Stop Telling Her She’s Pretty: How to Help Your Daughter Feel Confident (Really)

As we continue our Helping Your Daughter with her Body Image Series, today, I want to ask you to do something unexpected.

I want you to stop telling her she’s pretty.

Allow me to explain:

My daughter was wearing her brand new Elsa dress. (Those Disney marketing geniuses created a wear-to-church style dress with a cape that I knew my little Frozen fanatic would love.) We tried to braid her hair off to one side so that she could be as Elsa-like as possible before service that morning. She smiled from ear-to-ear as she stared at the finished product in the mirror.

And I told her how pretty she looked. I gushed over it actually.

After church I waited to close the door as she stepped one blue plastic dress shoe after another into our minivan. Before I pulled it closed I heard these words fly out of my mouth. “Hey, did anyone tell you how pretty you looked in your new dress?”

“No.” she replied. Somewhat puzzled.Compared to who Elsa dress

“Oh, well, uh. . . You look so nice. They probably thought it but didn’t say it.”

Dumb, Heather. Dumb. Why do you say things like that?

I know why. Because I wrestle with the value of beauty.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with reminding your daughter of how beautiful she is to you and to God. In truth, I believe we moms (and dads, dads are really important in this arena) should be the one voice in her head that reminds her of her beauty without questioning her physical appearance.

But, there’s something I believe we need to instill in our daughters that is even more important than making sure she knows her mom thinks she’s a real looker.

It’s that being physically beautiful isn’t as important as everyone says it is.

I’ll be honest. As revealed above. This is tough because it requires something difficult of me.

It requires me to believe that.

In order for her to ever, truly believe that being pretty will not be her greatest asset or contribution to society, I have to believe it, too. And that’s difficult because I value physical beauty. Too much.

I spend too much time thinking that women who wear a small size or have beautiful hair also have happiness.

I am easily convinced, albeit momentarily, that the gorgeous celebrity, the “hot” woman in the commercial, and the glamorous model all have it easier than I do. I too readily believe that because of their great beauty they have fewer struggles.

Yet, I know it’s not true.

It’s hard to navigate our daughters’ body image issues effectively until we can navigate through our own. Right? It’s the oft-cited, “Put on your own oxygen mask first” logic, right?

And, that’s why I need to stop telling her she’s pretty, constantly. Because, in doing so, I over-emphasize the importance of beauty. I ooze and fuss over her all dolled-up and then wonder why she insists on wearing a dress to dinner. I speak to women, telling them that their value is not found in their appearance and then communicate something very different to my daughter when I comment on how cute she looks in her Easter dress more frequently than I compliment her character.

What I fail to realize is that I can’t fill her up with enough “You are So Beautiful’s” to make her identity secure. I don’t have that power. The television, internet, and mean girls (and boys) will chip away at that foundation if it’s the only one I can give her. “But mommy said I was pretty!” is hardly an effective way to combat a bully.

Daughter Body Image pic graphicInstead, I need to teach her where her real value is found, in Christ Jesus. I need her to know that he thought she was valuable enough to die for. I need her to believe that she is loved like crazy no matter if her clothes match, her hair is knotted, or her face is covered in pimples.

I have to believe this first. Before I can convince her that she’s enough, I need to believe that I am. Based not on my own merit but on “I AM that I AM.” I need to revel in the freedom that God’s love is also enough for me and that my weight, cellulite quotient and fine lines aren’t what define me. If you truly want to know how to help your daughter feel confident like I do. . . then, we have to experience for ourselves the confidence that comes not from winning a pageant or wearing a size two, but the confidence that comes from Christ, alone.

Here’s a prayer for us today:

Lord, please help us know that our value is found in you. Help us to truly believe it. Show us our indescribable value and your immeasurable love and help us combat the lies that tell us our worth is tied to a number on the scale, a number on a tag, or our reflection in the mirror. Help us live free so we can teach our daughters how to be free as well. In Jesus Name.

Raising Confident Daughters Quiz from Compared to Who

3 Comments
  • Christine
    May 7, 2015

    When our oldest daughter was just a tiny baby I knew how beautiful she would be. She had glimmering eyes. They had a “catch light” no matter the time of day. Through some wise words I read, I realized that I would have to compliment her on things that she could control rather than those she couldn’t. I could compliment her on her character or her attitude or the kind of friend she was. I’m going to shift the focus even more with her now to the value she has because she belongs to Christ. People compliment her beauty all the time, and she is absolutely beautiful, but that cannot be where she places her value. She is a confident young woman and I admire her integrity and forthrightness. I am thankful that God let me borrow her for a lifetime to teach me so many things about Himself. Thank you for the reminder, Heather!

  • Lori
    August 30, 2015

    One of my former students, Liza Dora, wrote and illustrated a book titled “Is Lena Pretty?”. It should be required reading for all girls and their moms. In just a few words, she talks of important character traits and how they work together to make girls beautiful. Liza’s an amazing young woman with an amazing story, and she has written a wonderful book as a tribute and a legacy to her daughter. It’s a children’s book available on Amazon. Every young girl should have it read to her…..frequently.

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