My Dad’s pet name for me growing up was ‘Pumpkin’. I don’t know where it came from but he used it until the day he passed away and the word still recalls for me all the love and happiness of home.
I call my son ‘Lamb’. I am sure this started simply because it rhymed with his name Sam, but now it is a term that seems inextricably linked to his quiet, gentle kindness.
Like many terms of endearment, they are just words, meaningless except when shared as a private reminder between two people of the unconditional love and support special to their relationship.
But, of course, there are words which have a power of their own and are judged at face value regardless of private sentiment. For example, if I chose to call my son ‘dickhead’ because of some private joke, it would matter not whether my son found this an endearing term – society would be offended on his behalf.
Which brings me to my daughter…..
I call my daughter ‘Beauty’, like “Hey Beauty – what’s up?”. I never really thought about it when she was young. It started, I’m sure, because she is to me beautiful – inside, outside and upside down. But this is one of those words that have a power of their own and a societal connotation in terms of meaning and influence. And one I have at times felt guilty about using in public.
I have done much reading on the subject, not just as a mother but also as an author of a self-esteem book – a book which stresses the subjective nature of the term Beauty and the danger of defining oneself by strict constructs of external appearance.
I have read many different opinions on the subject. A sampling….
“Don’t use any adjective like ‘beautiful or pretty’ when addressing a girl as it can lead to external beauty becoming the defining criteria for a girl and limit their potential in life.”
“It’s good to call girls beautiful because they will learn that they are uniquely beautiful and they will become more confident about their appearance and therefore themselves.”
“Only focus on admiring a girl’s intellect, strength or creativity in order to teach her what to prioritize.”
“Tell your daughter she is beautiful but never that she is smart because telling her she is beautiful can only give her confidence, but telling her she is smart will increase her fear of failure and deter her from challenging herself.”
While I understand the logic in each individual point, taken together, they hurt my head. So I did what I do in many situations like this and talked to my daughter directly about the issue. Predictably, she didn’t find the topic as engrossing as I do. “All moms think their daughters are beautiful. What’s the big deal?”; easy for her to say, she doesn’t know the damage I could be doing her.
I don’t mean to make light, trust me, I understand the importance of raising strong confident girls, but it’s becoming near impossible to reconcile all of the opinions both direct and implied which advise on the correct manner by which to do this.
Sometimes even my favorite voices trip me up. Case in point – P!nk’s video for her song “Stupid Girls”. Mostly I love this video and its message (and P!nk). But at the very end of the video, there is a scene where a girl has to choose between two piles of items. The first contains a stuffed animal, dolls and various pink fluffy things, while the second contains a football, microscope and keyboard. It is implied that when the girl chooses the football from the second pile that she has made the right choice and won’t end up a ‘stupid’ girl. But somehow this doesn’t seem completely fair. Surely dolls can be balanced with microscopes just like ambition and strength can be paired with lipstick.
And words like Beautiful or Smart can be used without damage if they are balanced within a larger discussion with our daughters. Words don’t need to be erased any more than books should be banned to protect our children. Instead of trying to remember all of the things that we are not supposed to say to our girls, wouldn’t it just be easier to talk with them more? That way they can tell us first hand when we are screwing up.
‘Beauty’ is a word – and between me and my daughter, it signifies all the beauty I see in her – inside, outside and upside down.