Continuing on in my Month of Thanks, here is my letter for October 24th.
To My Daughters,
I will never tell you that you are pretty.
I will never tell you this because that word implies you possess some warped societal sense of perfection, some intangible thing that can never be truly achieved. “Pretty” is a bad word. It is superficial. It is impossible. It is not even close to what’s important in life. In fact, it’s nowhere on my list of words I will use to compliment you.
I will use words like smart, creative, unique, talented, determined, caring, brilliant, amazing, thoughtful, kind, helpful, intelligent, and wonderful.
But never pretty.
As women, we are defined by many things, most of which are the least important about who we are. We are judged by our appearance. We are judged by our perceived lack (or abundance) of femininity. We are judged by things our genetics have bestowed upon us without us having any say in the matter. We have our lives decided for us by politicians, clergy, bosses, husbands, fathers, brothers, grandfathers… simply because we are born as women.
And this is why I will thank you today.
I will thank you because the moment I became the mother of girls, that was the moment that I realized the way things were (and are) is not how they should be. It instilled a fear in me that you will face the challenges I have faced, that my girlfriends and female family members have faced. You have made me cement my decision to correct what’s unequal. You helped me to see that it was so much more than what only affected me. The days you were born were the days I knew what it was to truly fear for someone else. I feared because I knew what you would face:
A lifetime of being at odds with “pretty”.
Make no mistake in that I may occasionally slip. I am not perfect, which you are well old enough to know by now. But, when I use words like beautiful or lovely or, yes, even pretty, I am remarking on so much more than the sum of your exterior parts.
You are not your hair or the color of your eyes or the clothes you wear.
When I say you are beautiful, it is because in that moment of seeing you, I have truly seen a glimpse of you, of what you hold inside you, of all the potential and wonderful things that life may choose to bring you.
But I know… I know too well the pressures of “pretty”. I’ve felt the sting of being unwanted, rejected for not measuring up to that unattainable standard. I’ve tried to shield you from as much criticism as I can, but I am only one voice, and the others are many, and often louder than I can be to your mom-deaf ears.
And I worry for you because of that. I worry that you might never hear me at all. I worry that those other voices will echo in your heads at night and drive you to terrible extremes.
But that worry is a gift. That worry means you have taken up residence in a place in my heart so deep that no one can uproot you. That worry means you will always be loved and that I am still capable of giving that to another human being. You are my reminders that I should try to be better every day, because you need that.
Someday, someone will have to remind you that “pretty” is a bad word.
You will never be pretty to me.
You will be strong.
You will be smart.
You will be fierce and flawed and loved and cherished.
But never, ever just “pretty”.
My Love Always,