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Are We Setting Up Our Little Girls For A Lifetime of Beauty Obsession?

By Emily |

“Mommy, I want makeup for my birthday,” my 3-year-old daughter tells me. This was after she spent the morning at an older friend’s house who owns a box full of play makeup.

Crap.  I really didn’t want to have to address this subject at such a young age.

“Really, honey? Why do you want makeup?”

“So, I can be beautiful.  I want to put on makeup before I go out so I can be beautiful.”

What the?!?

When did she go from 3 to 13?

I used to be one of those girls in high school and college who wouldn’t leave the house without makeup.  Now, I rarely wear it.  Between concern about the ingredients in beauty products, working from home, and raising two kids three and under, I just choose not to wear makeup much anymore.

So it’s not like she sees me spending hours in front of the mirror putting on makeup every morning.  I am so not ready for dealing with this issue.  My daughter is just too young!

But, I recently read an article on Huffington Post which states this is not that unusual of a topic for a 3-year-old girl.  The article quotes an ABC News Report that claims almost half of three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. Where does a three-year-old get the idea that they are fat?

According to the article, it all has to do with how we talk to our girls.  When the first things that we say to our daughters, or other girls around us, is how cute, pretty, nice, etc., they look, we are setting them up for having issues related to their appearance and body from a very young age.

From the article:

“Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23.”

This is not what I want for my daughter.  But, what makes me so sad, and frustrated with myself, is that I am realizing all the ways in which I have already done this with her.

For example, I’ll be getting the kids dressed in the morning, and when my daughter has on a cute shirt, skirt, or dress, I’ll say, “Go show daddy how cute you look.” And off she’ll scamper. Like that’s the only thing he cares about or something.  Ugh. As I sit here and write this post, I am feeling sick to my stomach thinking about all of the times where I have said very similar things.

And I should know better.  I know that girls get this message blared at them from every direction.  It shouldn’t also be something that they hear and learn at home… from their mom… sigh.

I’ve always wanted to teach my daughter that her inner characteristics and beauty are so, so much more important than her outward looks.  And I do try to be intentional about complimenting her on, and talking to her about, all the wonderful, beautiful aspects of her personality.  But, why do I still say stuff about her appearance so much?

I think it’s just that I am so much a part of this culture that values the way a female looks more than anything else.  I mean, isn’t that almost always the first thing that women say to each other? “You look nice today,” or “Oh, thanks, I love your shoes!”  It’s like it’s mandatory, or something. It’s just ingrained in my head, and then it comes out in my words and actions toward my own daughter.

I realize that I will have to work really hard, and be really intentional, from now on about the compliments that I share with my daughter, how I talk to her, and what I emphasize, or critique.  I do not want her to ever think that the way she looks is the most important thing to me.

The author of the article encourages talking to girls about things that have to do with their mind – their favorite book, what they’re learning, their likes and dislikes.  She encourages modeling intelligent conversations with girls, and avoiding talking to them about things that have to do with appearance.

It sounds too easy, but for some reason, I’m not sure it will be.

But I am committed to teaching my daughter, as best as I can, that her worth and beauty come from what’s on the inside, not the outside.  And setting her up for a life that is defined by what she learns and knows and does, and not how she looks or what she wears.

Have you thought about the things that you say, to your daughter or other girls around you, that focus on their appearance?  How can we raise young girls who don’t worry about being fat at age three, and instead value inner beauty more than their outward appearance?

Raising the Anti-Perfectionist: Kids learn by making mistakes!

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About Emily



Emily McClements is passionate about caring for creation while saving money at the same time. She is a blessed wife and mama to three young children, and blogs about her family's journey toward natural and green living on a budget at Live Renewed. Read bio and latest posts → Read Emily's latest posts →

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5 thoughts on “Are We Setting Up Our Little Girls For A Lifetime of Beauty Obsession?

  1. lo says:

    I really liked your article and especially the word committed you used to describe your role as a parent towards your daughter. I am also guilty for all of the above with my little girl “go to daddy to show him how cute you look in this!”. It is hard also because you don’t think you are doing the wrong thing to begin with. I had to “fight” with a close friend of mine who wanted to give her a bottle of nail polish for her to play with. I don’t wanted my girl to use it and she kept insisting that is only for amusement,for fun. She plays with puzzles for fun I said,get her a new one. I’m not the cute type myself and some of my friends (well not that much) think that I don’t want to teach my girl about make up and nail polish since I don’t want her to be beautiful. She will be three in August and along with teaching her how to potty, how to count and say the alphabet I should have included 10 mins of how to apply lip gloss!!! Go figure. My strategy (a big word this one) is to fill her mind and her life with all the beautiful things that are in this world like wonderful nature,art, beautiful places, great people, history that she will not have time to think if her belt matches her head band :-) . That is all I “plan” to do and what I try to do everyday. Hopefully she will take some at heart and understand along the way that “she is beautiful” begins with “she is” and not “she does [her makeup every day]“.

  2. JanaC2 says:

    Because I (narrowly) survived a life-threatening eating disorder, this topic is of particular interest to me. We have been careful to encourage our children’s strength, independence, creativity and willingness to work through challenges rather than physical appearance. However, I am also cognizant of the differences between boys and girls and will use toenail polish or lip gloss as an incentive for potty training (provided it would actually work).
    My parents never encouraged comments about my personal appearance so I’m not sure how much of environment (save peer interaction) had to do with my health issues. Regardless, I am aware of what I say in front of my children as a result…

  3. Brion Kerlin says:

    I think the concept that “inner beauty is what counts” is totally incomprehensible to children. Many people go through life never understanding this. If and when a kid learns this, it will happen on their own time, through personal experience, more likely in her 20′s or 30′s than as a young child. As a man, I think it is obvious that women do bear the burden of “attracting a mate” and the first thing a man notices about a woman is her appearance. Eventually men and women in relationships (look at the endless list of celebrities–”beautiful people”–splitting up,or divorcing) realize that beauty is only skin deep, and that only loving behavior and commitment can make a couple want to stay together.
    I fully agree that any emphasis on “outward beauty” for young children should be discouraged, and “foxy” clothing or accessories should not be allowed as school attire especially in elementary school. Unfortunately, our media culture–TV, junk magazines for teenagers and movies are sending powerful messages that parents can barely compete with. My suggestion (and lots of my friends did this in the 70′s and 80′s) throw out your television, don’t allow junk magazines in your house and don’t allow your little kids to go to movies with “10 year old going on 20 dress and behavior.) Radical? Yes. But how much are you willing to do to create a home environment that is far healthier than the one outside your front door? Remember: You only get one shot at this. Kind Regards. Brion

  4. ANONYMOUS says:

    i just recently read an article similar to this and i am happy more parents are addressing it. it all seems to start with princesses and how they have to be attractive to get their prince. and we as parents go along with it thinking its a phase or its sweet. and then as the toddlers change into preschoolers they start saying they have a boyfriend that beiber kid and my daughter said she was dating john cena as cute as it seemed i knew i had to do something. so i talked to her i asked her what she thought a boyfriend was and if she thought she was old enough to have one. her answer suprised me it was really introspective. she said a boyfriend is someone who cares about you and takes care of you and kisses your cheek. and she said no shes not old enough to have one because she has her mommy and daddy :) super sweet moment

  5. Jenna says:

    I always tell my daughter she’s beautiful (she is). But I also teach her that inner beauty is the most important thing. I tell her about the true meaning of beauty, so when I say it, she knows I not only mean her hair or her eyes, I mean her caring heart and energetic personality. By the way, your little girl is adorable!

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