Apparently, yesterday was International Daughters’ Day. My social media feeds were filled with parents posting photos of their beautiful daughters.
Why is “beautiful” the first the word that comes to mind when we talk about our daughters?
The posts I viewed shared a lot of common characteristics. They included a photo of one or more daughters, typically in a diffident and awkward pose, as if they were saying, with an eye roll, “Mom, Dad, do I have to?” Sometimes Mom or Dad are in the picture smiling (more often Mom than Dad), sometimes it’s more than one daughter. But it’s always a straight-on portrait.
And the accompanying text always includes the word “beautiful.”
“I’m so grateful for my beautiful daughters.”
“My daughters are so talented and beautiful. Blessed.”
“Thinking of the amazing and beautiful Julia on International Daughters’ Day.”
Like you, I am touched by these posts. I love seeing how proud these parents are of their daughters. International Daughters’ Day started in countries where girls are valued less than boys, and I certainly agree that it’s worthwhile to celebrate our daughters.
But why must they always be beautiful?
What these posts say to me . . . and to your daughter
What happens when an acquaintance or friend like me sees a post like this?
Of course we look at your daughter or daughters. Naturally, we click like or love, because of course we’re happy for you and your daughters. We look at your words. And, involuntarily and automatically, we ask ourselves “Is she actually beautiful?” Nobody is going to admit that they do that, but of course we do, since you brought it up. Now we are evaluating a person — most likely a child — for their looks.
Sometimes it’s clear that your daughter is not actually beautiful in a conventional way. But you think she is beautiful, she is your daughter. You seem to be saying “She’s beautiful to me; it’s important that you and she know that.”
One post I saw from a white mother included two daughters, one clearly white and one Black. It seemed as if mom was trying to say “Of course I think both of my daughters are beautiful — race doesn’t enter into it.”
Social media is about community. Now we are all part of a little community, evaluating girls by their beauty.
Why is beauty the scorecard?
Why is “beautiful” the first word we choose to describe our daughters?
Think of your daughter seeing that post. You are telling her that being beautiful is where her worth comes from, that it is something that you value highly — it is the first word that comes to your mind. I’m sure you are sending lots of other messages in your parenting, but on International Daughters’ Day, you want everyone, including her, to know she is beautiful.
Trust me — if she is old enough to think about it, which these days is very young — she knows where she sits on the beauty scorecard.
If she thinks that she is near the top, you are telling everyone, including her, that being beautiful is important. So she’ll spend time on making sure people see that she is beautiful.
If she is in the middle, you are telling her that she can go higher, she has the potential to be beautiful.
If she is not really conventionally beautiful, but you tell her that she is, you are again emphasizing that beauty is not out of reach for her, and that someone can love her and see her as beautiful.
On International Daughters’ Day, should we perhaps celebrate some other quality? Is your daughter smart? Is she persistent? Is she funny? Is she endearing, dependable, a good friend, generous, challenging, creative, indomitable, strong, loving, a natural leader, courageous? If beautiful is what comes to your mind first, which words comes to mind after that?
I know you love your daughters
I love my daughter too.
I know you want only the best. I know you think she is beautiful. I know you want to share that. It is coming from a place of love, and I can appreciate that. We are all part of this society that values beauty, and it’s part of how we talk about our daughters, for certain.
All I am asking is that next time you talk about your daughter to others — or you make an announcement in a public setting like Instagram or Facebook — that you start with a word other than beautiful.
That might take some thought. It might not be the easiest thing to do, because it is so natural to talk about our beautiful daughters.
But she probably doesn’t want you talking so much about how she looks. She probably worries about her looks more than she’d like already. What else is she doing? What makes her unique and precious and wonderful?
Pick a different word. Try it out. I’m guessing your daughter will be happier. And we all might learn a little more about what it is that sets somebody you love so dearly apart from all the other daughters in the world.