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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ugly Side of Dora

The other day I was putting on my daughter's favorite Dora the Explorer pajamas when Shaila looked up at me and matter of factly said,

Mommy, Dora is ugly.”

I was a little taken aback and not quite sure how to answer so I tried to recover the best way I knew how.

Shaila, why would you say that Dora is ugly?” I asked.

My friend said she is. She isn't pretty like Ariel or Belle. Ariel and Belle are my favorite,” she confidently asserted.

Honey, Dora IS pretty. As a matter of fact, everyone is pretty in their own way. And not only is Dora pretty, but she is smart, helpful, adventurous and kind.”

I still like Ariel better. She's pretty.”

I looked at Shaila. Shaila, who some might say shares many of the same physical traits as Dora. Chocolate brown hair, big almond shaped brown eyes and what I consider to be beautiful tan skin. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A. The reason she looks so sad is I just turned Dora off.

I have never quite understood my daughter's fascination with Dora and all of her exploring, but it is one of the few shows I allow her to watch quite willingly. While I am a little sick of Dora's shenanigans with her map and backpack and the uncomfortable pauses in the midst of her conversations (I hate uncomfortable pauses!) I was saddened to hear of the use of the word “ugly” coming out of the mouth of my three year old.

The Ugly Years

As a child, I was a pretty kid for a very brief period. The period between the ages of 6 and perhaps 17 or so were certainly not my best when we talk about appearance.

With a great set of buck teeth, eyes that disproportionately took up my entire face, a mass of frizzy, curly hair that it would take me years to come to some kind of truce with and a propensity to run towards the hairy side, I was an awkward, gangly mass of insecurity. My finest accessories were the large glasses that I could wear that might match the braces on my teeth that day.

The dentist would sometimes make the rubber bands purple. Or pink.

So hot.

Having known what it was to be physically pretty at some point in my life and having that attention gone, I felt the absence of that attention all that much more. Even at an early age, I understood that I was no longer one of the "pretty" girls. And I knew that I did get treated different. Teachers tended to seek out the pretty girls and the popular boys and place them on their own pedestals.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do. I became the smart girl. I developed my whole identity around being the one who could rock every spelling quiz or ace any test. In order to find some acceptance and attention from the adults in my life, I showed them that I was special - if not in the way of my best friends, perhaps. If the boys didn't like me, I found solace in the fact that at least I was smarter than most of them.

I was everybody's friend. I was nice to most everyone. I had a problem with the nose pickers, but mainly - I really made an effort.

What Do you Say?

So I do what I guess most parents do and I tell my daughter that everyone is beautiful and that there is something special in every person and their outer appearance. But that it's not the outer that matters. That it's all about what's inside. You know, the stuff I am supposed to say.

We all know that the world does not evaluate outer beauty that democratically. I haven't quite figured out how to explain that yet. My guess is, like me, it's a lesson she will have to address on her own that I can help guide her through. I just don't have the words too teach her about that harsh reality myself.

Our children are not blind. Shaila knows how she feels when her relatives or friends say to her, "Aren't you the prettiest thing?" And I am working to change the things I say to her to reognize her other, non-physical traits.

"Aren't you the nicest thing?" (debatable)

"Shaila, you are so smart!" (too smart for her own good),

"You are so creative" (its amazing what she can do with play-doh).

Being Both

A woman can be both smart and pretty. We all know that - I think we all do, anyway.

So here is the question. How do we empower our children - particularly our young girls - to not feel that they have to be one or the other and to cultivate that? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this - as well as what you have said when you have found yourself in situations like the one I had.

As parents, ensuring our children have the proper foundation for self-esteem is one we ourselves reinforce every day through our own actions, statements and innocuous comments.

Please share your own experience/advice here at Masala Chica.



Sara Louise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melinda said...

I was a "late bloomer" also! And I remember the pain of those years. Like you, I determined to become the smart one to compensate. I guess I think the best way to boost our kids' self-esteem is to encourage them. Not just praise, but encourage. (You did great on that math test. All your hard work paid off!) Focusing on their hard work and progress instead of only the result.
And I think we can definitely acknowledge that the outside is important to some extent. It's the only thing people have to judge us by until they get to know us. So it's important how we present ourselves, but our inner qualities are what cause others to respect and value us.
It's so tough and there's no easy answer, especially when the world is telling them only their appearance is what matters.

Candice said...

I think they best way to empower your daughter is by being a good role model with a healthy self-esteem of your own.

I remember growing up my Mom always talked down on herself. She always talked about her weight, and she even discussed how other people were over weight. It was always about, you guessed it, weight, and how people looked. Shallow, I know.

So is there any surprise that I suffered through many years of anorexia throughout high school and college? Not really. I don't blame it all on my mother, but she was the one I looked up to. I saw her berate herself and as a young girl, I began to do that to myself as well.

As a result, I've learned what NOT to do as a mother, and I'm raising a beautiful daughter with a healthy self-esteem. She's entering into her teenage years soon, and I'm sure there will be stumbling blocks, but for now, I think we are on the right track.

P.S- Your daughter is gorgeous just like her Mama!

webb said...

Good for you for starting early to build her self esteem over something other than looks - altho hers are great!

It's so hard to focus on other successes, but we all know that for most of us, they are the ones that count. Smart girls of the world, unite!

Shell said...

I was the smart one b/c I certainly wasn't the pretty one. So awkward.

Kristin said...

I worry about having a daughter someday. I don't want her to suffer from the negative self image that I did!


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