on alternative characteristics. The things we can’t “see” but are not difficult to identify. I wonder if by simply changing the conversation we could encourage our young girls to learn to appreciate all the wonderful qualities they have as human beings. There is not much we can do about the external images and advertisements waiting for our young ladies around every corner. But there is something we can do to help build them up and redirect their attention to something other than pretty.
I polled our two daughters, Jour’dan (15) and Ramsey (10) and asked them the following question: What are the top 10 words (other than pretty) you would like to hear when someone is complimenting or describing you?
The number one word our girls would prefer to hear other than pretty is…
1: Smart / Intelligent
I asked our girls why it was important to focus on something other than pretty. The short answer … pretty is not important. Pretty is not who they are. What’s important is what people can’t see. The stuff on the inside revealed to the people who take the time pay attention. That’s the stuff that’s important. I often say “pretty” fades, the beauty that lives inside, last forever.
I make every effort to complement our daughters on every other positive attribute beyond their physical appearance. They are both athletes, so I complement their strength, determination and focus. They do very well in school so I complement them on how smart they are. And they are… pretty, so I tell them. I don’t think it’s a cardinal sin to refer to our young ladies as pretty. I do think it should not be implied that pretty is the most important thing to aspire to be.
I think it’s about balance. We can still use the word pretty to complement our young ladies but, let’s make sure they understand that pretty is nice but, it has nothing to do with “who” they are. Let’s redirect our attention to something other than pretty.
What words do you think are important attributes to describe a lady? Share all your thoughts in the comments below!