“Stop calling her pretty. She isn’t ‘pretty’. Pretty doesn’t even begin to describe her. She is so much more than that. She is kind hearted and heartbroken, gentle and dangerous, an angel one day and a devil the next. Intelligent yet silly, hilariously funny yet devastatingly sad. She is passion personified as a human being. Pretty isn’t even close. She’s a supernova that trails stardust in her wake. A constellation of contradictions plucked from outer space. And all you can call her is ‘pretty.'” ~ Nikita Gill
So many of us have this way of reacting to little girls that is so different to how we relate to little boys.
I get it, girls and boys are different, but does that mean we focus on girls’ physical attributes and behaviour as the “good girl,” and focus on the strengths of our boys’ characters?
Being judged by how they look and behave rather than who they are as a person often leaves our little girls growing up with unhealthy and damaging beliefs about themselves and how they are perceived.
Most of us have been guilty of this; we goo and gah how pretty the little girl is. And as she sits there quietly, we comment “how good she is.” The little boy on the other hand, oh he’s strong, and look how active and playful he is. And as he races around, as so often little boys do, he’s a “typical boy.”
You see, our little girls are conditioned to believe the way they look and what’s deemed as “good behaviour” is how they are valued. Our little boys are conditioned to believe they are strong, independent, cheeky, and if a little naughty, well that’s just typical behaviour. And of course this does not relate to every person in the world, and in 2023, we are starting to see the faults in some of this conditioning. However, it’s still very much alive and well in many households around the world.
As a new grandmother to my first grandchild, a baby girl, I’ve realised I want this toxic conditioning to change. I want better for my precious granddaughter. She is so much more than “pretty and good.”
I grew up in the 80s where these beliefs and behaviours were in full force. From as far back as I can remember, the first thing people would say to me was, “You’re so pretty” or “What a good little girl you are.” I was shy and I learnt quickly that teachers and adults would like me if I obeyed them, the start of my people pleasing.
I was eight years old when my mum brought me this pink cowgirl dress with tussles; oh how I loved that dress. I put it on and spun around admiring how pretty it was. I wore it to my grandmother’s one day and one of my family members looked at me and said, “That dress makes you look like a whore.” I had no idea what a whore was, but their judgement and disdain of me was clear in their voice and facial features, and my dad’s angered reaction to them was evidence that what they said was a horrible thing. I went to the toilet and cried. That was the last day I ever wore that dress.
Being constantly judged by your appearance and how you look is such an awful thing. As I grew into a teenager, I learnt some harsh lessons. The girls were more judgmental than the boys. “Jealous,” my parents would tell me. “Girls don’t like girls who are friends with boys,” some of my teachers would say. “You’re a show off. A ‘luvvo’. A slut.” I was none of those things; I was insecure and still shy.
A male friend told me once there were pretty girls who were not good girls, so they were the ones all the boys slept with. The pretty girls who were good girls like me were the ones the boys wanted to take home to meet their mums. Not once in any of these conversations did someone, anyone, speak about me as a person. My intelligence. Sense of humour. Caring heart. All anyone spoke about was how I looked and how I behaved.
When I was 10, all I wanted to play was soccer. But soccer was not a sport for girls. I could go to watch my brother train for soccer and go to his games, but I was not allowed to play. If I tried to go and kick the ball around, I was admonished for getting dirty. For five years, I went to every training session and every game, hanging onto the hope I could play soccer. I don’t blame my parents; their belief was girls don’t play boy sports. I did dancing instead and I was terrible at it.
When my daughter was born and started to grow, I took her to varying activities and sports and let her choose what she liked. She chose soccer funnily enough and was a representative soccer play at the age of 12 and still loves it some 16 years later.
Forty years on with maturity, wisdom, healing, and growth, I have learnt about and understand limiting beliefs and conditioning. Generational beliefs and trauma. Societal conditioning. And one thing is crystal clear: misogyny is still alive and well, as is internalised misogyny. Women projecting their subconscious beliefs, judgements, and sexist ideas onto other women—because that’s how they’ve been conditioned; that’s how they please the people in their lives. It’s not new, but more and more of us are understanding the damage it causes. As a woman, a mother of a daughter and a son, and a new grandmother to a baby girl, I want change.
I’m sure I’ll have a few of you shaking your head and muttering bullsh*t under your breath as you read this. Maybe you blame “women’s lib” or “feminism.” And that’s okay, you are entitled to your beliefs. What I would suggest is you question why you think the way you do. Does it serve you? Does it serve others? Is it judgmental? Are you comfortable with treating little girls differently to little boys, and if so, why? Really ask yourself why. Who does it benefit? Are our children benefiting? Do you want this belief if judgement, bitterness, or resentment are attached? Where did it come from? Is it hurting or healing you? Hurting or healing those in your life? Are you scared? Does digging deep inside yourself and challenging your thoughts and beliefs scare you?
And maybe you want to know why I think the way I do? It’s because these beliefs are harming our daughters and our sons. It’s harming relationships. Family. Society. Our daughters feel what they offer the world is their looks and behaviour. Our sons are taught to look for a good girl but ensure she also looks pretty.
How many posts, videos, or articles are out there about a woman’s “body count”? Apparently, a woman is damaged goods if she’s had more than the “acceptable” number of lovers. We tell our girls, “Good girls don’t sleep around.” Those who do are dirty and slutty. Boys are applauded for their promiscuity, and we tell our boys “be safe.” The messaging is so damn wrong, and instead of girls being looked at as an equal human being to men, they are looked at as things. Something to acquire.
We have boys thinking it’s their right to do as they please to a girl (look at the unacceptable volume of rape cases throughout colleges and universities, not to mention high schools). We then have women so insecure in themselves, they spend their time judging other women in some sort of competition to get the attention of men.
There’s a million Andrew Tate’s out there in waiting. For every helpful video encouraging change, there’s a video inciting hate. I know, they don’t always look like hate, but they are preying on the insecure with messed up belief systems. It’s like we’ve created a war with men against women. Toxic and hateful. Can we afford to sit back passively and allow this sort of misogyny and internalised misogyny to take control?
We need change. Reverting back to 50 years ago is not the answer. We have evolved from there and we need to evolve further. Those hellbent on taking us backwards do so out of their own limited beliefs and insecurities. There’s good and bad in every generation, but as we evolve, we learn. Boys and girls, men and women, are different, of course we are, but that does not mean we are unequal. Generally speaking, men are physically stronger, yet it’s women who carry and birth our children. There is no naturally greater toll on a human body than pregnancy. It forever changes our bodies, yet there are still beliefs simmering away that we need to get back in shape. We are judged by some men. We are judged by some women. And we judge ourselves.
As a woman who has been complimented for my looks throughout my life, I learnt to need that validation—until I understood what it was doing to me and how much harm it had caused me. Compliments are lovely, but as a woman who has seen the damage the “you’re pretty” and “such a good girl” has done to me, I want more for my loved ones and I want more for society as a whole.
In high school, the boys did a ranking of us girls, which at the time, we all wanted to make the list. When I look back at that ranking and my votes of best legs, prettiest face, and so on, I’m saddened because there was so much more to me than the way I looked. There is so much more to all our little girls than the way they look.
The narrative that a woman is the weaker sex is outdated and in truth ridiculous. If we want to be seen as weaker, sure we can do that. But why would we, unless to please others, or settle for a man who fears an independent woman? If we want to assert our strength, our courage, and our ability to be independent and happy, we need to be free to do so, without the condescending judgements from those who fear us.
Our little girls need to be taught that there is so much depth to them and we need to empower them to grow into confident and strong women. Our little boys need to be taught that their emotions are important, their feelings valid, and we need to empower them to grow into men who are curious and see the beauty in strong and confident women. Our children need to be taught that whilst girls and boys are different, they are equal human beings and respect for the whole person is key. They need to understand that judgement of another is a projection of their own fear. Teach them how to love not fear.
So every week, I see my granddaughter and spend moments with her that are precious. I tell her she’s clever. I tell her she’s strong. I tell her she’s funny. I tell her she’s doing a great job when she’s learnt a new skill. I tell her it’s okay to be grizzly. I point out all the beautiful things in nature when we take her for a walk in her pram. And when she gets bigger, I’ll tell her she has a beautiful heart. I’ll tell her she can play with dolls, trains, cars, or whatever she wants. She can play whatever sport she chooses, or none at all. I’ll tell her all her feelings are valid. If she’s naughty or good, it will be the behaviour that’s pointed out and not that she is a good or bad girl. And I will tell her that her face and body are just the outer shell, that the important stuff is what is inside, and that her beauty shines out of her. I’ll tell her that I love her without condition.
Please stop telling her she’s pretty and to be a good girl.
“Don’t you dare call me beautiful, until you’ve sat down with my soul.” ~ Unknown
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