May 8, 2014

"What should parents say when their little daughter asks, 'Am I pretty?'"

A question to a WaPo advice columnist. Guess which answer the concerned mother received:

1. Just say "yes."

2. Say: "How do you feel inside? That’s what I ask myself."

3. Here, play The Jefferson Airplane, "Pretty As You Feel" and insist that she listen to the whole thing with you. If she asks "Am I pretty?" again, start singing that song. Repeat until she stops the cycle.

4. You didn't tell us whether your daughter is pretty. If she is, give her the honest "yes." If she's not, say something that's honest but upbeat, like "I always think the prettiest girls are the ones who act like they don't care at all how they look."

5. Say: "Not when you ask that question."

6. Say: "You're quite hideous, like me!" and make that face where you pull the sides of your mouth apart and waggle your tongue.

Click here to see the actual answer.

51 comments:

BDNYC said...

You're raising a child, not being honest. Just say yes. Confidence is important. When she's older, she'll be hard enough on herself. No need to feel like her parents are aware of her physical faults, whatever they are.

Beth said...

Have always loved this song... Not A Pretty Girl

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/anidifranco/notaprettygirl.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPSkNraWtR4

MadisonMan said...

I try to remember if my daughter ever asked me that question. I don't think so.

I think a "Why do you ask" is always a good reply to a question from a child. It gives you time to think, and it might reveal the thought behind the question.

"I think you are" is a answer I might give, if asked that by my daughter. I might add "But I'm biased, you look like me" to the end with a laugh and a hug.

(She really does look like me)

cubanbob said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so the answer a parent would give is yes you are pretty (to me).

Deirdre Mundy said...

"You're only pretty when you dress the way mommy tells you to dress. You won't be pretty unless you take off the galoshes and PJs and put on the outfit that I have chosen for you today."

-Actual conversation I've heard people have with their daughters.

In this house the answer is always "Yes, you look lovely today!" And I don't argue about clothing choices with a toddler. Because that's the path to madness.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

What, no option for "Yes, you're pretty... for someone of your race."?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I never got the question point-blank, but generally told my daughter that she is beautiful, but more importantly, she is talented, and even more importantly she is smart, and most important she is a good person.

And I didn't even have to lie about any of that.

Tari said...

Oh my word, even if she's horribly ugly, why can't the parent just go with "yes, of course you are sweetie" and leave it at that? They don't need to explain "well, you are to me", nor should they tell the child that it doesn't matter: it matters to the child or she wouldn't have asked. Every girl -- and woman -- can benefit from knowing that at least one person in this world thinks they are "pretty", "beautiful", whatever word you want to use.

Angie said...

Ma Ingalls always told her daughters Mary, Laura, and Carrie "Pretty is as pretty does"

Pretty much

traditionalguy said...

Gorgeous and stunningly beautiful, of course.

MadisonMan said...

Actual conversation I've heard people have with their daughters.

Wow.

I remember when my daughter was about 3, we put her in red corduroy pants -- she looked great in them. But she hated pants (I don't remember why, exactly, we actually had a pair of pants for her). Dropped her off at daycare, where she promptly pissed. No more pants. (laugh)

SJ said...

I've heard of a father who always responds, "You're pretty. And smart, too."

Because he wanted his daughter to value her intelligence as much as her looks.

Bob R said...

If you think there is one answer to that question, regardless of the child asking, you don't belong around children, or even people. But, yes. You can be an advice columnist.

SteveR said...

I had three girls, all grown now and the question never came up. But the answer is "yes" because it most certainly is true. Its not an objective fact.

rhhardin said...

It depends on how old the boys are.

Rusty said...

Yes.

Kelly said...

I can't remember either of my girls asking that question. They're both beautiful in case anyone is wondering.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Yes! I think you always look beautiful!"

Æthelflæd said...

I have always just said "you're beautiful" or whatever. The cifficulty for me is that with both beauty and smarts are to a certain extent things you are born with, though they can certainly be enhanced. I prefer to tell them, when not being asked, that they are hardworking, or kind, or showing some backbone, or other things that they actually have some control over. A few of my children are natural born brainiacs, but without a work ethic they will get nowhere. I have an uncle who was less naturally gifted than bis siblings in that era, but was more successful in his career because he learned to be diligent in order to earn the same grades that came easy to his siblings.

Freeman Hunt said...

There's enough external pressure on girls to look pretty. Every girl should feel like her parents always think she's gorgeous.

Ann Althouse said...

I only had boys, and they never asked if they were pretty (or otherwise good looking), but here's what I think I would have said at the time if I had a girl who kept asking "Am I pretty?"

1. I'd try to turn it into a good and mindstretching conversation, inquiring into the nature of the question: Why is "Am I pretty?" the best question to ask now? Is it interesting? Do you only ask it about yourself or do you ask yourself about whether other people are pretty? What is prettiness? Is it different from beauty? Is it good to think about the way things look and does thinking about it become bad if you think about it too much? Do you enjoy thinking about it?

2. I'd try to turn it into an activity that isn't too self-absorbed: Does thinking about whether you are pretty make you want to do things that are the way you'd like to spend your time? What are those things -- e.g. learning how to braid hair elaborately, mixing different items of clothing in new ways, taking a photograph of yourself and fading it way down, then make 10 copies, then draw on top of it (and see what we do with it — like overdo makeup and glamorous things or turn her into an animal or something strange or maybe figure out some signature trademark thing to do that really would be attractive).

Basically — philosophy and art. It's never to early to start. You just have to start at the level that makes sense for the child.

I think the parent should check his or her censoriousness about the child's interest in how things look. Beauty is a profound subject, worthy of the greatest minds, and a child necessarily starts out on a low level. Respect the child, and see the good in the place where the child begins. Value what you can learn from getting back to that level when you interact with a child. I know I truly did, and I am sorry I don't have many opportunities to talk and spend time with children these days.

Maybe I should take up an independent practice of Law Professor to Children, a kind of private tutoring profession.

Freeman Hunt said...

Maybe I should take up an independent practice of Law Professor to Children, a kind of private tutoring profession.

That would be worth paying for.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Of course you say yes. ANd if they ask if they are smart, you say yes. And if they make you cookies and they ask how they taste, you tell them they taste great.

Not sure why this question even needs to be asked. That's not the time for "mind stretching."

Shouting Thomas said...

Here's the actual answer, minus feminist bullshit.

My daughters and their friends are all having babies and raising children. They were all beaten relentlessly about the head with the feminist indoctrination by intellectual morons like Althouse. (They got the fag hag indoctrination, too!)

My daughters and their friends all tell their daughters repeatedly and without prompting that they are pretty. Their Facebook pages are filled with pics of the girls, followed by lavish comments about how pretty they are. Social gatherings of the daughters and friends and their kids are replete with exclamations of just how pretty the girls are. And, many of them ain't so pretty.

Thankfully, once most women leave behind the idiot feminist indoctrination of the educational system, they act like sensible people.

Anonymous said...

Methinks one can profess too much, but that sounds like a fine approach for a kid unless she's been acting up all day and you're tired of all the questions.

Interestingly, much modern art is interested in making a bargain with the viewer that will return the viewer to a state of purity, or recaptured innocence when the world was whole.

I think that's often one of the aims of art, but post-modernism especially can kick that up a notch to real narcissism where artists have a lack of traditional abilities, or ideological hangers-on and intellectual fakers find easy success amidst the genuine talent and accomplishment.

It can also help explain hipsters, and all the fauxhemian blathering.

There was a time when money, art, and postmodern theories about art weren't as popular

But that's for them to find out, perhaps, as I channel Robert Hughes.

Smilin' Jack said...

Say: "How do you feel inside? That’s what I ask myself."

"If how I felt inside answered the question, I wouldn't have to ask you, dumbass."

I'd try to turn it into a good and mindstretching conversation, inquiring into the nature of the question: Why is "Am I pretty?" the best question to ask now? Is it interesting? Do you only ask it about yourself or do you ask yourself about whether other people are pretty? What is prettiness? Is it different from beauty? Is it good to think about blah, blah, blah....

Thus preparing the ground for your daughter's eventual plea of justifiable matricide.

Conserve Liberty said...

I pity the poor girls whose parents agonize over answering such a simple question. As if wondering at her young age whether she is pretty will somehow condemn her to a life less worthy than that of a 'whole' woman.

My daughters are pretty. My wife is pretty. All the women at our 40th HS Reunion who were the pretty girls are the pretty women, and believe me they've ALL had lives of success and accomplishment.

I never said, "Yes, and smart, too." They already knew that.

SeanF said...

Althouse: Why is "Am I pretty?" the best question to ask now?

To a 4-year-old? Really?

(The correct answer, by the way, is - "Yes, you're pretty - pretty ugly!")

Brando said...

The correct answer is "pretty people don't have to ask that." Partly because good looks generally attach themselves to confidence.

Of course, you shouldn't give the "correct answer" to your kid, especially as they're probably going through an awkward stage when they ask a question like that.

Ann Althouse said...

"To a 4-year-old? Really?"

To my 4-year-old, who would be used to the kind of conversation we do around the house.

Children are very smart and amenable to questions that interest them. There might be better ways to phrase the question, depending on how you're used to talking to your child.

I might ask — of this girl who keeps repeating the question — "Why do you like that question so much?" But I like: "Is that an interesting question?"

I like the way it opens the child's mind to the question of how the other person feels. Note that I'm taking the classic child's attitude of asking "Why?"

"Why is that what you want to know?"

Of all the things you might try to find out right now, why is that what you want to know?

It might be that the child believes the parent wants to be invited to make a comment that the parent is used to saying. The child may be anticipating the "You look so pretty" that is always oozing from insincere, boring adults like the ones Shouting Thomas is so fond of.

We're made for better things.

66 said...

Dear Ann --

I was surprised to see you give Shouting Thomas the attention he seeks from you. Although in a way, I guess, it was pretty clever of him to act the child on a thread devoted to responding to children. But your response kind of puts you in the Mommy role. Which starts to seem a little icky.

For what it's worth, I am one of those boring adults who really loves to tell my daughter how beautiful she is (though I can't recall her ever asking me if she is pretty).

Mariposa said...

Affirm her prettiness. Help her know how much her looks are within her control. Emphasize her good qualities. Help her learn what colors look best on her, what clothing styles, hair styles - this should be a collaborative effort involving her feelings and opinions about herself and her style. Almost any woman or girl can look attractive and be honestly told she's pretty. Just watch "What Not to Wear".

Joe said...

My five-year-old granddaughter just declares that she's pretty, even when she's dressed herself in the most wacky way possible (like wearing her Cinderella dress with red leggings and boots.)

Thing is, she IS the prettiest girl in the entire world, so there.

Anglelyne said...

AA: Basically — philosophy and art. It's never to early to start. You just have to start at the level that makes sense for the child.

I think the parent should check his or her censoriousness about the child's interest in how things look. Beauty is a profound subject, worthy of the greatest minds, and a child necessarily starts out on a low level. Respect the child, and see the good in the place where the child begins.


Excellent. I deplore the tendency of adults to reduce children's thinking to "therapeutic culture" Q & As, instead of, as you say, guiding them away from self-absorption. What better place to "start art" than beauty of the human face, to which we are all born so sensitive?

My own daughter never asked me if she were pretty, though she did ask at a very early age if she were "good", which is just as interesting a question to engage a pre-school mind. She was quite the aesthetic judge at that age, though, once coolly and exactly observing my face, and declaring matter-of-factly, "You're pretty, Mom, but you're not beautiful".


Maybe I should take up an independent practice of Law Professor to Children, a kind of private tutoring profession.

I wish my kid had had you for a teacher in primary school mock court, instead of the dolt who shut down out-of-hand the passionate defense of property rights she had so carefully prepared for MacGregor v. P. Rabbit.

wildswan said...

You should just tell little kids they are "pretty" or whatever. But isn't the question here - what do you say when they ask over and over 'am I pretty?'

I do wonder why that kid kept asking over and over and if it was me I would find out. For instance, maybe she means - are my clothes on straight, is my hair combed? Then she would ask every day. Or maybe she means someone, probably a brother, is teasing her. Or maybe she means "Am I the fairest one of all?" and it is sort of wierd. Maybe she has got some idea from a cartoon show about what power she should have if she's pretty - "When I'm really pretty, they will get me the tricycle.' It's very strange the ideas they hide under a limited vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

Egads, why not say to her that her physical appearance is not the most important thing in life, that being a kind, honest, etc., person is much more important to her and her parents? As Angie wrote, the proper answer is what Ma Ingalls said, "Pretty is as pretty does." The same goes if the question asked is, "Am I smart?" Feeding too much "self-esteem" bs to 4 y/o kids encourages them to be obnoxious instead of humble.

Mark said...

Any parent who has to think about how to answer this is thinking too much.

Ann Althouse said...

"For what it's worth, I am one of those boring adults who really loves to tell my daughter how beautiful she is (though I can't recall her ever asking me if she is pretty)."

Why do you believe that is good?

Do you assume you are building her confidence and self esteem?

Why don't you receive cues from her about what she is thinking about?

She never asks if she's pretty but you keep conveying the importance of pretty. Again: why do you believe that is good?

SeanF said...

Althouse: Children are very smart and amenable to questions that interest them.

Indeed, children are very smart - smart enough to know what it means when they ask you a question and you change the subject without answering.

Strelnikov said...

Reminds me of when one my nephews first went to school and learned about death. He came home all sad and tearfully asked his Dad whether he (Dad) was going to die. According to modern child rearing theory this was Dad's opportunity to share his knowledge of the world openly and honestly. Of course, he was smarter than that and just said, "No". Nephew perked right up and went out to play.

Ann Althouse said...

"Egads, why not say to her that her physical appearance is not the most important thing in life, that being a kind, honest, etc., person is much more important to her and her parents? As Angie wrote, the proper answer is what Ma Ingalls said, "Pretty is as pretty does." The same goes if the question asked is, "Am I smart?" Feeding too much "self-esteem" bs to 4 y/o kids encourages them to be obnoxious instead of humble."

Why not get really old-school and teach that vanity is a sin?

Harold said...

My daughter never asked. I suspect it's because she realized from an early age that she was in a family that openly practiced both irony and sarcasm.

Zach said...

Interesting how many of these options carry the subtext that the kid is a bad person for asking.

1. Just say "yes."

--polite but unresponsive

2. Say: "How do you feel inside? That’s what I ask myself."

--polite but unresponsive. Subtext that it's a bad thing to ask.

3. Here, play The Jefferson Airplane, "Pretty As You Feel" and insist that she listen to the whole thing with you. If she asks "Am I pretty?" again, start singing that song. Repeat until she stops the cycle.

--one step away from "Mommie Dearest"

4. You didn't tell us whether your daughter is pretty. If she is, give her the honest "yes." If she's not, say something that's honest but upbeat, like "I always think the prettiest girls are the ones who act like they don't care at all how they look."

--evasive, subtext that the kid is a bad person for asking

5. Say: "Not when you ask that question."

--clearly in "Mommie dearest" country now. Explicit message that the kid is a bad person for asking.

6. Say: "You're quite hideous, like me!" and make that face where you pull the sides of your mouth apart and waggle your tongue.

--funny but unresponsive.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't have any daughters, so I'm imagining one that is, of course, ideal. Ideal Daughter does not ask this question habitually, but tentatively asks one day. And so, the only correct answer is, "Yes! I always think you look beautiful!" Any other related discussion comes after that.

Now if Ideal Daughter did not manifest and there was instead Reality Daughter, and Reality Daughter asked this question habitually or even vainly, the correct answer would be the mind-stretching one because no one seeks to raise a vain little bore.

The Godfather said...

"Yes, sweetheart, why do you ask?"

Skyler said...

Your daddy's rich, and your mama, she's pretty. So hush little child, don't you cry.

Skyler said...

I knew a lady who worked in our factory who on the side worked as a stripper. She was about six foot two and might have been a looker when she was in her twenties, but not so much any more at the time I knew her.

She was a bit nervous about the business when she started and told me that she needn't have been. There is a group of men who will find some body type and personality attractive, no matter if others don't. She apparently made enough to cover the rent.

So the answer is, without hesitation, and without philosophical debate, "Yes, you are very pretty." Because every girl deserves to have someone think she is pretty. If her own father won't say she's pretty, then how is she supposed to think she has any value in the category of attractiveness?

And don't ever pretend that physical beauty is of no importance. It is very important. It's just undefined and very subjective.

Every girl is pretty to her father, and it's that father's job to ensure that both he and the daughter never forget it.

Angie said...

"Egads, why not say to her that her physical appearance is not the most important thing in life, that being a kind, honest, etc., person is much more important to her and her parents? As Angie wrote, the proper answer is what Ma Ingalls said, "Pretty is as pretty does." The same goes if the question asked is, "Am I smart?" Feeding too much "self-esteem" bs to 4 y/o kids encourages them to be obnoxious instead of humble."

Why not get really old-school and teach that vanity is a sin?


How about not old school vanity = sin
How about new school vanity = not important
Sure you can be physically pretty on the outside (or not) but if you're friendly, helpful, confident, kind, etc. you are really 'pretty'

Gah, now I'm getting old school Golden Rule pretty



Random said...

As an actual father of a daughter, I've found that the best answer is "You're your mother's daughter - of course you are" which (a) wins me brownie points with both females; and (b) she's happy with because, just like every dad thinks his daughter is pretty, every little girl thinks her mother is beautiful.

Oh, and any answer that doesn't promptly affirm the point is the wrong one. Four year olds are looking for looking for love and assurance, not a deep philosophical debate and they're very, very good indeed at spotting when they don't get it.

prairie wind said...

"Egads, why not say to her that her physical appearance is not the most important thing in life, that being a kind, honest, etc., person is much more important to her and her parents? As Angie wrote, the proper answer is what Ma Ingalls said, "Pretty is as pretty does." The same goes if the question asked is, "Am I smart?" Feeding too much "self-esteem" bs to 4 y/o kids encourages them to be obnoxious instead of humble."

Why not get really old-school and teach that vanity is a sin?


I know we aren't supposed to tell children about sin for fear that they will melt but it is possible to teach her that making grownups tell her she's pretty is selfish. "Pretty is as pretty does. Now get out from underfoot and go outside to play."

It's a phase; she'll outgrow it unless you make a big deal of it. I really do think Ma Ingalls has it right.

Chris said...

De gustibus non disputandum est.