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Why I will still tell my daughter she’s pretty

By Emily Bridgewater | Talking Point | Published:

Read today's Talking Point from columnist Emily Bridgwater

Ben and Marina Fogle

Clever. Witty. Kind. Pretty. These are just some of the words I regularly use when talking to my two-year-old daughter about herself.

And who can be surprised? Just look at the gene pool.

I’m kidding.

Anyway, back to the point: Amongst the raft of adjectives I use when talking to my little girl, I sometimes tell her she’s ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’.

With her doe-like brown eyes, delicate upturned nose (dad’s, not mum’s) rosebud lips and velvety cheeks, she really is.

But it turns out calling your own daughter ‘pretty’ can cause a bit of a stink – even though, as a parent, that’s what nature intends us to do.

Marina Fogle – wife of archetypal British toff/explorer Ben – said she won’t ever call their six-year-old daughter Iona ‘pretty’.

In a recent interview she said: “By praising them for something over which they have no influence it’s simply reinforcing the idea that how a woman or girl looks is her crowning achievement. And that is why I choose not to tell my daughter she is pretty.”

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To a certain extent I agree – I wouldn’t want my little girl to ever be solely defined by the way she looks – but I think using the word ‘pretty’ can be as harmless or destructive as any other complement.

In a world obsessed with appearance – a modern condition that isn’t about to change fast – I think it’d be wrong to leave it out of the narrative completely.

Surely, never telling your daughter they are ‘pretty’ – even just in your eyes – can be as dangerous as reinforcing it constantly. I’d hate for mine to grow up and say I didn’t ever make her feel beautiful as much as I would for her to see herself as some sort of looks-privileged princess. I also wouldn’t want her to have low self-esteem, to seek validation and praise elsewhere, which she inevitably would.

What’s more important is teaching your child perspective and humility, rather than quibbling over the adjectives you use to praise them.

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And I’m not just talking about looks – being humble about all personal traits is a much more endearing way to be than turning out a boastful moron.

In Chris Rock’s latest stand-up show, The Total Blackout Tour, he jokes about teaching such values to his two teenage daughters, Zahra and Lola.

To summarise, he tells his daughters they are clever, beautiful, amazing . . . although when they step outside of the family home they are ‘nothing to no-one’. Which is harsh but a worthwhile lesson; you are special in this household, to this family, but out in the big wide world you’ve got to prove yourself and recognise how you fit into life’s food chain – whether it be with regards to looks, intelligence, charisma or wit. There will always be people who fit above or below you.

So I think using the word ‘pretty’ is OK, as long as it comes along with plenty of other adjectives and a big dose of humility.

Will I continue to call my daughter ‘beautiful’? I am pretty sure I will.

Emily Bridgewater

By Emily Bridgewater
Weekend Supplement Editor

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