My problem with your beautiful daughters

Hindustan Times

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.

21 responses to “My problem with your beautiful daughters

  1. I’m so glad you brought this up. The other week, a friend posted a photo and comments about the 30th b-day of his daughter. All he talked about was her beauty, and that she was a wonderful mother and wife. This gal has a college degree and it positively ticked me off that nothing else was mentioned about her other than her appearance and her role as a caretaker for her hubby and son. Like nothing else she has done matters.

  2. I agree that girls and women (at least in the US) are socialized to believe that their appearance is the most important thing about them. I still find myself looking in the mirror too much. But “beautiful” can also refer to what’s inside a person — how they think, feel, behave. Many parents call their daughters “beautiful” but they are talking about more than appearance. Anyway, finding a word other than beautiful when posting about your kids on social media is a good idea. Thanks for this column.

  3. Thank you. My daughter is kind and clever and principled and talented and strong and wicked smart. She makes me proud in so many ways that if you asked me to explain I wouldn’t know where to start. She is also beautiful by the standards of this culture, and it matters in some ways, but that has never been the most important fact about her.

  4. Thank you Josh. This is a very important point you make. It’s seemingly subtle but in reality is so very at the heart of how we view women and ourselves as women. As much as I might fall into that trap of thinking about myself, I certainly don’t want it added to how my daughter perceives I, or society, places value on her. Really appreciate you spotlighting this.

  5. I don’t have a daughter (or any kids for that matter) but this bothers me too. However, you put it so well – with care and compassion and what appears to be genuine empathy with why a proud parent might call their daughter beautiful. So thank you.

    It did make me wonder: is there a single common word that almost everyone would call their son, in an equivalent post? (Don’t worry – I am not proposing that a “sons” equivalent day is needed – I know it is not). I don’t think there is a similarly common term to describe a son. I guess that’s the point.

      1. Also in my FB feed as well. My frustration with this?

        My adult bio-daughter no longer identifies as ‘my daughter.’ They’ve carved out their own gender identity that doesn’t conform to the one they were born into – and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

        If I posted something over the weekend *and* referred to them as a ‘her’ or with stereotypical gender-based descriptions like ‘beautiful’? I’d be invalidating their current existence in a hurtful way – and for what reason?

        To show off in front of *my* friends and acquaintances on FB in a less-than-genuine way.

        Better for ME to acknowledge their many gifts on a regular basis, no?

  6. A picture can depict many things, but looks is likely the topmost.

    Could we stop with a day for everything?

    Pay the man, Shirley

  7. As for your comment on the mother of a black daughter and a white daughter, maybe you’re reading too much into it — maybe it’s just that she has 2 daughters, one happens to be black and the other white — and naturally she’s posting a photo of both. What else would she do? If she had 2 daughters of the same race, wouldn’t she post a photo of both? And while parents are justifiably proud of their children’s accomplishments, isn’t this day about just honoring them because they are our daughters? Doesn’t the mother of a clerk at Walmart love her daughter as much as the mother whose daughter is a physician? Can’t ‘beautiful’ be an umbrella term for so much more than looks?

  8. Even though I got my MA and ran my own business for years, this has never been a point of any sort of pride for my family. Just been ignored – or worse – gossiped about negatively. My nephew has done pretty much nothing yet because he is so young, but man do they brag him up each and every time. I brought up my business once in a year or so (past year) in a family setting and all I got were like forty eyes rolling at me at once – because my family loves to dis the stupid woman who thinks she is a business woman.

    Well – one person is supportive at least among my family. Nice to have that person.

    Anyhow – stupid fake sm holiday – only for jokers on sm. No doubt – my photo was not up there even though my mom is an addict. But I didnt marry or have kids – nothing for her to brag on – poor thing.

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