Dad Dilemma: My 5-Year-Old Just Told Me She Doesn't "Feel" Pretty

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There's something wrong with a society that shames every aspect of a girl's life.

As a dad to daughters, I'm supposed to care what length of dress my daughter wears to school. Because ... distracted boys.

As a dad to daughters, I'm supposed to think that since she's older than four, she'd better cover her chest up at the swimming pool. Because ... pedophiles.

As a dad to daughters, I'm supposed to talk to my daughters about the sanctity of the hymen. Because ... purity.

As a dad to daughters, I'm supposed to instill fear in the boys in her life. Because ... girls are delicate.

As a dad to daughters, I'm supposed to make sure they don't have too much screen time. Because ... obesity.

"Sorry, at that age, boys can't be trusted to control their hormones with that much skin being shown."

"Sorry, you can't do that — too many perverts."

"Sorry, no sex in my house, you're too clean for that."

"Sorry, but I need to point this at your friend. I don't want him to rape you."

"Sorry, you're supposed to grow up, not out."

Our daughter was worried this morning that she wasn't pretty. She was reacting, as we often do, to a vision of herself in the mirror. It was her bangs, she said, that made her not pretty.

She's five and I'm tired.

I'm tired of "pretty." I'm tired of no thin-strapped dresses dress codes, of eight-year-old girls being told to cover up at a public pool, and of my five-year-old defining her beauty by what what she sees in the mirror.

I'm tired of how unbelievably hard it must be for kids to grow up without constant exposure to what they're doing wrong and how, as parents, we don't have carte blanche to form our children's ideas on the meaning of beauty.

I'm tired that the reasons behind kids not wearing makeup or not wearing tops at swimming pools are things like "protect their innocence," or "let them be a kid," instead of "this is bullsh*t and we shouldn't care what one does with one's body."

I'm tired that there's an arbitrary age where it's no longer appropriate for women to not wear a top because "we aren't ready for that," or because "it's too distracting," or that suddenly "they need to be prepared for what might happen if they dress that way."

I'm tired of the idea that men go through the same things women do when it comes to body expectations. We don't.

There are unrealistic expectations out there of the ideal man, yes, and those need to change, too. But they aren't everywhere we look. It's unfair, it's dangerous, and it's making companies billions of dollars.

Shaming bigger legs, shaming menstruation, shaming pubic hair, shaming small breasts and big breasts, and tiny lips and thigh gaps, or lack thereof.

I'm tired that something can't just be sexy without becoming an ideal.

I'm tired that posting a story about a little girl thinking she isn't pretty on my Facebook page elicited a flood of the exact same stories about other two, three, and four-year olds. Or, that 13-year-olds are taking up the fight for their own right to not be raped, to be believed, and to have autonomy over their own body.

I'm tired of being part of the problem when I talk about my own weight or when I spend more time praising people for their physical appearance than their personalities.

I'm tired of already worrying about my daughter's mental health, her ability to drown out the negative images she'll see, and words she'll hear about her body, and the suicide rates of teenagers.

I'm tired of my mind being able to conjure up images of a crying little girl too scared to tell us how she really feels about what people say about her.

I'm tired that this is how it is for a very privileged family like ours, and can't imagine what others must go through every day.

My partner, who probably sees tens or hundreds of stories a day that tell her her body is perfect, but also too small and also too big and also (insert all the things), handled my daughter's proclamation of "unpretty" as well as you'd expect someone who's used to it would — by reminding her that bangs or no bangs, she's pretty.

I don't need to share a picture of her to know how beautiful her eyes are or how the little freckle on her cheek is adorable, because that picture doesn't capture her "pretty."

I want her to see how pretty she is when she's jumping off our couch or asleep with a book over her face.

I want to remind her every minute of every hour of every day that she's special because of the whole of her parts, not because of some of them.

There's no explaining away a child thinking they aren't petty. That can't be rationalized. I want to shout them in her ear all day long, but we all need to be shouting for it to even matter.

I'm tired, but I'm her dad. I can't imagine how tired my five-year-old will be years from now.


Mike Reynolds is dad to two daughters and partner to one amazing woman. He's constantly working no ways to encourage his daughters to keep coloring outside the lines. One half of the writing team (with his oldest daughter) of two children's books and writer behind

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.


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