Heartfelt Interlude: Pretty Little Girls

by Jennifer Has Opinions

I needed to write this post because I have an 11-year-old niece who is very, very pretty. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m close to my sister’s children. They live down the street, and I both love children and have none (though that will soon change, Ethiopian courts willing), so I’ve always been very involved in their lives. I love my niece, but I’m not being a doting aunt when I say she’s pretty. She is, quite objectively, beautiful. She is also, and I say this with love, one of the most typical middle school girls I’ve ever met. She takes pictures of herself all the time. Seriously, it’s a running joke in my family that you can’t put your phone down when she’s around, or when you pick it back up, it will be full of pictures of her. Which brings me to what prompted this post. Over the weekend, I walked down to my sister’s house to gossip about the rest of our family catch up. We were talking, and my beloved niece randomly picks up two pictures of herself from last Spring’s dance recital and brings them over for me to admire. They’re great pictures- easy when you’re a lovely little girl being photographed by an excellent photographer. I’d seen them before, many times. Still, she brought them to me, and I told her they were gorgeous. It was the truth, but here is what I wish I’d said:

Dear Pretty Little Girl (because this really isn’t just about my niece),

I love you, but I don’t need to see another photograph of you. Those photos are only proof that you’re a pretty girl- something I already know. That you’re pretty is only proof that genetics were kind to you. You neither earned your physical beauty, nor did you deserve it- no more than someone who is less beautiful either earned or deserved that. Being pretty is temporary and of all things you might be, it matters the least. So please, no more photos.

Because I love you, show me proof that you’re a smart girl. Show me that you can think for yourself and that you’re willing to learn from others. Show me that you can be trusted to make good decisions.

Because I love you, show me proof that you’re a tough girl. Show me that you don’t walk away from things that don’t come easily to you- it’s the worst kind of curse, never overcoming a challenge. Show me that when someone comes to your rescue, you pay attention to what they’re doing so that next time you can save yourself.

Because I love you, show me proof that you’re a kind girl. Show me that you treat everyone around you, regardless of how pretty they are, exactly as you would like to be treated. Show me that you see, really see, the people that everyone else looks past. Show me that you take the side of the weak and the ignored and that you do it without acting as though you’re doing them some huge favor.

I know that most of the messages you get from the world around you tell you that being smart and tough and kind aren’t nearly as important as being pretty and cool and popular. I’ve seen the tv shows too. Middle school isn’t so far in the past for me that I don’t remember the rules.

But because I love you, I’m asking that you listen to me instead. Hear me when I tell you that pretty might open a door or two, but that smart earns success. Pretty fades, but tough sees you through your entire life. Pretty barely matters, but kind can change the whole world.

All My Love,

Someone Who Wants the Best For & From You