As a parent of a young female, you’ve got an opportunity to combat millennia of judgement and misplaced value. No pressure!
“Daddy, do I look cute?”
My eight-year-old asks this as I drink my morning nutrient slurry. She stands next to me in a colorful outfit, dressed for a day at school. She is excited to show me A) that she is dressed, something I’ve been trying to get her to do for at least half an hour, and B) which outfit she’s chosen. I’m afraid of just giving a quick “yes.”
Of course she looks cute. My kid is delightful. I love her whole person with all my heart. But I’m afraid to answer because in the end it doesn’t matter what I think.
For the past eight years, I’ve been able to deflect this question by asking her back, “What do you think?” She’s typically responded right back with “I think I look great!” and I reply, “Then that’s all that matters.” But my newly minted third-grader will have none of it. She’s grown wise and instead says, “I want to know what you think.”
I’ve never been a girl. I’ve never been a woman. I have no idea what it’s like to be judged on my physical appearence the way women are judged. This isn’t to say I’ve never felt fat or worried about my outward appearance, but it’s something I can ignore if I want to. I can turn it off, go to work in jean shorts and a podcast T-shirt, and not think twice. A woman doesn’t have that luxury–to wear that outfit to work could send messages she doesn’t intend to send, whether she wants to send any messages at all.
There are real physical, psychological, and emotional consequences for girls and women who develop body image issues1. My daughters will be bombarded by propaganda from a world that tells them that their bodies are not good enough, that their appearance matters more than it should, and that a high proportion of their value will come from how pretty they are. I can’t control that, but I can do what I can at home to counteract as much as I can at home and in the communities we are a part of.
“I want to hear what you think, Daddy.”
I think that it doesn’t matter if I think you look cute or pretty. It matters that you like yourself. But, I am happy to help you as you learn how to dress by giving you my opinion on certain aspects of what you’re asking me.
Ask me “Does this outfit look cute?” Some outfit combinations look better than others.
Ask me “Does this skirt match this top?” I’m happy to help you match colors, or choose accessories, or guide you as you may request.
Ask me “Is this dress pretty?” I think so; I like the way it sparkles.
Objects can be cute. Objects can be pretty. You are so much more than those humble words can evoke, and you are no object. You inspire me with literal awe. You make me feel love I didn’t know I had in me. You are the only you that will ever exist. You are special, unique, and loved more than the ability I have to express. If that’s what you mean by “cute,” then yes. You are absolutely adorable.
- Boys and men can also have body image issues, of course. And while I’d welcome it if any of my children told me that he had a gender different than his sex, all present evidence suggests that I will be the father of two girls who will grow up to be women. ↩