Courtesy of Jamie Kenney

My Daughter Is Beautiful & I'm Scared Sh*tless

By
Share
Ad failed to load

I know how this sounds. If I saw it myself, I'd assume it was a humblebrag. "OMG! My daughter is so beautiful. She's like, too pretty maybe? Like, just so beautiful. Everyone is always telling me how pretty she is and I'm like 'Ugh!' OMG stop. I hate it!" But, if I'm being honest, I'm worried about my daughter being beautiful. It doesn't keep me up at night or make me want to ugly her up somehow. And it's not like I'm somehow disappointed she's lovely. But, in our society, beauty never stands on its own, and it's packaged with a lot of other expectations, rules, and presumptions that give me pause. Significant pause.

Now don't get it twisted: if you're putting "people who fall under conventional and privileged standards of beauty" people versus the people who don't, the former definitely have the better deal. Sociology and science (and 30 Rock) have shown that beautiful people experience the world differently. And by differently, I mean "full of advantages based on their good looks." There's power in pretty, often more than we are willing to recognize or admit. Moreover, there's a whole racist, sexist, fatphobic hierarchy of the things we even consider beautiful to begin with, and that's deeply problematic. My kid has, in many ways, hit a privilege jackpot.

So, why am I worried?

Ad failed to load

First, let me just say that I know everyone thinks their child is beautiful. It'd be a little weird if we didn't, to be honest. So what I mean when I say "my daughter is beautiful" is that she fits a widely-held beauty standard. She's a smiley white girl with blue eyes, good teeth, and dimples. And not to undermine my kid, but if that was all she had going for her she'd probably be a standard cute kid as far as other people were concerned. Nothing would make her more or less beautiful in my eyes, but I know that what makes her stand out, especially to strangers, is her long blonde hair. It's already been cut twice and it falls, shiny and thick, to the middle of her back. Frankly, it's weird to see a toddler with hair this long.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

People cross parking lots to compliment her hair. They stare in the grocery store and edge closer to try to strike up a conversation about it. They'll ask how she has "such a perfect top knot." (Answer: because I'm lazy AF and didn't feel like braiding it and also she has a crap ton of hair that grows in every which way and it works out somehow.)

Ad failed to load

"That hair!" people proclaim. "Oh my God, you can never let her cut it! It's so beautiful!"

And, yeah, I love her hair. One of her nicknames in our house, in fact, is "Baby Rapunzel." (The resemblance is uncanny if you ask me.) But do you see where I'm starting to maybe get a little uncomfortable here?

"You can never let her cut it."

Ad failed to load
When people tell her not to cut her hair, the unspoken message is, "You are conforming to our standards. Keep up the good work, because conforming will benefit you.

There's so much wrong with this statement, starting with the fact that it's often uttered by a total stranger. Like, "Yo. Person. You have absolutely no horse in this race so I don't know why you're getting bent out of shape." Second, I don't control my daughter's head, not what's on it or in it. So if she wants to cut her hair one day, that's her choice to make for herself and I'm not going to stop her. Third: hair grows, friends. This isn't even a permanent decision. You need to calm down.

But, on a non-practical level, I get it. Like it or not, hair (especially, I'd argue, women's hair) carries a lot of sociocultural weight. Hair is often closely tied to how a person is seen in terms of femininity and beauty, and in our society there's a lot of pressure for female-bodied people to be seen as feminine and beautiful. Hair like my daughter's — long, blonde, thick, and silky — represents a kind of ideal female beauty and, unfortunately, beauty is often a means to female power. So when people tell her not to cut her hair, the unspoken message is, "You are conforming to our standards. Keep up the good work, because conforming will benefit you."

Ad failed to load
Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

I recognize the benefits and appeal of conforming, but I resent their existence. Conformity in a bullsh*t system can get you ahead, but that doesn't change the bullsh*ttery of said system. Moreover, there's only so far a woman or girl can get in a system that bases so much of her worth on her appearance.

Growing up, I saw being pretty and feminine as extremely important, and I, like many women and girls, but a lot of emotional baggage into my hair. Like my daughter, I had long, pretty hair from a young age and it garnered a lot of the positive attention I received about my appearance. As a result, my hair was a part of me from which I could draw self-esteem about my physical appearance. As I got older, it became the only aspect of my body I felt I could. Anecdotally, I know I'm not alone. Go ahead and ask the women you know to name the physical attribute they like best about themselves, because I will bet you money they will say "my hair." (And if they don't they'll say "eyes" or "smile.") Hair seems to be one of the few things a woman can express she likes about herself without coming across as "vain." Because remember ladies, it's important to be pretty, but you can never admit it or take pleasure in it because your beauty isn't for you! It's for the people looking at you!

Ad failed to load
I never want my daughter to have so much placed on looks in general or hair in particular that she feels that she needs to rely on them for acceptance, love, or self-esteem.

Having beautiful hair allowed me to feel like there was something beautiful about me. It served as a kind of shield. I may not have been thin or traditionally stunning or had clear skin, but damnit I had good hair. I was so invested in the idea that my hair was the only thing that kept me from being seen as a hideous mutant that I did not cut it (except for the occasional trim) between the ages of 7 and 20. (The liberating revelation I had about my self-worth and self-image after cutting my hair is another story for another day.)

I never want my daughter to have so much placed on looks in general or hair in particular that she feels that she needs to rely on them for acceptance, love, or self-esteem. So I worry about what all this (well-meaning!) positive reinforcement is teaching her. After all, who doesn't like hearing nice things said of them? I'm a total approval junkie, so I get what a heady drug praise can be and that it can be really hard to give up once you're used to it. But I don't want her to think that pretty is the price of admission as a girl in society, or that her hair is the key to being seen as beautiful and, as a result, worthy.

Ad failed to load

I also don't want her to think beauty is where everything stops and ends, and I don't want anyone else to think of her only or even primarily as a pretty face (or head of hair). I don't want who she is as a person to ever get lost in the shuffle or seen as secondary to her looks.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

My daughter is a sassy, kind, funny, smart, compassionate, artistic little weirdo who also happens to be lovely with a whole lot of beautiful hair. So when someone who has spent any amount of time with her goes on about her looks, I just want to scream, "But did you see how masterfully she used blended colors in her art project?! Did you notice how she correctly used the word 'vanquished' in a sentence?! That's so much cooler than her braids!"

Ad failed to load
I don't want who she is as a person to ever get lost in the shuffle or seen as secondary to her looks.

I never want her to place so much of her power or self-image on beauty that she will forgo something she wants to do or be because she feels it might undercut that. (Like "I can't be a scientist because they're frumpy! And if people think you're smart they won't think you're as pretty.") I don't want her to stop wearing unicorn costumes on errands because they're not "flattering." I don't want her to feel she can't cut her hair because that's what she gets the most compliments on.

Fortunately, she doesn't seem to be overly-concerned about being pretty... but I want to keep it that way and I wonder if I can.

Ad failed to load

Beauty standards worry me in general, but having a beautiful daughter makes me worry about them in a very particular way. Because it's one thing to say, "This is all illusory crap that we should turn up our noses at," but there's something really tricky about saying, "This is illusory crap and I know you're benefiting from it but I need you to understand that those benefits aren't significant enough for you to warrant buying into them too much."

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherlode, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.

Ad failed to load

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}