parents

"Yes, I am proud of my daughter but please stop calling her 'pretty.'"

Yes, I am proud of my daughter but there’s something bugging me.

“Can I have one more smile before I go?” he asked, his blue eyes twinkling, a wide grin plastered on his kind, weathered face.

Emi turned her head slightly to her left and shifted her own pair of bright blue eyes coyly back at her new friend. The corners of her mouth slowly turned upward. Checkmate. She had just delivered her ‘small smile’. It’s possibly the cutest one in her repertoire and not surprisingly, she now had this elderly gentleman in the palm of her squishy little hand.

He laughed and then turned to me, “you must be one proud mother!”

I froze. I wanted to ask him why? Why do you say that? I mean, of course I’m proud of her, but he had known us for maybe fifteen minutes all up and it wasn’t really what he said, it was the way he said it – with such conviction. As if he knew Emi and had been privy to all of her achievements to date.

I managed to stutter, “Ahhh yeah, I guess I am very proud of her.”

To which he responded, “she is just so beautiful – she is one gorgeous girl!”

So that was it. He felt that I should be proud of my daughter because she is beautiful. And she is – no doubt about it.

She’s been blessed with creamy, smooth skin and rosy, pink cheeks. Striking blue eyes and pretty little lashes that curl up from under her heavy lids. Her hair colour is somewhere between brown and blonde – it actually looks golden in the sunshine. Her eyebrows are perfectly formed, her pink lips full, and she has just the most delightful button nose I’ve ever seen. When she smiles, her eyes crinkle in the corners and she has a small dimple underneath her right cheek. Spunk.

In the early days my husband and I would turn to each other and ask, “she’s cute right? Like not just to us, but she’s cute to other people too – or are we completely blinded by our love?” We’d reassure each other that indeed she is cute because the lady at the supermarket said so – and “she was really sincere – she meant it, I could tell babe.” Eventually we stopped asking each other. Deep down we didn’t really care and there were much more important things to think about. Like the fact that she screamed for five hours a day for the first three months and needed at least an hour of rocking to go down each night.

I liked this bald old man we had befriended on the train. He was sweet and completely besotted by my 10-month-old daughter. He offered her his hand and she curled her own little hand around his index finger. When he turned away she would wave at him and let out a series of yelps until he once again gave her his undivided attention. It was adorable.

But what he said bothered me. Yes I am proud of her – I am her mother and she fills me with pride every single day for a variety of reasons. The thing is, Emi is so much more than her looks and I want her to know that she is so much more than her looks. I want her to know that I am proud of her, not just the fact that she is pretty.

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She rolled over for the first time when she was nine weeks old – NINE WEEKS! My strong baby girl. Her first word was ‘maca’, ‘cat’ in Croatian – she’s already picking up a language other than English – clever munchkin! The other day she was eating dinner and fed her dad a piece of her sandwich – how very thoughtful of her. When she plays with my necklace she does so very carefully, like she knows it’s valuable – she has a wonderfully gentle and intuitive nature.

Last week I dropped her off at the gym crèche and she didn’t cry – my brave little soldier. Today I witnessed her dragging the tablecloth towards her so that she could play with the TV remote sitting on top of the tablecloth – cheeky? Yes. Resourceful? Even more so. At playcentres, her Mini Maestros class, and at our mother’s group catch-ups, she crawls up to the other children, smiles at them and babbles in their faces – my super social and confident little butterfly. She crawls with such efficiency that she may never find a need to walk, but she still stands and shuffles along the couch to make her way to the window so she can see the birds – my determined and curious mini monkey.

I think it’s time we stopped focusing on the appearance of girls and started noticing their achievements. I know I am guilty of this – often calling friends’ daughters ‘gorgeous’, ‘pretty’, and ‘beautiful’ without a second thought. But things need to change. We do need to give it a second thought. And a third, fourth, and fifth thought.

At face value, instigating a change in the mentality of our entire society seems impossible. After all, for thousands of years, a woman’s value has been measured by her physical appearance. The subliminal message we as women receive is, the prettier you are, the worthier you are. I feel like this is a message I have absorbed through the pores of my skin since the day I was born.

But imagine if each and every one of us did something small – imagine if we changed the language we use with our daughters in such a way that the focus is barely ever on the way she looks. Imagine if we all used adjectives that highlight her achievements and personality rather than her appearance.

Cast your mind to the future – with each generation we could weed out image-obsession little by little until headlines like ‘Emilia Donates $1.6 Million Worth of Profit From (insert name of successful business here) to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’ dominated billboards and magazine covers rather than photo-shopped bums and boobs.

You can imagine…or you can act. Language is a powerful tool – it’s time to pick up our weapons and fight.

I will uphold my end of the deal by telling my daughter every day that she is (among many other things) bold, clever, motivated, vivacious, passionate, and funny. Of course she is beautiful – to me she’s a ten outta ten – but there is so much more to her and she has so much more to give than her pretty face. Not only am I going to make damn sure she knows it, I am going to do everything in my power to help her reach her full potential.

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