I’m worried my daughter won’t be pretty.
There, I said it.
I just cringed writing it down, as it goes against pretty much everything I stand for as a pink cat-ears-hat-wearing feminist on whom it has always been impressed that the most important parts of a person are the ones not on the outside.
Education was the number one priority in my household, and I knew it would be my ticket to ride. In navigating life’s obstacles, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve gotten where I wanted to go through my smarts, work ethic, and many times, humor.
But I won’t deny it helps if you’re pretty.
Not gorgeous. Pretty. If you’re a bombshell, you spend an inordinate amount of time just trying to make the world take you seriously. If you’re pretty, people will spend half a second longer looking over your resume. They’ll remember your name. Make a little more effort to accommodate you, and do so a little less begrudgingly.
Believe me, I know it sounds petty to fret about something so trivial when there are many babies who don’t have loving parents, who were born into conflict, whose basic physical needs aren’t even being met.
At the same time, I’m almost positive I’m not alone. Whether we admit it or not, we all hope and pray our children will be conventionally attractive—out of vanity, yes, but also because we know that life is inherently hard. The world can be cruel. And any advantage, no matter how small, helps.
The funny thing is, when I was pregnant the first time, I really wanted a girl. Everyone I knew was having a boy, and I wanted to buck the trend. When I found out I was having a boy, I was incredibly disappointed. (Another source of guilt, but I’ve since reconciled myself to the fact that having a gender preference is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. And now, I absolutely love being a “Boy Mom.”)
While there will be challenges in raising my son, I can’t help but feel like it will be 100 times harder with my daughter. My son is already at an advantage—he’s a white, middle class male (although some would argue this actually puts him at a disadvantage). He will have the privilege, at least, of being considered based on his own merits. As long as he practices good hygiene and dresses appropriately (makes mental note to remember to talk to him about this in another 13 years or so), a job interview will be, well, just a job interview.
For my daughter, on the other hand, an interview will be more than a test of her fitness for the job. Her appearance will be scrutinized, regardless if the interviewer is a man or a woman, and her level of attractiveness will likely be the slight edge—or slight disadvantage—that tips the scale for or against her.
This is the reality of the world we live in. Being a woman is absolutely brimming with paradoxes. You can be assertive, but if you’re too assertive, you’re a b*tch. You can be nice, but if you’re too nice, you’re weak. You can be a feminist as long as you don’t offend anyone. You can be a businesswoman as long as you please everyone. But remember to just be yourself, OK? Ugh. Right.
Add to that I now know what it’s like to wear your heart on your sleeve when you have a child. I’m dreading the day when my daughter comes to me asking me to fix something I know I cannot. I cannot fix prejudice. I cannot fix misogyny. I cannot fix societal norms or pressures.
What I can do is give her the tools to prevail. I can be upfront with her about the realities of the world, while urging her to always look for the good in it. I can be reassuring, while also preparing her to do battle on her own someday. I can teach her she can do whatever she puts her mind to, but explain that to some people, her body will be all that they see.
I guess that’s the beauty of being a woman, full of paradoxes. She . . . and I . . . can reconcile all of these things.
But I still hope she’s pretty.