Why I would avoid telling my daughter she is a beautiful princess

A friend recently wrote a poem for her children as part of the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition. It was very personal and touching but there was one aspect I wasn’t comfortable with, and I wasn’t sure if it was right for me to bring it up. The siblings are a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. I told her the poems were great but it still didn’t feel right to ignore what I thought was an elephant in the room. Here’s why.

Society today celebrates people who excel in their studies and profession. Being successful due to your intellect is considered to be a great achievement. Being praised for hard work gives people more confidence in their abilities, and drives them to aim even higher. The output of someone’s intelligence can be measured by internal attributes, such as creativity or innovativeness. In theory this rule is equally applicable to men and for women, given that gender and the success factors from intelligence are not mutually exclusive. But does this happen in practice?

It’s all about the looks, not the brain 
The documentary Miss Representation captures women’s representation in society very well. It demonstrates the huge impact that the media has on our society. If you believe today’s media, you would think that the value and worth of a woman depends on how she looks. It sends out a message to both sexes that this is how a woman’s abilities are measured, rather than her achievements. Which means, if she is considered ‘not attractive enough’ by some parts of the media, then her appearance will detract from her qualifications and achievements. 

How you can make a difference 
To break this cycle we need to think critically about how we speak to boys and girls; which words we choose to use, and when. Children can change the status quo from a very early age. If I were to have a daughter, I would not make the value of her existence depend on her physical beauty, but instead I would teach her the importance of her intellect. Dependence on physical beauty gives away a woman’s power to determine her own course in life. 

I would wish for my daughter to build her confidence by trusting her own capabilities and improving herself from within rather than relying on appearance. She has no control over how others see this attribute, and neither can she change it.

I want to eliminate the connotation of beautiful princess with being a girl. I want my daughter to explore and discover her interests outside of gender biases in society because I believe it will empower her to reach her fullest potential. 

Did I tell my friend what I really thought of her poem? 
The thing that bothered me about my friend’s poem was that she referred to her four- year-old son as a very smart boy and said she is happy with his good results in school. To her daughter she wrote what a beautiful princess she is. Which one is a real achievement? Obviously it’s being smart, and getting good results in school. Eventually I did share my thoughts with her; she thanked me profusely. She was unaware of the implications of her poem.

By: Anita Otchere, Project Manager at ECWO

Image source: They call me obsessed - creative commons

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