I’ve been watching my 8 year old daughter start to play with her identity. It’s a wonderful thing to watch her develop into her own person and begin to visually express on the outside who she feels she is on the inside. Yet, this is also causing me some confusion as I grapple with how I should respond.
This Christmas she received a gift card from her aunt to an accessory store. You know, that store in the mall where they sell cheap jewelery and every item is adorned with cuter-than-cute airbrushed images of Justin Bieber or bejewelled and bedazzled to within an inch of its life. One of the items she bought was a pair of glasses. Now, my daughter doesn’t need glasses. She bought them simply as a fashion accessory. She wanted to see how she would look with glasses on.
This morning she came down the stairs from her bedroom wearing both the glasses and a pink bandanna headband. She looked adorable, and I was just about to say, “hey, you look cute.” And then I caught myself. If I say that, what is my daughter really going to hear? That making a change in her appearance gets her noticed as “cute”? And what of that word “cute” anyway? What am I saying to my daughter when I say she looks “cute”? Am I seeding the thought in her that her self-worth is tied to her appearance?
Of course, I didn’t think all that consciously in that split second where I paused, questioning my choice of phrase. This has all come after as I reflect on the moment. But something in that moment did make me hesitate and check what I was about to say and, instead of saying she looked cute, I said ,”hey, who are you and what have you done with my daughter?” She smiled and giggled and went into the bathroom.
I don’t know if that was a better choice of words, but it felt better in the moment than saying, “hey, you look cute.”
I’ve been thinking about this for the rest of the day. Our words carry so much weight with our kids. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel that way (is she listening to me?) but they do, and they are listening. Always. I hear the things I say come rolling out of my kids mouths all the time. They take it all in.
What do I say to her? I love that she is beginning to play with her identity and make her outside a reflection of who she feels she is on her inside. But what do I say to let her know that I don’t think her self-worth is connected to how she looks?
Glasses. I used to get beat up when I was a kid for wearing glasses and here she is wearing them as an accessory. Fine by me, which is me projecting my own feelings about what those glasses represent. Intelligence? Brains? Really, if she wants to project an image that she is intelligent and brainy, isn’t that okay? Better than short skirts and makeup, right?
Or is it? I mean, I am still making a judgement call about her based on how she looks, projecting my own assumptions and beliefs about what something like glasses represent. Am I not still making a judgement based on her appearance?
There are going to be times when I want to compliment her on her appearance. She’s beautiful, and I want to tell her that. I want to notice. Maybe I want to say it to her as a shield to protect her from the message that she will be constantly bombarded with by popular culture and advertising that she is not. She’s my little girl and I want to protect her. But on the other hand I don’t want to start sending her signals that men only notice her when she looks a certain way.
So, I’m feeling a bit caught right now. What do I say to my daughter? Is it okay to tell her I think she looks nice? That she is beautiful? Any advice?