“What makes you a good person?” I asked my 3.5-year-old daughter today. She was sitting on the floor next to me while I sumo wrestled her baby brother out of his dirty diaper.
“I’m pretty,” she answered, and smiled that sweet little smile that melts my heart into a pile of mush.
I smiled back at her. “That’s not what makes you a good person,” I said.
Her smile disappeared. “You don’t think I’m beautiful?”
“Of course I do, baby. But I think you’re beautiful on the inside too and that’s what really counts. You have a beautiful heart, and a beautiful soul.”
“A soul is the person inside you.”
For a second, I swear, she almost stopped breathing. “What other person?”
“I mean, there’s not really another person inside you. But it’s who you are. It’s Aria.”
“But good is pretty,” she said.
“No. Good is being kind. And loving. And caring. And using your brain. And being strong. And being there for people. You are and do all of those things.”
I’ve read the arguments from people that you shouldn’t tell a little girl she’s pretty, but I’ve never been one to refrain from telling my daughter she’s beautiful. Because she is. As is every daughter to her mother. But I’ve always been very careful to pair it with these other qualities. I don’t live under a rock. I know the over-importance our society places on physical beauty. So I tell her she’s smart, she’s kind, she’s caring and strong. Because she is all of these things too. I tell her that I love the way she draws everyone with a mohawk. That she’s a super fast runner. And she makes a great superhero.
But it’s interesting – and a wee bit disconcerting – the message she carries with her. Pretty. Beautiful.
Later this afternoon, we were shopping. And as we headed toward the exit, my cart loaded up with plastic bins for one of my organizing sprees, I asked her to push it open, a task she’s done many, many times. For one reason or the other, she refused. Then a man, not much older than me, approached us from behind and kindly said to her, “Come on, let’s push together.”
Out of shyness, she buried her face in my leg. And so, laughing, the man pushed the door open himself.
“Why push at all when you can have a guy do it for you, right?” he asked.
I’m sure he meant no harm. And I’m all for letting men – or women, for that matter – open doors for me. But something about the way he said it got my ire up. So I chose not to politely laugh along. Instead, I ignored him and told my daughter, “Um. No. YOU can push the door open. You can do things on your own.”
I know. It was SUCH a small thing. And, as my husband said, she’s only three. She doesn’t understand what the heck I’m talking about. But isn’t that kind of the point? If I don’t start teaching her these messages now – that she doesn’t need to rely on physical beauty to be good, that she is strong by her own right – what kind of woman will she grow up to be?