Pretty Pretty Un-Princess: One of the Most Difficult Things I’ve Said to My Daughter

What’s one of the most loving things you can do for your children? Show yourself some love!

Today, I had to say something very difficult to my daughter. While I wholeheartedly believe it needed to be said, I could barely let the words escape my lips.

You see, my daughter has been going through somewhat of a “princess” phase lately. Despite our best efforts to divert her attention elsewhere, it’s hard to stop the pink train. So, we’ve decided to let her ride, but with our supervision and guidance along the way.

Lately, she’s been obsessed with wearing dresses. “Princesses don’t wear pants!” Ugh. This morning, she said something to me that made my heart break a little. Frustrated that she wasn’t able to put her necklace on “just right,” she sneered at me, “You’re not pretty! You’re not wearing a dress.” Ouch! While it didn’t hurt so much that she’d insulted my appearance (kids are good at that), I was heartbroken that despite all of my efforts to positively influence her internal digestion of media messages, I’d failed. She believes that princesses reign, pants are passé, and pink is the only color worth picking from the Crayola box.

So, I did the one thing that I knew would be the most effective. Despite the fact that I truly didn’t feel it in my heart,  I grabbed her by the arms (gently), told her to look into my eyes, and proudly proclaimed these words to her face: “I am beautiful. Your mother is beautiful! ” She stuck out her bottom lip, and reminded me, “But you’re not wearing a dress, you’re wearing that.”

The “that” she was referring to was my “Adorkable” t-shirt (Klout perk from New Girl) and faded jeans. Again, I assured her, “Mommy doesn’t need a dress to be pretty. Or makeup, or jewelry. I am pretty on the inside, and that’s what matters most.” She apologized, and gave me a hug before she scampered off to continue her princess role-playing. I’m not sure that what I said will make any difference to her, but I know from years of studying the media’s influence on young girls, it was the most meaningful thing I could have done.

Yes, you can shelter and protect your daughters and sons from all of the nastiness in the media (and you should), but in the end, what they’re ultimately watching is you. Moms, do you pass a mirror and mutter, “Blech! My butt looks ginormous in these jeans.” Dads, do you openly ogle beauty-blessed women and downplay/ignore other important traits (intelligence, humor, etc.)?

During my tenure as advocacy project manager for Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland, I was fortunate enough to have met both Katherine Schwarznegger (Rock What You’ve Got) and Peggy Orenstein (Cinderella Ate My Daughter) when we brought them to Kansas to spread their message of improving the media landscape for girls. If you’re the parent of a young girl, I would highly recommend that you read their books. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the recommendations or opinions, I feel strongly that parents should be informed and ready to help their daughter navigate through this harsh media landscape. Even if that means doing some serious self-evaluation of how you feel about your appearances.

I’m hopeful that my daughter will outgrow her “princess power” phase soon. And as difficult as it may be, I know it’s up to me to show her that true beauty lies within. No disparaging remarks about my weight, lack of hairstyle or mundane wardrobe (at least not in front of her). Perhaps I can try actually complimenting myself when I pass a mirror. “Hey momma, lookin’ good in those jeans!” Who knows? Maybe the more I start saying it aloud, the more I’ll believe it. Maybe.

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56 thoughts on “Pretty Pretty Un-Princess: One of the Most Difficult Things I’ve Said to My Daughter

  1. I have had so many people who have read my post “You suck” ( ) and have turned them on to you. There are not a lot of bloggers out there who think this way. It’s one thing to tell our girls they are beautiful, but they won’t believe it if we tell them we’re ugly.

    Love your blog.

  2. Pingback: The Princess Tide is Beginning to Turn | Cat Poland

  3. HI Cat,

    I am in Kansas, too—but basically on the KS/MO state line in Fairway/Mission, KS.
    Anyway, I have 3 girls now and they do love all things pink, but fortunately we have a happy medium going on and we don’t only wear dresses. I think you handled yourself (and your daughter) really well in this situation and I applaud you. It’s hard—and like you said, when you’re berating yourself in the mirror and your husband is looking at other women and his Playboy magazine, what’s a mom to do? But I think you took the high road and she’ll be better for it.
    And hey, what about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (she’s much too young for that, but, maybe in a few years?)?


    • Hey Erin, good to meet a fellow Kansan! Glad your girls have found a happy medium. My dot’s transitioning into “mommy” phase, so we’ll see where that takes us. :-)

  4. We have been in the princess phase over here for quite sometimes. I’ve been torn throughout it.

    On the one hand, I see that she is just doing what kids that age do. They judge based on simple views of the world. Firefighters wear helmets, baseball players wear stripes, princesses wear dresses.

    What I tried to do was separate the words beautiful and pretty from princess. Instead, we talk about being fancy. Princesses are often fancy. And anyone can be fancy. We don’t judge our worth on fancy.

    But you are right. What they learn the most is what they see us doing ourselves. And that is a very humbling (and scary!) lesson.

    I just wrote a post last week I believe about the book, Not All Princesses Wear Pink. It’s a great book talking about how princesses can do anything they want. There’s also the Paperbag Princess by the same man who wrote Love You Forever. You might want to check them out. They give a more well rounded view of princesses. If you can’t beat them, join them :-)

    • Thanks Amanda! I’ll definitely check those books out. I have to admit, sometimes the “princess” phase works in our favor, like when she wants her teeth to be “sparkly” like princess teeth, so she brushes extra long. Can’t beat that!

  5. Thank you for sharing the resources. I had tried to keep princesses away from my daughter, but it was impossible. The other day I saw her checking out her bottom in the mirror the way I do (she’s 2.) I didn’t know how to respond. I have a lot of work to do.

    • Oh, raising girls (or any kids) is so tough. I had to catch myself today after I caught my poochy middle in the mirror. The best we can do is be informed and be aware!

  6. Excellent post. I can remember my mother asking me over and over again if I thought she was prettier than my stepmother. I don’t think she realized how damaging that was. She was equating beauty with love, as if she were more beautiful, then I must love her more. It is the reverse. I don’t love you because you’re beautiful, you are beautiful because I love you.

  7. I have three daughters and they have each enjoyed some measure of princess worship. We have worked assiduously to balance the desirable traits. For a year with each girl we would say goodnight in the mirror and tell our reflection all the things we were—silly, strong, pretty, powerful, smart…It has stuck, but one thing I try to do is to allow some of their desire for dress up to color me. When my youngest asks me to wear a pair of heels or earrings, or to choose a dress instead of pants as I get ready for work, I do it. Not always, but sometimes. There is often compromise, “Ok, how about I wear those fancy shoes, but these pants?” This way they participate in creating an outfit they think is great. I in turn end up going through my day feeling special because I am doing something out of the norm for me.

    I think the strongest thing is when they see how they’re dad loves me—complimenting me for doing something in the yard, for killing it at a meeting or when he scoops me in his arms to dance in the kitchen. They see balance and delight in it.

    Great post.

  8. I have a 7 year old daughter who went through a serious princess phase. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line. For us, it was when she started proclaiming that she was ugly because she didn’t have a mermaid tail like Ariel. Sounds funny now but at the time she was devastated. Being a mom can be so hard.

  9. I love your take on this. Sorry for the un-princess like comment from your daughter because I know they send a little needle through your heart. Out of the mouths of babes isn’t always rosy.
    I read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” great book even for mothers with boys. We’re either woman or have women in our lives, right? How lucky you got to meet the author! Ellen

    • Thank you! Yes, it’s equally important for moms of boys! Your boys, after all, will interact with women/girls in their lives, and the more they understand this, the better. BTW, Peggy Orenstein was phenomenally smart. So lucky to have spent the day with her.

  10. My 3 year old has been saying she is not pretty. Until she puts on her tutu and pretend jewelry. She is also going through a princess phase. It’s hard not to make a HUGE deal out of it, but I try to just say “Yes, you are beautiful. You don’t need —-, you just are beautiful.” And then I add in smart and strong and funny and silly. But I think you’re correct that the everyday actions and words have more impact on the WHOLE picture than the mini-lectures of confidence we give them. Oh it is difficult!

    • Oh I hear you! She’s transitioning into “mommy” phase, so now I have to decide if I encourage her “breast” feeding her babies. Natch, I think it’s great, but it might not be acceptable during play dates. :-( Keep fighting the good fight!

  11. Good post. It’s interesting for me (a dad with a boy) read about the flip-side of the parenting coin. I am a firm believer in the fact that boys and girls are different by nature. While I have to talk with my son about not being physical when he gets frustrated, you’re talking to your daughter about not getting harsh with words.

    Isn’t it interesting that these same issues mirror the things we tend to do as adults? When guys want to hurt other guys, they get physical, and when women want to hurt women, they get personal. I’m not saying your daughter is being a bully — I’m sure she’s totally sweet — I’m just fascinated by the sociology of it all.

    Kids’ natures reveal themselves pretty quickly, don’t they?

  12. I have boys, so we really haven’t had the princess thing. However, I have consistently had the same reaction when they make a negative comment on someones appearance.

    How you look is how you are born. How you act is the only thing you have control over.

    The only time you will ever see a person exactly as they really look is the first time you meet them. After that, your perception of their appearance will forever be changed by how you feel about their character.

  13. Wow, look at the comments above – you have really struck a chord. I have three sons and one daughter. My daughter is 2 1/2 and hasn’t really hit the girly/princess phase…. yet. My favourite book on the topic is The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch because the Princess saves the Prince (by outsmarting him) and because she tells the Prince to stuff it when he judges her based on her appearance.

  14. My daughter has never really been into princesses or dolls (she’s 3). She prefers to wrestle around with her big brother and play different imagination games about Aliens, or Pirates, or any numerous other things (I play with them a lot and so that’s where they get most of their ideas from…lol) But ultimately I think its the influence of her big brother. She thinks he hung the moon and whatever he does, she wants to do.

    Because of her preference towards her brothers activities I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about fighting the pink, but I think teaching kids from an early age that its whats on the inside that counts is the best and most important lesson in childhood.

    I think what you said was just perfect and I hope she understood!

    • Thank you Carrie! I definitely think having older brothers around is a big help. My daughter used to have a male best friend at day care, and playing with him every day definitely helped even out her “pink” passion. Now, I try to keep a weekly play date with boy her age. She still wears pink, but plays “shoot the monster” instead of “act like a diva.” :-)

  15. AMEN. i’ve touched on this a lot on my blog. i have a 2.5 year old (next month) daughter who is all about pink princessy crap- which i hate. but i want her to love what SHE wants to love, etc. i’m also moribidly obese. and while i hate that and am trying to change it, she has not one clue how fat i am and that i’m trying to eat differently. kwim? i don’t talk about dieting, i don’t talk about the layers of fat i need to shed. i don’t eat like crap in front of her, and i absolutely refuse to stop her from eating fun stuff once in a while. instead, we play together- her in her pink crap, me in my work clothes. and i make sure to get in pictures with her whenever i can, too. it’s all SO important. it all starts with us, the parents. all of it. (sorry this is all over the place)

    • Oh Christina, let me tell you first and foremost, I love that you refer to it as “pink princessy crap.” ;-) Secondly, I adore how you’re handling your current health challenge with your daughter, especially your foresight to be included in photos (even I’m bad at that). And third, kids really do see the beauty within when we show them. The other day, at the doc’s office, a woman walked in wearing a flowing red dress. She also happened to be obese. My daughter, seeing the woman, shouted, “Hey mommy, look at that lady!” I cringed, thinking she would notice her size (she once asked my friend’s biracial daughter who her real mommy was. Sigh.) Instead, she whispered, “She is soooo beautiful. I just love her dress.” I nearly started to cry, and regretted that the woman hadn’t heard my daughter’s compliment. We all need to hear kind words from strangers. Christina, YOU are beautiful, inside and out, and don’t forget it! :-)

  16. A constant struggle in one way or another. My 10 yr old niece couldn’t care less about girly girl stuff, dislikes the color pink, would rather be outside climbing trees. But, her mother, who is very thin, talks too much, in my opinion, about weight. She’s a normal 10 yr old, but my sister remarks about how fat the U.S. is every time she asks for a marshmallow. She practices good eating habits at home and has no junk food in the house. But, we’ll see. Sometimes these things backfire. I think I would ignore it to a point. I feel the word “pretty” should not even enter the conversation. Do we have compassion for each other, equally?

    • You’re right, sometimes overemphasis on weight can backfire. I was allowed no junk food growing up (for financial reasons, not health) and I PIGGED out at my best friend’s house. One word of advice I’ve heard lately about “pretty” is to point out things in nature that are “pretty.” Flowers, etc. Also, behavior that is “pretty.” Being gentle, kind, etc. That way, they begin to equate “pretty” with more than physical beauty.

  17. Yes, this! Last week, a family member remarked that I looked chubby (I just had a baby a few weeks ago) and it punched me in the gut. So I wrote a post about changing my perspective on how I look at myself. Great post!

    • They said WHAT?! Oh honey, did you respond, “Well, post-baby chubby is a temporary state. Stupidity is not.” :-) That’s just my snarky side talking. Thanks for reading!

  18. My daughter is five and she’s been into the princess thing since very early (unavoidable with 5 girl cousins around her same age). We’re growing out of it now and moving into the barbie stage…sigh.

    Here’s my very personal take: in modern times princesses come in all shapes, sizes, colors, cultures, and intellectual interests (princess merida, tianna, cinderella, ariel, and fiona from shrek) – just like people. We talk about this when the opportunity arises – like when my daughter says she likes one princess over another, I’ll always try to ask questions that get her thinking about WHY. Do you just like her dress better than the others? Or do you like the way she behaves in the world? Does she seem happy and fulfilled, does she challenge herself?

    I also (like Cat!) have had never-ending conversations with my daughter about my beauty and strength on mornings when she tells me I dont look pretty – and many more about how she judges herself. One of my go-to examples has always been Cinderellas step sisters (Drizzella and Anastasia) who have access to all the finery, dresses, jewels, social connections, but none of the inner beauty, kindness, and empathy that make true beauty (the kind you feel in your heart,not the kind you see.). We dont talk about how they couldn’t get the prince because of it, but about whether they seem happy in their life and if they seem to love their family and if they have friends who will support them in life…

    I think we’ve made lots of progress, because for about a year now, she tells me I’m beautiful all the time (even if she suggests that I re-think my shoe choice)!

    • I love your approach! I’ve often asked my daughter, “What do you like about princess X-Y-Z?” Her response is always, “Because she’s beautiful!” So glad we’re starting this conversation now. Keep in touch!

  19. We have been battling the princess issues here too. Especially my 4yr old thinking that she HAS to get married, a boy has to do something to save her and the only thing a pricess does is look pretty. So at least she has agreed to the options of being a cowgirl veternarian princess (I always ask her what kind of princess can she be) and an astronaut princess.

    But our biggest conversation this year, almost daily, is about being pretty on the inside and on the outside. In particular we talk about what it takes to be pretty on the inside. I ask her what she thinks it takes – she often says kindness, friendliness, and sharing. When we see someone being pretty on the inside we coment on it. And one of my after preschool pickup questions is “who was pretty on the inside at school today?” This has certainly helped. Also, asking her why she likes the princesses. I have learned she likes feeling pretty and she likes feeling special for being a girl. So, we have talked about other ways we can feel special and pretty and have done some of that. I have also shared stories about how I liked to play dress up as a kid and we have made some of those costumes.

    I haven’t won the battle over the princesses but I might be ahead in the war.

  20. I really enjoyed your post. I know there have been times I have been negative about my looks in front of my children (3 girls and a boy!) but the moment I read that I knew it needed to end. Thanks!

  21. And next you will tackle Elmo idolatry, right? Because, seriously, I’m okay with princesses, provided they refer to themselves in the first person.

  22. Loved this Catherine! It’s difficult raising girls for all of the reasons that you mentioned. You did a super job with the way you handled the princess situation. And–you are beautiful on the inside and the outside.

  23. Sorry, I think the princess stuff is harmless. Which is why her efforts to curb her daughter from being influenced by it and the color pink have failed. That’s like trying to stop most boys from pretending to be a dinosaur eating things up. I have the biggest tomboy/princess/sweet/mischievous girl on the planet. She will be taught that beauty comes from the inside out. But it doesn’t hurt to want to put on a dress and look and feel like a princess.

    • Hi Miranda! I certainly think you’re right, that it doesn’t hurt for girls to wear dresses and want to play “princess.” I, like you, want my girls to realize that true beauty is within. I think the main problem with “princess” role playing is that it’s often modeled on Disney princesses, rather than the girl creating her own storyline. I do let my daughter watch these movies, but I have a dialog with her about their other virtues. Belle is well-read, loyal to her family and brave. Rapunzel is artistic, good with animals, and selfless. I’m hard-pressed to find many good virtues for Tinkerbell, though. :-)

  24. Love this. You are beautiful momma! We’ve had this discussion before and the end result was one of the most embarrassing conversations of my life. But this too shall pass.

  25. Great blog post! This should be printed in a magazine somewhere…Parenting Magazine, Child Magazine, Woman’s Day, heck maybe even Seventeen Magazine! :) I loved it! It reminded me of what I used to teach my daughter when she was a toddler. I have never been high maintenance, as a parent, however, I did go through the stage at one point before I had kids. It wasn’t worth it to me. When my daughter got to the stage where she wanted to play in makeup and play dress up, I made sure that I always taught my daughter that “Makeup doesn’t make you pretty.. You are already pretty.” Whenever the rare time came that I would wear it, I knew I had taught my daughter right, because I’d hear her lil’ toddler voice echo my words…”Mommy, you not need makeup. You already pretty!” :) Now she’s 10 and wants to play in makeup more often, but she hates pink, doesn’t care about being a princess, and really does not care for boys like most girls her age…she just wants to play in makeup! LOL She is allowed to play in it at home only. She has grown to be a very modest young lady, which I am glad to say. She does not like “booty shorts” and will not wear gym shorts because they make her feel like a “hoochie mama”…LOL. She is very leery of wearing anything that might show her chest if she leans forward. I have taught her to respect her body, but I have not just taught it, I’ve lived it myself. You should have heard her when I bought some short shorts for Spring Break. See, my problem is that I have very long legs, so the “average” length shorts are very short on me…not look at my booty short…but they are SHORT. So, my daughter told me, “Mommy, I am not even going to go out in public with you if you are going to wear those booty shorts!” LOL I explained to her that they are regular length shorts but look shorter on me because of my leg length. Her quick reply was, “I don’t care Mommy. They look super short on you.” She did end up going out into public, or rather DISNEYWORLD, with me…haha! Now she doesn’t have a problem with my wearing my shorts. I think it just took some getting used to seeing Mommy wear shorts…period!

    • Wow! You’re too kind. And that’s kind of my dream, so if you know someone, hook a momma up! :-) I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece. And I hear you on the short shorts thing. I’m almost 6 foot, and finding appropriate shorts is tough!

      • Wow, I’m just 5’5, but my leg length teeters between 32-33 inches long. LOL My husband’s leg length is only 30 inches, but he’s 5’7. It’s funny when we are standing side by side because from the waist down, I’m a whole 2 inches longer than he is, but from the waist up, he’s a whole 2 inches taller than I am. My husband always tells me that he loves my long legs, and that was one of the things that attracted him to me…haha!

  26. Loved this. And we all should walk by a mirror and say “Hey, lookin’ good!” I have an aunt that does this, and I have always admired her for their confidence and fun attitude. It’s not easy being a woman! More power to you, Cat!

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