“Momma, I’m prettier than you,” declares my daughter as she watches me get ready for the day.
I’m not mentally ready to hold a conversation this early in the morning, let alone think about the ramifications of her observation. My confidence does a brief nosedive as I gaze at myself in the mirror. The dark circles under my eyes stand out. My hair has turned to a mass of curly frizz seemingly overnight. I look down at my clothes; my husband’s firefighter shirt and jean shorts aren’t exactly the most fashionable choice, I’ll admit.
“Well, honey,” I explain, “I may not look pretty but I sure am comfortable. I’m happy with the way I look and the clothes I’m wearing make sense for working in the garden.”
I’m quite sure she's just making a frank observation and doesn’t mean any harm; however, she is spot on. There is no comparison between her outfit, a fancy princess nightgown, and my run-of-the-mill shorts and shirt. I've reached a point in my life where, for the most part, I’m happy with how I look. More often than not I dress for comfort rather than fashion knowing that my day will mainly consist of picking up a toddler with dirty hands and doing chores in the chicken coop.
My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that being fancy is how she’s going to exercise her sense of style. She discovered the sparkly trinkets in a long-forgotten jewelry box. A dress is her top choice on a daily basis. And for the most part I’ve rolled with it.
She wants to wear a ruffled dress when she checks on our baby chicks? Sure, why not. It’s not as if I spent a ton of money on her "fancy" attire; her dresses are hand-me-downs or came from thrift stores. Her jewelry used to be mine when I was a child. Her flip-flops were the only brand new item she got for the summer.
I love watching her accessorize with a too-small headband, a bracelet stretched to its limit around her calf, and part of an old Halloween costume tied over her dress. Looking at her I see a little girl playing dress-up; one who is unaware, yet, of making sure she matches. Her definition of fancy is dependent upon the number of accessories piled on her limbs and a dress on her body.
She hasn’t let the way she dresses affect her play and will get just as dirty wearing her fancy jewels as she would if she were unadorned. She insists on wearing shorts so she can comfortably do flips on the swing set. Up until recently I saw her wish to be fancy as a passing whim; one of those phases some children go through as they begin to express themselves in different ways.
Now I question accommodating that desire. By giving in to her request to wear a dress everyday have I set her up to compare her outward appearance with others? Am I raising a girl who is as confident on the inside as she is with her outward appearance? And, oh dear goodness, how is this comparison going to go over with her friends in preschool? The last thing I want is for her to inadvertently make a friend feel bad if she’s not wearing something my daughter deems "pretty."
I want my daughter to reach a place where she feels a beautiful personality is more important than a pretty appearance. It’s fine if she wants to express her style by stacking on sparkly bangles before heading to the playground, as long as she's doing it to make herself happy and doesn’t judge others for their lack of fanciness. It may take time for her to develop this mindset but it's my job to help instill this while she’s young.
Who knows, this could just be a passing phase that will give way to something else. Winter could roll in and she might realize she would be warmer in pants. Even so, it's time to be proactive by addressing what it means to be pretty on the inside and on the outside. We need to talk more about how some observations might be better kept to oneself and how being confident in our appearance is, in our family, the true definition of pretty.