families: stop deciding who is the beauty

This is to families everywhere:

I want to ask a favor of you. All of you.

Please stop deciding which girl in the family is the prettiest. Stop deciding when she’s two, or four. Stop talking about her appearance when the family gets together. Stop trying to predict  what she’ll look like when she grows up. Stop comparing her to women who are famous for being sexy. Stop describing her features in detail. Stop complimenting the way she plays with her hair or walks or smiles. Stop asking her if she wants to be a model or a movie star when she grows up. There are a few more options. Even for very beautiful women.

Please stop pointing this girl out in photos where she’s standing with her sisters or her cousins. “But look at that one! Gorgeous! Look at that smile!” There are other girls in the picture. You don’t mean it that way, but you are suggesting that somehow, they are worth a little less. That somehow, their smiles are not as important.

I know women who grew up as “the pretty one.” Sometimes they struggled to be perceived as smart. Sometimes they are still struggling. That’s still a thing.

I know women who grew up as the sister or the cousin of the pretty one. They felt smaller. Like they didn’t matter in the same way. Sometimes they still feel that way.

Families take pride in the beauty of their little girls. There’s something instinctual and helpless about it. A basic, primal appreciation of the strength of our genes and the desirability of our line. I don’t think there’s something wrong with telling a little girl she’s pretty– with being proud of her for it. I don’t think we can help it. But we should remind ourselves that there is more to the story. That she is more than just pretty. That her sister is listening.

The other day, I listened to a woman praise her niece’s loveliness. The girl was seven. According to this woman, her niece would grow up to be a model or an actress, because she was going to be strikingly gorgeous. She was already halfway there. Look— and here was a photo– look at those long legs! Already! Look at those big eyes! That naturally pale blond hair. She could point to everything that defined this child’s potential. She flipped to another photo. Here was the girl, standing with three other girls, all in party dresses. They were cousins. The woman gestured at the family beauty. “Look at how she wears that dress! She’s flirting. Look at that smile!”

“They’re all very pretty,” I said.

She nodded, acknowledging my attempt at unnecessary political correctness, and went back to praising only one of them.

I didn’t know what to do. I’m wimpy. I’m a writer. Which is why I’m writing this, as a response. Not just to this one woman, but to all of the people I’ve heard do the same thing. I know they aren’t trying to be hurtful. The woman who showed me those pictures was proud of her niece. She was surprised by the sudden beauty that had emerged from her gene pool. She was impressed with her brother, for producing such a child. She was happy. And I am really not trying to knock happiness. And familial love.

But I am also getting  angry.

Because it keeps happening. Because I keep listening to adults describe the family beauty. An unsuspecting little girl who often doesn’t even know that she’s been chosen. Who isn’t yet aware that her long legs are important for anything except walking and running and folding underneath her when she sits on the floor. I keep watching them pick one, and leave the other girls behind. I keep hearing the word “smart” tossed onto one of the other girls like an afterthought, so that she has something, too.

At first, I couldn’t believe my ears. Do people still do this?

I promise, they do.

They do when they are educated and loving. They do when they are thoughtful and involved. They do when they are caring relatives and good parents. They do it all the time.

They will definitely do it this Thanksgiving, when families throughout the country gather to eat together, compare notes, and brag about the kids.

And it’s time for this particular type of bragging to stop.

So families– seriously, for all the little girls who aren’t “the pretty one” and all the little girls who are, can you try to stop?

*   *   *

Unroast: Today I love how boyish I look.

P.S. This post is also up on HuffPo here.



Kate on November 22nd 2011 in beauty, life, relationships

48 Responses to “families: stop deciding who is the beauty”

  1. Dawn responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Can we not compliment people anymore? Some people really are going to be prettier than other people, and if you relegate your compliments to only people in solo photos, there won’t be any compliments going around. I’ve often wondered if there are a large number of people (myself possibly included) for whether “pretty” is something we should just write off as “some people have it, some people don’t,” like any other talent. I will never be a good basketball player, but my sister is amazing at it — and there was no bad blood between us at how athletic my sister was compared to me. I knew she put more effort into it, and she cared way more than I did, and she had more natural talent at it than me. “Pretty” implies you’re above average, and statistically most of us won’t be it, because most of us will be average.

    “Smart” is also not a runner-up to “pretty.” There are plenty of people who are thrilled to have smart kids.

  2. LIT responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    As one of the “smart” ones- thanks for this!!!

  3. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:19 pm #


    As I said in the post, I think complimenting someone for being pretty is fine. It’s the way it’s done that matters.

    And no, smart isn’t a runner up to pretty for many people. Not what I’m saying. I’m saying, there are also a lot of people who set it up like a dichotomy. Which is not the way life works. Obviously, smart and pretty happen at the same time all the time. And obviously, both are valuable.

  4. Shay responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Here here. Still trying to find a way to send my mother your website without seeming passive aggressive.

    Here’s the thing, Commenter #1: Your point would be well taken if “pretty” was equal in status to “good at basketball” or “smart” in our current culture. But we are still far from the ideal where women are not valued above all else for their appearances. Until they are, and while girls still receive that message every single day, focusing on a little girl’s looks minimizes everything else that she is. And that’s a shame because we may miss out on some real talent in our girls.

  5. Val responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I totally agree with Kate.

    I have five daughters, all adorable, all distinct. One is tiny, with dark hair and dark blue eyes, two are tall and look alike, another is lanky and serious, and Julia’s just an elegant little squirrel at 7.

    No one of them consistently gets singled out as the pretty one, and that’s probably a good thing.

    My sister has much bolder coloring than I do–the dark hair and eyes, the full lips. I am blue eyes, sandy hair, ordinary. But I don’t remember ever resenting it or feeling like she got extra attention. It would have been hurtful to have to bow down to her as the beautiful one. Okay, that’s the end of me. love, Val

  6. Marti responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    There is a great difference between being praised and fawned over because of natural appearance the child/person did nothing to earn, and being praised for a skill or talent. It’s not apples and apples. It’s not even apples and oranges.

    How many kids are praised by strangers who just look them for their basketball skill? Vs. the number of kids praised for their good looks?

    In your heart of hearts, which would you rather be – pretty or smart? Yeah. I thought so.

  7. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    I’m asking myself that question now. And here is my honest answer: it really depends on the day!

  8. Lynn responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Excellent Post! Can we also stop comapring the chosen majors/professions/jobs among siblings? Cause that really hurts too….

  9. Lynn responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:33 pm #


  10. Katharine Lilley responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    This is really interesting to me because I have two children, a boy and a girl, ages 5 1/2 and 4 respectively, and my little girl is beautiful. I see it and other people comment on her looks all the time. None of my sisters or my husbands siblings have children yet so we are not in that phase of life where my kids are being compared to relatives yet. However, I do notice that my daughter gets called beautiful, gorgeous, stunning all the time and my son sees and hears this. I wonder the effect it has on him. People don’t tell him he’s gorgeous or whatever. I do think there is something to be said for telling your own child they are beautiful. I make a point of complimenting my son about how handsome he is as well as complimenting my daughter. I don’t do that to other peoples kids though. I have three sisters and no brothers and (thank goodness) I don’t think we were compared to each other too much growing up. We all have our talents that the adults in our lives commented on but I don’t really recall one of us-or any of our cousins for that matter-being singled out as THE pretty one. I am seeing that now in extended family on my husbands side. I can definatly see how it can be damaging to all of the parties involved. The question is, how do you divert the attention from looks to what really matters? For a while my daughter was placing alot of her self worth in her looks (and she is 4!), she would ask me all the time to “see how beautiful she was”. I try to make a point of the beauty inside her heart. Her kindness and her generousity and gentleness and all the rest. But, like you said, how do you open other people’s eyes to what really matters if so much worth is placed on aesthetics?

  11. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Yeah, that too.

  12. Jo responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    YES. I feel like telling people that they’re pretty or smart isn’t a bad thing, it’s how it’s done. Because in large families (and sometimes not-so-large), it’s done as an exclusionary thing. If you’re pretty, you can’t be smart. If you’re smart, you can’t be pretty. And then you compare and weigh and on and on. Competition and jealousy and insecurity and low self-esteem are spawned. To people who this didn’t happen to: that is AWESOME. But kids pick up on stuff, and start counting who gets told what how many times, and what they’re NOT told. And it happens more than we think.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. I like to find “beautiful” things about the “smart” kids that I encounter, and “smart” things about the “beautiful” kids I encounter. Because they’re not just one thing, and while it’s more simple to have uni-role people, it’s not good for them. Encourage that we’re all smart in different ways, and beautiful in different ways, and creative in different ways, and on and on and on.

  13. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    So interesting. And there are no easy answers! But I love that you tell your son he’s handsome. That’s ultimately what matters most, I think. What the people you’re closest with think.

    One of my brothers was always picked out as the handsome, gorgeous one by everyone. I always thought both of my brothers were equally good looking. But I didn’t know how to make the one who wasn’t being complimented feel good about the way he looked. It’s really important to learn that there are a lot of ways to be good looking. And that’s hard for a kid (and for me) to realize.

    In terms of your daughter, I guess it just makes sense to focus on what she likes to do. Not anything original there. But I remember that my mom always brushed away people’s comments on my appearance and talked about what I was interested in. I felt like I was really good at things as a kid, and I also felt pretty, because, well, I was a little girl, and I just assumed I must be really pretty.

  14. margosita responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Amen. And while we’re at it, can we stop projecting every talent a kid has into a future career? I would like kids to be able to enjoy drawing without someone saying they’ll have to be an artist. Or a kid to get a kick out of helping out in the kitchen without someone saying “She’s going to be a chef!”

    It doesn’t matter what they will “be” when they grow up. Why bother speculating? Let them be kids! Not just potential adults.

  15. *Andrea* responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    beautiful post! my family definitely does this. love your blog, you’re a great writer

  16. San D responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    My sister, who ultimately was the pretty one and the favorite, never got that I didn’t receive the same attention. I instinctively knew why, and it really had more to do with my mother’s preference to her own looks and her family than to my father’s side of the family, whom I looked like. When my mother died, my sister and I had a long conversation, starting with looking through photo albums. All I said to her was this: “which one of us looks like they are about to cry at any moment?” Her response? “Oh my God” and then SHE cried. We have been really close ever since, a luxury that was not afforded to me when we were younger, as I was not in the “inner” circle. Now, that said, I must admit, I don’t know who I would be now, if the roles were reversed. My confidence has been hard fought, granted, but ultimately, I wouldn’t be who I am today

  17. Belen responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Have you read Lisa Bloom’s piece “How to Talk to Little Girls”? If not, here’s the link:


  18. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Yes! Loved it. And felt like I was copying her with this, but still needed to write it. Actually, this piece is now up on HuffPo, too. Though I’m not expecting that kind of traction :-)

  19. kiki responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    I completly agree. People did that with my sister and I and it wasn’t just the looks it was how smart how great and then there was me. It still goes on to this day. I after lots of thearpy and a great and supportive husband am past alot of the hurt. But it still creeps up. I have to be very careful not to do the same with my sons. You don’t always realizw till later that sometimes you are doing the samw things to your own child that was done to you. I work very hard at not being the parent who only sees the one child. By the way I too cut my long hair and love it. Loved you unroast.

  20. Belen responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:29 pm #


    Well, yours differs in that you explore the aspect of sibling/familial rivalry when it comes to praising girls/women for their aesthetic “quality.”

    True, it’s difficult to judge the value (?) of someone’s intellect or talent or what-have-you by just looking at them, so we go with what we see. Literally. I don’t mind the compliments on physical traits – they do, however much we want to deny it – make up a part of who we are. But it doesn’t make us entirely who we are. And I wonder: how does it feel to be praised for something for which you had almost virtually no control in creating, apart from generally taking good care of yourself? Would you feel a little cheated? “Hey! What about my writing? Or my singing? Or the fact that I graduated college at 19?! Or that I’m teaching myself to play the ukelele!? I had to WORK to hone those skills; I had to discipline myself, buster!”

  21. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Exactly! And are you really reaching yourself the ukelele? Because that is badass.

  22. Belen responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Hah!! That was all imagination (“Hey, what about my awesome imagination… huh, buddy?!”). I mean I do sing but my college graduation time-frame was pretty standard. I suppose I *should* teach myself to play a musical instrument and the uke is quite a small and portable item, so, mayyyybe…

  23. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    LOL! Allow me to compliment you on your convincing imagination! :-)

  24. Belen responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Compliment accepted (and much appreciated). And allow me to compliment you on an ever-entertaining and thought-provoking blog!

  25. bethany actually responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    When I was a little girl I had striking hair–shiny, blonde, straight past my waist. I used to get noticed a lot because of my hair, and complimented on how pretty it was. It annoyed and discomfited me because, well, it was HAIR. I had nothing to do with how it looked, and the only reason it was long is because my parents wouldn’t let me cut it.

    I have two daughters (ages 7 and 1) and whenever anyone compliments them on their looks (“Aw, she’s adorable,” etc.) I try to reply with something like, “Yep, we think she’s pretty awesome,” just as a way to redirect for my kids’ benefit into something that isn’t purely about appearances. It’s a very small thing but I figure the small things add up.

  26. Kate responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Compliment accepted! This has been a most satisfying little exchange.

    Sorry– once I start going with the whole “I’m being formal and avuncular tone” it’s hard to stop :-)

  27. Deanna responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    I have two daughters and I think they are both lovely in their own way. I frequently tell them they are beautiful (and smart) because when I was a child no one said that to me. I think since I was a child in the 60s and 70s it wasn’t PC to think of female beauty as an asset so all of my parents’ PC friends would never say I was pretty. I was smart, creative, funny etc…but never pretty. I wanted to be pretty. I wanted to have boyfriends and be popular and have some control over who I could date or not.

    Anyway, I think I’ve done a good job of raising my girls. They both have way more confidence in their beauty and sexuality than I ever will. I feel this absolute pride when I hear in their voices or listen to their conversations just how confident they are.

    PS…Please send me your stories about any bad work experience you have had. I am not getting enough responses! Djpilates@aol.com/

    Thank you everyone and have a great Thanksgiving holiday.

  28. laurabalaurah responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Kate!

    Thank you for writing this. As a child who wore glasses and had a big nose (and, after a bad bike accident, a pretty large lip scar until it eventually faded), I was incredibly aware of not being the pretty one, especially in comparison to my gorgeous cousin. She was the pretty one, and I turned to a hope of at least being the smart one. This basically meant that I was unreasonably driven, and did a lot of things simply to be affirmed. I wonder if it had never been pointed out to me (at least as a pre-teen) that I had a large nose and that large noses were considered unattractive, if I would have pushed myself in the same way to be noticed for my smarts; I wonder if I would have felt the same need to compensate for something that I thought was missing.

    I certainly think about all that you mentioned when I’m teaching kids. Thanks for the reminder.

  29. Belen responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 5:32 pm #


    Indeed… fun for me, too. Formalities and all!

  30. Kimberly responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    As a mom to two little girls, two totally different looking little girls, thank you.

    My oldest has medium brown hair and a gorgeous skin complexion that I, am quite frankly, jealous of. She has these eyes that aren’t quite brown but aren’t quite green.
    She is beautiful.
    My youngest has red, red hair and piercing blue eyes and is pale like snow white.
    She too, is beautiful.

    But who do you think gets all the comments? My firey redhead…because she isn’t the “norm”. She stands out. And while I love that about her, people either fail to see, or don’t notice the beauty in my oldest daughter too. Both of my girls are amazing — they have loving personalities, they are truly wonderful, caring little girls. And it hurts me, as the mom, when I see people compliment and gush over what a gorgeous little red head I have. And it happens all the time where we live…because we live in Hawaii and it is really rare to see someone with red hair. I watch all this happen. And I watch my oldest daughter fight for attention from complete strangers who she will never, ever see again…and it breaks my heart. Their dad and I never mention the red hair at home. We never single out one child because BOTH of my girls are beautiful, inside and out.

    This is also the reason why I get so angry when people tell me that my youngest (the red head) should be a baby model (well..toddler). No. I do not want her singled out like that. I don’t want to put her OR my oldest through ANY of that.

    ugh. It’s so frustrating. I just wish I could make everyone read this post. Because I would if I could.

  31. P Flooers responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    @Dawn, speaking as a pretty woman, that form of praise is small favor at best. And I think your definition of the word pretty sounds, ironically, ugly.

  32. mia responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    It’s not just the parents who fuss about a daughter’s beauty. It’s the whole world. And it’s a very detrimental thing for a girl, who comes to believe that her physical attractiveness is what matters. My daughter, who is extremely beautiful, has low confidence in her other sterling abilities in part because she knows she can excel in the beauty arena and she’s not so sure about how she’ll do in other areas, so she doesn’t try too hard. It breaks my heart to think of how she sells herself short. And no one can understand why I hate it when she’s praised for her attractiveness. What a good post!

  33. Anna responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I, unfortunately, had the displeasure of being ‘the pretty one’ as a child. It really sucks to have the teacher comment on it the first day of school (in front of the class >=/) and then not having ANY female friends for most of the year. I live in a house where my parents have made me aware that I’m pretty, but have also told ‘sure, you can be a model, but look at how smart you are! Both you AND your brother have such fabulous grades, you can do anything!’ And I will always be grateful for having parents who never singled my brother or I out as ‘the pretty one’ or the ‘brother of the pretty one’. It is more like ‘look at you two, the nuclear physicist and the A student, we’re so proud.’

    My Parents don’t believe in singling either of us out as ‘the [blank] one’, because my mother had to be called ‘the useless, stupid one’ as a child (my grandfather’s an ass.) My dad’s parents taught the way my parents do, that each of the children are very important, and even if one has better grades or looks, you don’t single them out.

    Even though my brother and I are ALWAYS in academic competition with each other (I currently attend the same grant-funded PLTW high school he did, and he’s finishing Navy A-School so he can be on a nuke sub. I also talked and walked early, because I’ll be damned if his 3.5 year head start was going to hold me back xP) They have never dwelled on the who’s-who in our family.

  34. Spelling responded on 22 Nov 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    I hear that! It’s okay to comment on how one girl is pretty, but make sure you compliment the other girl(s) just as much – probably not about their appearance, but about their intelligence, sense of style, uniqueness, etc. Brag on them about something you know they are confident in.

    I remember growing up how I was always the not-skinny one (not fat, just not the skinniest) and how I was the one who was just kinda forgotten.

    Kate, you are so right! Thank you for a waaay-spot-on post.

  35. Nidia responded on 23 Nov 2011 at 12:23 am #

    Thanks for this post. While I am conscious enough not to do this I often see this happen and am, like you, at a loss as to how to handle the situation. I will now share your words on Facebook and hopefully avoid some awkward moments in the future : ) Thank you!

    Have a great Thanksgiving!!

  36. jensketch responded on 23 Nov 2011 at 9:44 am #

    What an amazing and excellent post. Don’t listen to all the people saying it’s perfectly fine to single out someone as pretty. They’re the pretty ones. lol

    This happened to my sister and my cousin — both the same age and both 8 years older than me. I sort of watched it unfold. The cousin was the pretty one. Blonde, tall, perfect and absolutely beautiful. My sister, shorter, darker, tanner, bustier, though — we all thought her MUCH more beautiful. It was like a fight between families.

    It was so bad, the competition between girls, that my cousin, who wasn’t very endowed as my sister was, got a boob job.

    How did it end up? My parents divorced and no one talks to anyone. It doesn’t matter at all. They are both in their late 40s now with children and happy lives and who cares?

    As an aside, I was a desperately plain child who was the “smart” one because I was so pale and rail thin and mousey. I’m glad I was the smart one — because I ended up being beautiful, too — and I know my own worth.

  37. Tami responded on 23 Nov 2011 at 11:43 am #

    I read your posts often, but this is my first time posting in the comments. I just want to commend you for such a brilliantly written essay on this topic! One of my favorite lines is: “Who isn’t yet aware that her long legs are important for anything except walking and running and folding underneath her when she sits on the floor.” It’s such a poignant way of illustrating how these beauty values are socialized. I am reminded how I always notice my mom qualifying people as “good-looking” when she describes them. The affect on me in this kind of society is that I’ve always felt like I’ve failed in life when I’m not the most attractive woman in the room, meeting the universal standard of beauty. This, when I’m “successful” by a variety of other social standards. Just not the most important one. But you know what? I’ve come a long way to see that everyone has their own unique beauty, including me.

    I admire and thank you for putting yourself out there, Kate, with this blog.

  38. Sooz responded on 23 Nov 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    This post made tears come to my eyes. Because my sister was the pretty one whom everyone gasped over and fussed over. She still is gorgeous and males fall all over themselves to get her attention. But she is secretly insecure and she drinks b/c she can’t deal with the pressure. And I have NEVER thought of myself as attractive. Even now. When people say that I am. I just feel like I did when I was little. Invisible and ugly. So I am with you, Kate. Please stop with the comments about beauty. And love your children simply for being them.

  39. aria responded on 24 Nov 2011 at 9:12 am #

    Yet again this is sooo true! I have a brother and I was 7 years senior, and a nerd so always singled one as “the smart one” . He struggles with school sometimes because the stupid teachers in his elementary were telling him stuff like “but aria was the best in her year” , “she was amazing at calculus, let’s see what you can do”. That IS NOT good.
    As a little girl, I had a best friend ( our dads worked toghether, families were close) and she was pointed out as “the pretty one” “the skinny one” . I grew up very unsure on my beauty, very gullible to boys who singled “me” as the prettiest, and it took me a long time to grew over that. That’s not ok. I still feel the need to dress up wherever I’m going, to be my best presentable self. And in the college I was always the stylish one, the sexy one. Guess what? It wasn’t what I expected. My insecurity was still there.

  40. Erica responded on 27 Nov 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I think now I know why I have trouble believing people when they tell me I’m pretty. Not that I ever played second fiddle to “the pretty one,” but I did hear a bit of “Why aren’t you more like…” growing up, and not a lot of being taught to embrace who I am. My sister has always been tall and willowy, like my mom, and like our beloved grandfather, and I was always just a bit shorter and almost as slim but not quite. So I don’t always believe people when they tell me I’m tall.

    One of my cousins has a two-year-old daughter who is, in all honesty, as cute as a button. She looks like a porcelain doll, with pretty blue eyes and a head full of soft curls. But I was kind of uncomfortable hearing her aunts and grandmother, among others, tell her over and over how pretty she is. I’m a little worried about how that will affect her, and I made it a point to try to say other things to her, things as simple as “I like your dress” or “I love you,” just to break through the cacophony of “You’re so pretty”s.

    I agree with everyone who’s said that maybe we don’t realize the effects that our words have on children.

  41. Paula responded on 28 Nov 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    hi! I’ve just found this blog and I love it. You seem to understand our nature so well. Though I consider myself intelligent, I still can’t manage to free myself from all that people and MTV taught me I had to be. I’ll keep on reading and see if I learn something :)

  42. zoe (and the beatles) responded on 02 Dec 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    families definitely still do this. for a short while there i got the lead role as the “beautiful” family member. ugh. in retrospect i loathed all the comments. all those words directed at me only made me anxious. they made me feel like i needed to continue to be skinny. no one has the right to openly comment on another person’s figure as if she’s not standing there.

  43. rose responded on 27 Jan 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Just discovered this blog (wandered over from the hairpin) and I’ve been reading through the archive, and I wanted to join in the chorus of people saying that this piece is great!

    I remember being told in preschool that I would grow up to be a “heartbreaker” because of my striking hazel eyes. It puzzled me, and then, when I finally figured out what it meant, I remember thinking, “What a weird thing to say to a kid.” Luckily my parents were both crazy awesome feminists, so I got plenty of counter-messages, but I still think about that comment sometimes; it feels like something a wicked fairy might wish on an unsuspecting baby after an invitation snub. Heartbreaker? That’s terrible.

  44. Eat the Damn Cake » don’t tell me to get over it responded on 03 Apr 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    [...] certain people and other people aren’t sure they’ll ever be sexy. I am not over the way little girls are taught to relate to their bodies. I am not over questioning the way womanhood should work for me. I am not over questioning the way [...]

  45. Eat the Damn Cake » don’t tell me to get over it responded on 03 Apr 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    [...] certain people and other people aren’t sure they’ll ever be sexy. I am not over the way little girls are taught to relate to their bodies. I am not over questioning the way womanhood should work for me. I am not over questioning the way [...]

  46. Link Love (04/12/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope responded on 04 Dec 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    [...] “Families take pride in the beauty of their little girls. There’s something instinctual and helpless about it. A basic, primal appreciation of the strength of our genes and the desirability of our line. I don’t think there’s something wrong with telling a little girl she’s pretty– with being proud of her for it. I don’t think we can help it. But we should remind ourselves that there is more to the story. That she is more than just pretty. That her sister is listening.” Families: Stop Deciding Who Is the Beauty – Eat the Damn Cake [...]

  47. Melinda responded on 28 Jan 2013 at 11:33 am #

    So I know I’m, like, way late to this conversation. But this is something that’s been on my mind for a very long time.

    In my family, everyone knows who the “pretty” girl is. Actually, she is considered the prettiest while the rest of us fade into the background, especially me. My cousin who happens to be a year older than me is the one that people fawn over and give preferential treatment to.

    We always had this weird cousin rivalry between us since I can remember, but it became more of a problem as time went on. I think it was the first time an elderly relative said that Gianna was “something of a beauty”. And then, in a half-apologetic tone, she told me that I looked “nice”…like she didn’t want to make the plain one (me) feel worse. But the damage was done.

    I could have accepted that everyone thought my cousin was prettier, if they had only allowed me room to be myself. To express my own individuality and hopes/dreams/uniqueness. But they didn’t. I was condemned for not looking like her, not being like her. I wasn’t allowed to be beautiful in my OWN way, special in my OWN right.

    So I would spend time being miserable and feeling uncomfortable in my skin, the skin that they all said was too pale because “black” girls aren’t supposed to be TOO light-skinned. I secretly wished for my cousin’s deep golden-brown skin, her statuesque height, her 36DD breasts that she flaunted at every opportunity. I wanted the privileges that she had. I wanted to be considered beautiful, because only then, in my mind, could I be loved.

    No one ever rejected her, it seemed. No one ever turned her away or belittled her. People would tell her she had a beautiful face and then these same people would treat me like shit. Beauty, to me, was all tied up with acceptance. She could walk into a room, even at a size 16, and everyone wanted to be around her…because she had the confidence of a girl who has been told all her life that she is something special. She knew that she was a big deal because it had been affirmed from the time she hit puberty.

    Me? I turned inward, trying to hide my pain and anger. I was naturally thin, but starved myself to be even thinner so I would receive some positive attention. I straightened the hell out of my hair. I had a few unsuccessful attempts at trying to achieve golden-brown skin, but to no avail. I wore a bit too much makeup for a teenager. I acted flirty, but people shamed me and called me “slutty”, while my cousin flirted all the time and no one said anything about it. To be fair, she did battle with a weight problem but that was offset by the compliments she received on a daily basis. Everyone always told her she was beautiful and brilliant and she would succeed in life. Me? Not so much. I wasn’t just ignored, I was abused verbally and emotionally.

    My family never understood how their constant judgments and comparisons hurt me. They didn’t (and still don’t) see the damage they’ve done to both of us, as little girls and as women.

    In my case…I still struggle with deep internal shame and self-loathing. I feel like I will never be worthy of love. Never good enough, thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. I’ve been through some seriously fucked-up shit in my life. And I can’t seem to turn off the voices in my head that tell me I’m fat, ugly, stupid, lazy, etc.

    In her case…constantly being told that she was “pretty” helped to make her extremely vain and shallow, almost narcissistic. I am a big fan of women being confident but she takes it to a whole other level. She was a bit of a bully when we were growing up and she always made it clear to me that I was inferior to her. She knew that people viewed her as pretty and I was the quiet, socially awkward one, so she never hesitated to put me down when she could. Our family created a monster by boosting her self-esteem at my expense. She is very superficial and even her recent weight loss was fueled by the need to compete with me.

    At 29, I’m still trying to come into my own and be myself despite all the bullshit that’s been thrown at me. I can’t even bring myself to fully enjoy being a woman because people made it clear to me that I have no right to do that. Because she was deemed the “beauty” of my family and I played the role of the awkward, ugly cousin, my femininity was stunted…and I’m not sure I can ever reclaim it.

  48. Melinda responded on 04 Feb 2013 at 11:19 am #

    BTW, Kate…thanks for your kind words! It means a lot. I hope I don’t sound like some jealous psycho bitch in talking about my cousin this way.

    But yes, it hurts that people view us and treat us differently. I won’t deny that. And her conceited attitude really bothers me, because while there is nothing wrong with being confident, she tends to be over the top. She also is surrounded by people who never put her in check so this “look at me” behavior is way out of control. Anyone who tries to gently point this out is immediately accused of being jealous of her. It’s crazy.

    I will admit that when I got married about 4 years ago, I didn’t invite her because there is too much bad blood between us. I felt like she would do what she always does…show up and ruin my special day. Just once, I wanted it to be about me, instead of all the attention being on her. I know it sounds selfish and a bit mean, but that is how I felt.

    I believe my family loves me in their own twisted way, but they have a funny way of showing it. I’ve never been accepted for who I am. And it isn’t like she is beautiful and down to earth. She *knows* that people see her as beautiful and she reminds everyone of that, especially me.

    I know that deep down, I’m a better person than she is. I’m kind, loyal, smart, witty, and caring. So I definitely have more inner beauty than she does. But in a world where looks matter, it seems like I lose. Our family loves her more, for crying out loud! All because of her external beauty and the confidence from being told she’s the best her whole life.

    I had to withdraw from Facebook last year because it was toxic to my self-esteem. She would have oodles of sexy pictures on there and billions of her “friends” would tell her all day long how beautiful, wonderful, etc. It made me sick. I can see a person deserving that praise if they are truly beautiful on the inside as well as out, but she isn’t.

    One of my aunts told me I was “competitive” with my cousin. I’m not competitive with her at all, but I see how unfair it is when families decide that one girl is better/prettier than another. It creates tension and misunderstanding and hurt feelings. I mean, it’s good that she feels confident and beautiful but not at my expense. I’ve had to pull away from my family and other negative influences just so I can try to rebuild my self-esteem. How sad is that?