kids

'There's a high chance you've told your daughter she is pretty. This is why you shouldn't.'

If you have a daughter, there’s a high chance you have told her at some point that she is pretty.

It’s a word we say to young girls and we say it in a positive tone, using it as a compliment, affirming they look good. Adults’ use of the word ‘pretty’ is teaching them that the word is something ideal, something they should desire to be, yet often focuses only on a person’s outside appearance.

We rarely stop and consider the negative connotations of this word, where the real meaning of it seems to be convoluted.

Simply type the word ‘pretty’ into Google and the first definition that pops up says “(of a person, especially a woman or child) attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful.”

Pretty is a superficial construct and that definition, unfortunately, says it all. It’s the last part of that definition “without being truly beautiful” that hits hard the most.

The single word only represents beauty on the surface and there’s so much more we can do and say to young girls.

"If you have a daughter, there’s a high chance you have told her at some point that she is pretty." (Image: Cadena McKenzie)

It’s a superficial word

By using that word, we are subconsciously telling girls that they are only beautiful on the outside, even though that is probably far from our real intentions. We need to be teaching our girls that there’s much more to someone than how they look.

With so many influences on body image for girls at a young age, they need to be exposed to behaviour and words that deviate from this.

Calling someone ‘pretty’ should be done with caution so as not to exacerbate the emphasis on the way they do or don’t look.

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Change our use of the word

Since we don’t want to be using the word as a direct reference of a person’s appearance, we can instead use ‘pretty’ as a qualifier. Qualifiers precede an adjective or verb and show the extent of something, or enhance its meaning.

‘Pretty’ should therefore be used similar to the way we use the word ‘very’.

We can say things like “she’s pretty smart” or “that’s pretty powerful” to shift our associations that pretty only measures things on the surface associated with the way one looks.

"Instead of using the word in the most common way, it should be an opportunity to inspire and empower the person who is on the receiving end." (Image: Cadena McKenzie)

Don’t feel guilty for using it

If you have called someone pretty, or if you do use the word, you shouldn’t feel guilty at all, especially if your intentions are in the right place.

It is, however, important to be mindful of the way it is being used.

Inadvertently, we are placing extra pressure on girls to become concerned with the way they look rather than focus on intangible and unaesthetic qualities or achievements.

There needs to be more depth to the word, which can be achieved by completely shifting the meaning as we know it so that girls can focus on things other than the way they look.

Instead of using the word in the most common way, it should be an opportunity to inspire and empower the person who is on the receiving end.

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"The single word only represents beauty on the surface and there’s so much more we can do and say to young girls," Merissa says. (Image: Supplied)

So I throw the challenge to you, talk to your daughter about a characteristic or skill that is unique to her. Teach her that pretty is so much more than appearance focused; tell her she’s pretty brave! Or maybe she’s pretty good at baking, or she’s pretty inspiring.

We want girls to appreciate what their bodies can do rather than focusing on appearance.

This is why I founded Pretty Foundation, a non-profit focused on developing initiatives that seek to educate and equip parents with the language, tools and confidence to build resilience in their daughters.

Our first initiative Pretty Powerful is a one-month challenge whereby parents are encouraged to speak a body image mantra out loud with their girls.

Each week, the new phrase will be explored in its meaning and supported by activities for parents to do with their girls. Pretty Powerful is all about driving awareness of the power of words on girls’ body image, and it’s open for anyone to join.

For more information and resources please visit www.prettyfoundation.org or follow the movement at www.facebook.com/prettyfoundation/. It’s up to us to be the best role models we can be.

Merissa Forsyth is the founder and CEO of the Pretty Foundation.

Do you agree with Merissa? Should we rethink the way we use 'pretty' when talking to our daughters?