In a world where image is supposedly everything, how do we protect girls from growing pressures, asks Edwina Bartholomew.
In a world where image is supposedly everything, how do we protect girls from growing pressures, asks Edwina Bartholomew.

‘Why I’ll never tell my daughter she’s pretty’

OPINION

How many times a day do you look in the mirror?

I work in the image-focused world of television so my answer to that question is possibly a little different to other women. It's only now that I have a daughter that I've really started counting.

It's the odd glance here, the sideways tummy measure in the mirror, the mum-bum readjustment, the chin-hair check - it all adds up.

Recently, I started noticing my daughter watching. She is, of course, still too young to understand what she is seeing. To her, mirrors are for singing songs and funny faces and seeing her own little face reflected back but it still gave me pause for thought. This is why I never want to tell my daughter she is pretty.

In our house, we never say ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’, Edwina Bartholomew says. Picture: Tim Hunter
In our house, we never say ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’, Edwina Bartholomew says. Picture: Tim Hunter

In a world where image is supposedly everything, how do we protect our girls from the growing pressures of social media and teach them to be confident?

A new book tackles this topic head-on. Raising Girls Who Like Themselves by Melbourne authors and the parents of two daughters, Kasey Edwards and Christopher Scanlon, suggests girls should not be complimented on their looks, beauty, clothes or bodies. Instead of saying "you look pretty" or "I love your shoes", they should be asked things like: "where have you been today?" or told: "you did a good job".

Edwards says: "We were told we were beautiful and look what it did for our generation. We need to take deliberate steps to make beauty less important. It should be about what girls do, not how they look."

 

Edwina Bartholomew with her daughter. Picture: Instagram
Edwina Bartholomew with her daughter. Picture: Instagram

This is music to my ears. In our house, we never say 'pretty' or 'beautiful', instead, we say 'clever' and 'lucky'. Our favourite children's book is All the Ways to be Smart by Davina Bell. It celebrates the unique ways kids can be different and wonderful, without focusing on looks and beauty.

My daughter is closer to being a three-nager than a real teenager but the age where these issues matter is steadily dropping.

I don't remember being concerned about weight or looks until well into high school. Now, research shows 55 per cent of girls aged eight and nine don't like their bodies and a quarter of girls aged 14 and 15 have thought about self-harm. It's pretty scary, frankly.

I know it's impossible to shield our children from external pressures forever but for now, I'll be trying to look at my language and behaviour, instead of looking in that mirror.

Originally published as 'Why I'll never tell my daughter she's pretty'