Why I’ve Stopped Calling My Daughter “Pretty”

From the moment that my husband and I announced the gender of our first baby, we received compliment after compliment about her looks.

“Oh my gosh, she’s going to have {insert unique eye color here} eyes.”

“Wow, she’s going to look like a model.”

“Oh my gosh, mixed babies are so pretty.”

In the meantime, my husband and I were literally hoping and praying that this pregnancy would remain uncomplicated and that the baby would be healthy in every way possible. With pregnancy being so unpredictable and exhausting, we rarely thought about her appearance.

On the day of her birth, everyone, including myself, doted on this precious little human that entered the world. Seven pounds and six ounces of absolute perfection was laid upon my chest, and all I could think about was how beautiful every little thing about that moment was. My daughter was finally here. She was tiny, soft, and absolutely beautiful.

Fast forward to today, my daughter is a 15-month-old tornado. She is determined, adventurous, and has recently started climbing everything in our house. She’s also kind and friendly to everyone she meets. She loves to say “hi” to almost every person that she sees, and she attempts to initiate some sort of friendship with every baby she comes in contact with. She’s brave, assertive, and a quick learner. At 15 months, she can say three times as many words as her developmental chart says that she should. I know that I’m her mother, so I’m completely biased, but my daughter is incredible.

Those were eight adjectives that describe her, and “pretty” was not one of them.

Why I've Stopped Calling My Daughter "Pretty" | Houston Moms Blog

Strangers will politely compliment my talking, waving baby by saying, “She is so pretty.” Obviously I agree, but I always wonder how they don’t see anything more interesting about her. I understand that they don’t know her as well as our family and friends know her, that they don’t get to see her unique personality, but the words still weigh on me. After receiving the compliment, I obviously say “Thank you” because I have manners, and I know that no one means any harm by their kind-hearted words.

I admit that for the first 22 years of my life I sadly only cared about being pretty. Even though I was an intelligent child, I didn’t care about intelligence or even want to be acknowledged for it. I didn’t think that my mind was a valuable trait, even though it was the most beautiful thing about me. I didn’t want to be brave or adventurous or strong or talented; I just wanted to be pretty. Why? Because in those 22 years, I only remember the positive attention I received by meeting society’s standards of beauty. I remember the “motivational” but truly self-inflicting phrases such as “Pain is beauty, and beauty is pain,” or “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” I remember how good it felt when I received attention based on my looks, but I also remember the emotional toll that this shallow mindset had on me as a young girl.

There are specific points of vanity in my life that stand out in retrospect. For instance, a boy in third grade once told me that he no longer had a crush on me because I didn’t look pretty that day. I had my first case of allergies; puffy and swollen eyes, runny nose, drowsy…enough said. That and other events have made me endure prolonged moments of pain for a minute of beauty, all because I didn’t want people to see me as anything less than my best for that minute. In middle school and high school I performed poorly on a number of exams because I replaced my study time with hair and makeup time.

For me, the most definitive memory of my vanity is when I was in my elementary school Black History Month program. I desperately wanted to be Debbie Allen—award-winning actress, dancer, and choreographer, now staring on Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s not why I wanted her part. I wanted to wear the tutu and sparkly makeup that went with the character. Instead, I was chosen to play Harriet Tubman, and I was devastated. I can vividly remember saying that the part was dumb and that I was going to look ugly. Thinking on it now obviously makes me feel embarrassed. As a child, I didn’t understand the historical significance, or care that my part was the finale of the show, or that I had the most lines, or that it was probably meant to be the most motivational part … because I was “ugly.” Instead of being proud to portray such a strong, courageous activist for human rights, I delivered my lines in monotone, and I glared at the tall, beautiful girl that got to wear the tutu.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed by my mindset in those first 22 years of life, but I don’t regret them. Those years have molded me into the person that I am today, and they helped me see how to keep my daughter from making the same mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong — pretty is a fine adjective, especially for a toddler. My husband and I use the word with her to describe numerous things—from flowers in the park to Christmas decorations on our street. I want to encourage her to find joy in the pretty little things of life; I just don’t want her inner joy to be dependent on her appearance. So I haven’t completely eliminated the word “pretty,” but I’m definitely more mindful about how and when I use it. It’s not just my past, or that I don’t want my daughter to become as shallow as I once was, but also because she is so much more than that. Every child is.

For now, I’m working to be a role model of strength, intelligence, and courage for my daughter. I want those to be the traits that she strives for and uses to succeed. The last thing that this world needs is another pretty face. We need more assertive, brave, and caring female leaders. While I know that it’s ambitious, I hope that encouraging my daughter’s talents as opposed to her beauty will enable her to be the change that this world needs.

Why I've Stopped Calling My Daughter "Pretty" | Houston Moms Blog

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Erica N
Erica was born and raised in Houston, Texas. After high school, she attended Baylor University - Sic Em Bears! She graduated with her Bachelors of Science in Nursing and started working in Dallas, Texas {which she surprisingly loved}. After living in Dallas for several years, she and her husband moved back to Houston to "settle down." One year later, they welcomed Baby E {August 2015} to their family! When Erica isn't busy being a postpartum nurse in the medical center, she's at home with her dog and baby girl. As a family, they enjoy going for walks, playing outdoors, and watching tv and cuddling. When Erica gets any alone time, you can find her napping, getting a massage, or stuffing her face slowly and peacefully. You can find more of her adventures on Instagram {@aimingforaugust}, or Facebook {/aimingforaugustblog}


  1. “Smart and brave” are both nice compliments; however, strangers cannot accurately comment on one’s internal attributes. Because of this, they rely upon external factors (face, eyes, hair) and generate a conversation or compliment from there (“pretty”).

    The problem is not being complimented as “pretty”, the problem comes when girls/women do not understand that everyone has a unique gift from God. Everyone is a beautiful creation. Yet, instead of pursuing their gift, they slather on makeup and begin other routines to be considered pretty. Daughters/women need to accept who they are, without jealousy for who someone else is.

    Speaking as someone who is incredibly smart AND pretty, both are equal blessings from God and I wish more people would embrace that fact.

    In high school I won awards for being “beautiful”, “most likely to be a super model”, and homecoming queen. As you can imagine, my awards were not as celebrated or appreciated as my peers’ awards for being the “smartest”, “funniest”, or “most likely to succeed”. My awards were trivialized by people who believed being pretty was not important because perhaps pretty was not their blessing from God.

    It wasn’t until my late twenties (almost 30!) that I began to embrace “pretty” as an equal compliment to “smart”. See, I grew up in a “disadvantaged” household. Single parent, we had no money and hardly any food. I received a full-ride scholarship to college and despite the belief that I was “merely pretty” I graduated (early) magna cum laude and completed my masters degree with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I have proven, to myself and others, my intellectual ability. On paper, it sounds impressive. In person, one cannot fathom that someone can be so pretty yet so smart. I always felt the need to downplay my looks. Dress down. Don’t wear make up. Don’t try to look pretty. People don’t appreciate pretty. Women especially do not appreciate pretty women.

    For the first time in my life, I am embracing the fact that I am pretty! I read a well-written article from a Christian author who discussed individual gifts from God. She argued, that our society values some of God’s most beautiful creations, such as the Grand Canyon. We celebrate his beautiful creations in nature. Yet, God’s greatest creation of all, the human, is not equally celebrated for his or her beauty. Instead, a human given the gift of beauty from God is ridiculed, deemed unintelligent, and raised to believe “pretty” is an offensive compliment.

    Interesting perspective to ponder… a brave and smart Grand Canyon.

    • Lindsay, I love this. You almost put it in better words than I did.

      That second paragraph is everything. I will definitely try and make a more conscious effort to have her embrace her pretty.
      I guess I hope that she is able to show that yes she is pretty but she is also so much more.

  2. Sorry I ranted!

    I have just read so many articles like this over my lifetime. And I finally had to comment, for the first time.

    Know that if your daughter is pretty, even if she works hard and sacrifices to obtain great success in life for being a brilliant scholar, doctor, or scientist she will still be told that she…

    …got the job because she is pretty.
    …was promoted because she is pretty.
    …is well-liked because she is pretty.
    …is only successful because she is pretty.
    …and has an easier life because she is pretty.

    Unfortunately, in the field of social psychology, this what the current scientific research indicates and people will use it to downplay all of her accomplishments.

    It never ends. Teach her it is a gift from God and not a curse because it will feel like a target-on-your-back curse most of her life.


    • Thank you so much for reading and responding. I love hearing different point of views on these type of things.

      As you said, she will definitely be told that she ONLY received things because of her looks. As her mother, I want to be the person that tells her, “yes, you may have gotten that because of your looks but you can use your intellect and grace to move forward and prove that you are more than a pretty face.”

      At the end of the post, I sort of tried to say that I will obviously always call her beautiful. So I will definitely make sure to teach her that it’s a blessing and NEVER a curse.

      Again, thank you for your input.

  3. Incredible post and so many thoughts swimming in my mind! My mom used to tell me that I’m lucky I’m not ugly, that really made me feel weird. I toggled between trying to hide my physical appearance to amping it up and obsessing over my hair. These days which are decades later and with a 6 month old baby girl, I realize how blessed we are. Healthy and happy are beautiful things and I’ll always tell her how brilliant and beautiful she is. She is so amazing to me in ways that have nothing to do with looks. But she’s also cute to me so I do fawn over her cuteness. I’m her mom so I guess it’s just natural. But it’s the whole package. These tiny humans are remarkable packages of brilliance. I’m awed by her constantly. One day I hope she’s proud of all her traits, physical and everything else.
    Thanks for a great read and inspiration!

  4. I’ve read several articles on this subject matter, and I kind of struggled with it for awhile. People tell my daughter she is beautiful, and I also respond with “thank you.” I don’t expect them to know that she is great at sharing, kind to other children, and excellent swimmer, that she’s smart, funny, etc…those are things that I know about her because she’s my daughter, and I praise her for them. Frequently!! However, I feel like once she enters school, there’s a possibility that kids are *not* going to be so kind. Maybe they’ll call names, maybe they’ll tease. Since she may hear those negative things from others, I don’t think I’m doing any harm by telling her she’s pretty, or beautiful inside AND out. I think she needs to hear all of the kind words I can offer her. Just my thoughts! 🙂

  5. This is a wonderful post. My parents also embraced this philosophy. However when no one in your home is telling you that you were pretty and the bullies in school tell you that you’re ugly, you naturally assume that the bullies are correct. I had wonderful self confidence because I was told I was very smart and all those other positive things. But I never thought I was pretty. And really still don’t. Though if I look at external information I realize that I probably am pretty, but I certainly don’t rely on it for confidence- so that’s a good thing. It is all a balancing act.

  6. Unfortunately, I am one of the few who was never told I was pretty. When a teacher asked me in high school why, with all my talent, I never did pageants, I was shocked. The problem with not telling your daughter she is pretty is that eventually someone will and that someone may not be someone good. I was lucky. I thought I was so not pretty, I didn’t believe those guys, but some girls will. It took my husband years to convince me that I wasn’t ugly. Imagine seeing your wedding pictures and only seeing flaws. Just remember not to emphasize the pretty as their only good quality. Pretty only lasts so long, but intelligence, kindness and bravery can last forever.


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