On Girls & Body Image

glitter_shirtThe other night, my oldest daughter and I got into a spat over which pajamas she was going to wear that night.

We just bought some new clothes at the store and we allowed our girls to pick out a few things on their own. But now, the older one was refusing to wear one of the pajama shirts that she had picked out.

“I don’t want to wear that one,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked. “You are the one who picked it out.”

“Yeah,” she argued, “but I don’t want to wear it. I don’t like it.”

“Why did you pick this one out at the store?”

Silence.

“Why don’t you want to wear it?” I asked, trying a different route.

“Because I’m not pretty in it,” she said.

Hmm.

My wife and I have tried to be careful when it comes to commenting on how our daughters look. It is absolutely true that they are adorable from every angle. Everyone comments on how cute they are.

But we try to moderate that by building up the rest of them as well. We compliment them when they are being nice to each other and when they ask good questions and when they behave themselves with good attitudes. We point out how cool it is when they choose to look at books instead of asking to watch videos.

And yet, my little girl has arrived at the conclusion that being pretty is super important and that wearing certain clothes can help or hurt those efforts.

“You are very pretty,” I say. “But how you look is only part of what makes you pretty. Having a good attitude, being nice and friendly, listening well, and working hard are all things that make someone pretty too.”

After that, she agreed to put on her pajamas, and I made sure to tell her that being willing to do what her mom and I ask of her is very pretty.

I’ve been reflecting on this whole episode for a while now. Is body image something that is just built-in to girls? Is it common across cultures? Do boys deal with it to the same extent?

It makes me sad to think that anyone, including herself, might think less of my girl because of what she looks like or wears. And how do I encourage her as a parent?

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One response to “On Girls & Body Image

  1. I think it’s built into girls, but to some more strongly than others. I stopped fighting Audrey at about 18 months old– she had that strong of an opinion about her clothes from that early age. I just bought her a bunch of tights and she lived in skirts for the next five years, non stop. If she doesn’t feel pretty, she doesn’t feel good.

    When we stopped fighting about the clothes, we could focus on the other stuff you mentioned. 🙂

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