Should you tell a smart girl she’s pretty?
I was at the gym and there was an old episode of Seinfeld on TV. George was calling his parents to announce he was getting married. First question his mom asks is, “Is she pretty?” George responds with a little irritation in his voice, “What difference does it make?“
There seems to be a lot of emphasis put on whether a woman or girl is pretty enough. I'm confused as to what she needs to be "pretty enough" for? To be a desirable mate? Work at a retail store? Be invited to dinner? I don’t know, who cares?
When I was a little girl, I was losing my ability to speak my first language, Japanese. The moment we moved to America, my parents stopped talking to me in Japanese. At that time, speaking only one language seemed to be enough to ask of a small child. Of course we know now that children can keep track of and learn multiple languages.
Since I quit speaking the main language my mother spoke, I guess you can say there were some barriers. Just by being around someone, you take in a lot and most of the messages you receive don't need words to express themselves.
I remember my mother’s friends sitting in the dining room: I was sitting in the living room in their direct line of sight. I didn’t know the exact words they were speaking but I could see they were looking at me like I was a puppy and saying, "She's SO cute" in Japanese. I understood a few words and could definitely read their body language.
I used to be insulted by these encounters. You’d think it would make me happy that someone found me attractive but I couldn’t buy into that.
First of all, I'd think in my head, "Well, I can do math, I'm smart, I'm capable of a whole lot more than being pretty." I knew this at 8 years old.
I had instilled in me that my value surpassed my looks. I was loved unconditionally for being born, for being me. This was reflected back to me in the actions, words and deeds of a few of the adults in my life.
My grandmother was a very strong role model for me. She was always very factual. "You have curly hair, your skin is dark," she’d say. Whatever she said didn’t have any indication of ‘good, or bad', she wasn't judgmental. She valued me as a person, and one that had good penmanship. We would write back and forth and she'd write, “You have very nice handwriting.”
She used to give me advice in her letters. The advice was always how to be independent. She didn’t tell me, “Go and be independent.” She would write, or tell me when we were together, ”When you get to high school, take typing, shorthand, and learn a foreign language.” These were the things she thought would serve me well. She was born in 1904, so times have changed, but the message is still clear.
At a young age I was offended at being measured by the stick of 'is she pretty?’ It literally infuriated me. “Who cares?” I say. Pretty is as pretty does. Take care of yourself and your needs and don’t be a burden to others by just getting by on being pretty. It's awesome, but it does go away at some point and moves like a tide. What's in one day is out the next. We can all feel pretty but in the end, how we treat ourselves and others, how kind we are and what we contribute to the world are what matters most.
I can’t say that I didn’t seek approval. I became dysfunctional in seeking approval at one point in my life, I admit it. Today, I'm talking to you about the strong voice inside of me when I was a little girl.
I hope you're talking to the young ones in your life in a way that gives them an idea that there is opportunity in being themselves. Being pretty is neither good nor bad, it just is.
"You are whole, and your value is innate in you. You are precious, regardless of how you look. You have so much to contribute, so much to enjoy and it's your birthright to feel completely happy being yourself and finding ways to shine your light.” This is what I hope you hear when you listen to that little voice inside.