“You just don’t understand what it’s like to be a pretty girl,” my daughter told me.
Of course, instead of listening to my then 17-year-old, I heard her statement as, “Mom, you are ugly,” (something she has never, ever said,) and I dove immediately into the deep river of negative self-image, completely ignoring the fact that my child was reaching out to me with a genuine concern.
It’s true. I don’t know what it is like to be a “pretty girl.” I’m not complaining. I just realize that my body type is more suited to farm chores and fighting off Viking raiders. I’ve grown to appreciate being physically capable, but as a teen, it sucked.
My daughter, on the other hand, grew up beautiful. I adore her passion for science, her clear, soprano voice, her fearlessness on horseback, and her propensity to bring home any and all wounded or abandoned critters she finds. These traits and more make her stunning to me. But, all mom-fandom aside, she also had the right genetic cocktail to be conventionally lovely.
I thought when she mentioned the stress of being a pretty girl, it was along the lines of the “first world problems” meme. (i.e. I had to store my convertible in the garage all winter.) How could being attractive be stressful?
I did a fair amount of reading, and many articles seem downright hostile towards anyone who mentions physical beauty to be stressful. Several articles on “pretty girl problems” seem to have their roots deep in stereotype without much actual research. To paraphrase, pretty girls act like princesses, have a sense of entitlement, feel superior to their peers, are arrogant, superficial, and use sex to gain advantage over others.
I’m not saying that physical beauty is in itself a problem, nor am I denying that it can be advantageous. What I am saying, though, is that we can’t discount the rest of a girl’s personality, including her struggles and challenges, just because she is “pretty.”
In an article in the Huffington Post, clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg wrote the following: “It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, therapists and members of the community to teach others that beauty is not a vaccine against life's difficulties. I know that it may seem odd that I am asking that you teach your kids that attractiveness doesn't necessarily give the genetically endowed a head start in every area of life, but this is the truth. It does not. And, in some cases, … attractiveness can make things harder socially for the teen girls.”
I am so sorry that I shut my daughter down on this topic. I had an opportunity for insight, and instead, I opted for self-absorption. I scoffed at my child when she came to me with a serious issue. Had she come to me saying, “I’m ugly,” I would have put everything aside and taken time to convince her of her inner beauty. I wish I had taken the time then, to make the same choice, to discuss with her the radiant beauty I saw daily in her spirit and her mind.