Originally published on The Smartly:
This past month saw my daughter start cheerleading for the first time ever. At age six, she is still very much into princesses and everything girlie. In two weeks of cheerleading, she has done nothing but practice her jumps and cheers. She takes it all very seriously and absolutely loves it.
You can imagine my surprise when she all but burst into tears after team pictures the other day and announced that she was not pretty. This was followed up fairly quickly with the statement that she was fat. Surprise is not a strong enough word, try stunned into silence. How can a little girl at age six determine whether she is pretty or not, let alone fat? More importantly, where in the world did she ever get these ideas?
She has always had a healthy opinion of herself and a level of self-confidence at which I could only marvel. Anyone who could wear some of the outfits in which she chose to dress herself and pull it off is at a comfort level with her appearance that I did not reach until I turned 30. When her father and I tell her that she is beautiful, we mean it with our whole heart. She is simply gorgeous. She has eyes that look like blue crystals and a smile that fills up her entire face. She is tall and thin for her age, and is constantly fighting a losing battle with the waist of her pants because she can’t tighten them enough to stay up. We have been warned by many a friend and even casual acquaintances that we should be prepared to fend off all the suitors in a few short years; we can see it happening already with the neighborhood boys. This is why her statement was all the more crushing.
What prompted her declaration? It turns out that because she did not have her hair curled into ringlets or was not wearing a little blusher and lip gloss, she feels she was not as pretty as her teammates. This is first-grade cheerleading here. Why in the world is it necessary to spend such an inordinate amount of time primping a little girl for one picture? What ever happened to natural beauty? Am I doomed to fight this battle for the next few years because I do not feel it is necessary to treat my daughter like a Barbie doll?
Yes, this entire ordeal has me extremely upset. My main goal as a parent is to ensure my children have healthy levels of self-confidence and the ability to know what is truly important in life. Curled hair and make-up for a first-grade picture is not important in the grand scheme of things and yet, the other mothers have convinced my daughter that it is essential to be considered beautiful. It actually makes me a bit sick to my stomach that I have to fight this battle now. I was mentally prepared to deal with it as she got a little older, like prepubescence but definitely not before she had even started first grade.
What is even more upsetting is that I am not certain how I can win this battle. I feel that I am one voice objecting among millions stating that it is okay to objectify our daughters. How can I keep telling her that make-up and fancy hair is not true beauty when she sees all of the other girls wearing fanciful hairdos and make-up? More importantly, how I can I help my little girl see what a true beauty she truly is? How can I ignore her tears?