My Daughter Said She's Not Beautiful...

Updated on October 25, 2006
J.L. asks from Providence, RI
10 answers

The other day my daughter said to me "Mommy, I'm not beautiful." Then the next day she said "Mommy, do I have a skirt on? If I don't wear a skirt, I'm not beautiful." Both times I told her she was beautiful and that it doesn't matter what she wears, she is still beautiful. Today she said it again. It amazes me that my 3 yr. old is already aware of her outward appearance and feels insecure about it. It worries me because I don't have the highest self esteem in the world, well it definately has improved, but I don't want her to experience how that feels because there is nothing positive about it. Is this behavior she is portraying normal? Please help!

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answers from Boston on

Hi J.,

I have a daughter that is now 9 years old and I remember this stage vividly. When she was 3 she would say the same type of things and I worried for the same reasons. I even asked my family not to always tell her how beautiful she was because I did not want her to equate beauty with self worth. I think it kind of helped. She was always concerned with how pretty she was and if other people thought she was pretty. I just told her over and over and over again that she was beautiful inside and that is what made her pretty outside. So, whenever she would ask if she was pretty I would say, "well, lets see......are you nice? she would say YES! are you loving? she would say YES! do you care about other people? She would say YES! Then I would are not pretty, you are beautiful, inside and out. That would make her smile and be proud of the person she was.
I do believe it is a stage common to 3 yr old little girls in the world of perfect don't worry, I do not think it is anything hereditary :)
Good luck.

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answers from Lewiston on

Goodluck with your daughter's self-image. I have a three year old boy, and have never heard him say anything about his looks. I can't believe how young girls learn that popular culture will attempt to define them according to their outward appearance. The advice you received from a respondent about asking if she's nice, caring, loving etc whenever she asks if she's pretty sounds like a good way to tackle it to me. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.
Goodluck with the elementary ed. career. I am in my firt year of teaching public school at the elem. level (after 2 years at a private el. school abroad and a year at the HS level). I am blown away by the demands placed on public el. teachers. I don't want to discourage you... it is a rewarding career and I can't imagine life w/o my 21 students now that I've come to love them... but be prepared to become really good at prioritizing and know your contractual rights. You could easily work 24 hours a day and still not get everything done you'd like to do, so remember that you're only one person, you have a precious daughter who needs you, and do the best you can!! I have to tell myself that every day, so i thought I'd pass it on to you in case you ever need it!



answers from Boston on

Help Your Daughter Create a Healthy Body Image [& Self Esteem]
by Dr. Susan S. Bartell

Body image basics

Open any teen magazine, click on primetime TV or walk through a department store. The images of impossibly thin models overwhelm today’s teenage girls, and even boys. Unbelievably, most models are thinner than 98% of American girls and women.

A study of nearly 50,000 teenage girls revealed that a majority listed appearance as their biggest concern (Exeter University, U.K., 1998). Another study (Fat Talk, Harvard University Press, 2000) indicated that 90% of teenage girls frequently think about their body shape. Add to that, pressure from friends, boys and parents, and it’s understandable that this study found that 86% of teenage girls are, or think they should be dieting. And it’s no surprise that 5-10 million girls in the U.S. have eating disorders.

But ours is also a culture in which food consumes us, rather than the other way around. Super-size, fat-free, two for one, low-cal . . . the messages teens receive are confusing to say the least. In fact, one out of every five teens is overweight (Afraid to Eat, Healthy Weight Journal, 1997). They need help! Help understanding and resisting the pressures and messages. And even more help developing strong body images. As a parent and particularly as a mother, you can guide your daughter in interpreting and resisting some of these pressures.

Nonetheless, as you probably know, frequent battles about weight, eating and exercise often leave mothers and daughters at odds with each other, complicating the struggle even more by causing communication to break down between them. Furthermore, although you may not even realize it, many mothers have their own, unresolved issues about weight and body image that inadvertently interfere with their ability to help their daughters create a healthy sense of their own bodies.

By becoming aware of the subtle messages that mothers might send their daughters, and by helping teenage girls interpret the world around them effectively, you can go a long way toward giving your daughter the tools she requires in order to grow into a strong, healthy and self-confident woman.

Reflections of yourself

As tough as it may be to do so, it is vitally important for mothers of teenage girls to look inward in order to understand a large part of what they may be communicating to their daughters. To start with, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I like my own body?
Do I keep negative feelings about my body to myself, rather than voicing them to others (especially my daughter?
Am I satisfied with the way I look in clothes?
Do I diet frequently, and/or does my weight yo-yo up and down?

These can be difficult and even embarrassing questions to think about. But one of the most important things that mothers need to learn is the following: The way you think about and manage your own body image and weight issues will be communicated to your daughter and impact upon the way she thinks about her own body.

It is therefore crucial that you think about whether the messages you communicate are healthy or unhealthy. The following suggestions can help guide your way:

Don’t talk negatively about your own body. If your daughter hears you complain about the way you look, she will feel that it’s appropriate to dislike her own body as well, particularly if there is really nothing objectively wrong with your body. If you do need to lose (or gain) weight, mention it in terms of your and your doctor’s concerns for your health, rather than focusing on the social aspects of being “thin” or “fat”.

Try not to lose or gain weight dramatically, and don’t utilize fad diets. The only way a teenage girl should achieve a healthy weight is by eating in a well-balanced, moderate and healthful manner. If you model drastic weight fluctuations and extreme diet your daughter will try this too. As you undoubtedly agree, a growing adolescent will not benefit nutritionally or emotionally from this type of weight management. So practice what your preach.

Model healthy exercise behavior. For some people, exercising is probably one of the toughest things for anyone to stick with, and for others it is difficult not to overdo it. But, healthy, moderate exercise is one of the most important assurances for a lifetime of physical health. And when children observe regular exercising habits by their parents it is probably the best way to ensure that they will have a lifetime of physical fitness and activity. It’s a gift you can give your daughter. Furthermore, you can’t tell your daughter to turn off the TV and get moving, if you don’t do it yourself! Isn’t that great motivation for you?

Refrain from discussing your weight with your daughter. During adolescence there is a normal and usually subtle competitive feeling that daughters have toward their mothers. If a teenager is thinner or heavier than her mother, this competitiveness may become more obvious to both mother and daughter. Girls may compare their weight to their mother’s either favorably or unfavorably. If your daughter sees you weighing yourself, and especially if she knows how much you weigh, she will have an actual number with which to compare her weight. This competition is unnecessary and can be emotionally unhealthy for a teenager struggling with body image or weight issues. Although they may not realize it, some mothers also have to resist the urge to compare themselves to their daughters. It is important to become aware of competitiveness you may feel toward your teenager.

Try not to hide your body from your daughter. Some mothers are comfortable with their daughters viewing their nude bodies, and some are very uncomfortable. Although this is, of course, a matter of personal preference, it can be helpful for your daughter to see you nude or wearing only underwear. By not hiding your body from her, you send the message that you are not ashamed about your body, and that she doesn’t have to be ashamed about hers. You also send a non-verbal message that you will be open to intimate discussions of any nature, without feeling embarrassed. On the other hand, your should not force your daughter to reveal her body. Due to the physical changes they are experiencing, teens are often very discreet about their bodies and should not be forced to make themselves vulnerable in this manner.

The real world

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to the way teenage girls view their own bodies — TV, magazines, friends and boys.

It is important for you to be on the lookout for opportunities to discuss these issues and to support your daughter’s ability to sort out fantasy from reality.

For example:

Fantasy: You can and should diet or exercise your way to look like a model and you have failed somehow if you don't make it.
Fact: Everyone is born with a different body. No one type is better or worse than another. Models have the type of genes that allow them to be very tall and thin. Very few people look like that.

Fantasy: Boys only like very thin girls.
Fact: Teenage boys may like to look at very thin, pretty girls. But they prefer to date regular looking girls, who are not intimidating to them during their awkward adolescent period.

Fantasy: TV stars naturally look fabulous.
Fact: TV stars spend hours a day getting their “look” and they sacrifice a lot to get there. What’s more, very, very few actors actually “make it." Most go on to do other things long before they get anywhere near prime time TV.

Fantasy: You have to look, dress, and eat like your friends or you’re not “cool."
Fact: Everyone has a different body type and you have to take care of your body in a way that feels comfortable and flattering to you. Being healthy is “cool” and having friends that accept you for who you are is the ultimate “cool”.

Create a bond, not a battle

Adolescence is often a very difficult time for mothers and daughters. It can be fraught with bickering, fighting and lack of understanding on both sides. And things typically only get worse when moms become anxious that their daughters are overweight or underweight. After all, as a mother you want the best for your daughter and it can be painful to watch her body change in a way that you feel is detrimental. But, here's a really important point to remember: By the time your daughter reaches adolescence, you no longer have actual control over her body, exercise or eating.

Your role has to shift -- you will have a much more meaningful impact on her and also maintain a healthy mother-daughter bond, if you are able to refrain from critical, judgmental words and actions.

Below are some helpful tips that can reduce the fighting between you and your daughter and develop a more supportive and emotionally connected relationship. She may not end up with the body you want her to have, but she will have a mom that she can count on for emotional support and help when she needs it most.

Don’t criticize her clothes—even if you hate them!
For teenagers clothing is a reflection of self-_expression. By being critical of it, you are directly insulting a core part of your daughter. Even if she’s dressing to hide an overweight body, or to show it off, be gentle in the way you react to her clothes. Pick your battles carefully, asking yourself if it’s really essential that you express an opinion. Sometimes, if you give leeway (or even support) to fashions with which you don’t agree, your daughter will agree to dress the way you want for a family function, or other occasion that’s important to you.

Don’t be the food police.
If your daughter feels that you are watching everything she eats she will start to eat secretively (closet eating) which can quickly become part of an eating disorder. Avoid counting her calories, monitoring the number of helpings she takes or commenting on her eating habits. In general, don’t nag or criticize! Rather, provide healthy foods, limit the amount of junk food available at home and model good eating habits yourself.

Encourage exercise of all kinds.
Exercise can occur in many forms. Some teens are naturally athletic and very active in sports and exercise. However, many girls are more interested in non-athletic activities and will not get enough exercise. But with some thought and innovation you can help your daughter become more active without her even realizing it. For many girls, activities with friends can be easier than going it alone. What’s more, if you make the extra effort to be right in there with her, you will find that your enthusiasm will be infectious. For example: walking in the mall, playing frisbee, swimming, roller-skating, ice-skating, dancing, gardening and hiking.

Examine family eating habits.
Take a good look in your cupboards and refrigerator. It is unfair to expect your daughter to be able to eat healthily if the food available and the family habits are unhealthy. Consider your supermarket shopping list and evaluate it critically. Are you giving your family and your daughter the best shot possible at healthy eating?

Don’t compare.
One of the most painful experiences that a child can have is when her mother compares her to a sibling, friend, cousin, or even to herself “when I was your age.” Drawing comparisons will shut down communication between you and your daughter, cause defensiveness and make her angry and resentful. Your daughter should never have to hear things like “if only you played softball like Karen…” or “your sister doesn’t eat dessert, no wonder she’s thin” or “When I was your age I walked everywhere for exercise.” Although you may mean well, these type of statements will backfire, and result in hurt, insecurity and a feeling that your love is conditional on her looking or acting a certain way. Rather, speak to your daughter about herself, her body and her habits without involving comparisons. Express your concerns gently and offer support as she asks for it.

Don’t deny eating disorders

Although eating disorders are relatively unusual, teenage girls with significant body image problems and even those with other seemingly unrelated emotional difficulties (e.g. drug use, depression, anxiety) can be at risk for eating disorders such as Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia. Parents often miss the signs that their daughter is developing an eating disorder because it is painful to acknowledge. However, the quicker a girl is diagnosed and enters treatment, the greater her chance at a full recovery. It is therefore critical that you not ignore any signs of a possible eating disorder.

The following is a list of signs to look out for:
· Losing weight rapidly
· Losing and gaining weight erratically
· Wearing very oversized clothes
· Talking about being fat very frequently
· Eating secretly
· Barely eating
· Pretending to eat
· Eating excessively
· Stealing money (to buy food)
· Exercising excessively
· Avoiding social gatherings
· Spending a lot of time in the bathroom, especially after meals
· Hiding food in her room
· Using alcohol, diet pills, illegal drugs
This list is not necessarily exhaustive so if you have these or any other concerns about your daughter’s body or weight, speak to her doctor immediately. It is a good idea to speak to a mental health professional as well. Remember, the sooner you get her help, the greater her chance for recovery. When it comes to eating disorders, every day counts!

Don’t be hard on your daughter…or yourself

The relationship between mothers and teenage daughters is often very difficult and you can only do the best that you can do. Teens naturally rebel, think they know better (sometimes they do!) and want to become independent. This doesn’t mean that they don’t need or love you.

As long as you make yourself available to your daughter in a supportive, non-judgmental and loving way, you and she will come through her adolescence closer than ever.




answers from Boston on

Yes, I think it's normal. My daughter last year said she wasn't popular because she didn't have a poncho to wear like the other girls. She was 6yrs old and before that she was in kindergarden and wanted to have long hair because several girls in her class had long hair. I showed her pictures of different women of all sizes,shapes and hair styles and told her that everyone is different and that is the special part of it being different and beautiful. Keep encouraging her that she is beautiful. It is funny that kids start off earily wondering about their apparence. I believe if they know about it a three like yours than she would have better self esteem as to someone who starts in high school.



answers from Providence on

I just want to quote this response you got from another mom so it stands out, I think it is the best advice I have ever heard and I smiled just reading it. :)

"So, whenever she would ask if she was pretty I would say, "well, lets see......are you nice? she would say YES! are you loving? she would say YES! do you care about other people? She would say YES! Then I would are not pretty, you are beautiful, inside and out. That would make her smile and be proud of the person she was. "



answers from New London on

My 6 year old has also started this. Is your daughter in daycare or anything cause when my daughter starteed kindergarden the other kids started teasing her. My daughter is chubby due to the fact that she is on steroids for an asthma problem, and when she started school the kids started calling her fat and ugly. I tell her every dya how beautiful she is and I let her pick out the clothes that she feels good in. I have also taught her "I'm rubber your glue whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you." saying. I have tried to teach her that if people don't like you because of how you look then she doesn't need to be friends with them. It's amazing how mean kids can be! Another thing that has helped is her getting involved in many activities. Currently she is in Soccer, Girl scouts, swimming, and soon basketball. She chose to be in all these activities I did not make her join. And she is meeting new kids through these activities and is having an easier time with the other kids at school now. You just need to reinforce how special she is and try to take the emphasis off of the looks.



answers from New York on

Hi there J.. I was reading your request and I think I might be able to help you out hopefully. I dunno if you tried this before but maybe she isn't hear enough possitive reinforcement. I try to tell my girls at least five or six times a day how beautiful they are and how special they are to me and how much I love them. And if you are already doing that I would just keep at it. It might just be a phase she is going through and she just needs the words to be spoken from you.
I would deffinately look into finding out where this came from though. I haven't heard anything like that coming from many small children, and usually when it does it is coming from an outside source (like another child or something like that). I wish you alot of luck and I hope that everything works out ok for you and your sweet girl!



answers from Portland on

Well it can be normal, but she had to have heard someone somewhere talking about they way they were not pleased with there looks. My advise is too keep telling her how pretty she is and how outward looks are not important it is what is inside that counts. It is probley just a fase she is going through right now, but it will appear again later my oldest who is 10 years old is getting concerned about her looks and what poeple think of her. Just keep it postive.

Hope that helps.



answers from Providence on

funny, i'm dealing with the opposite, my daughter says she doesn't want to be pretty. i can barely get her to let me brush her hair i finally told her that if she wants to start preschool when she's 4 she has to brush her hair every morning. she won't let me put it up in a simple ponytail because she "doesn't want to be pretty". and if i say that she is she'll argue no that she's not and doesn't want to be. i also suffered from a very low self esteem and poor body image when i was younger.i just have been focusing on what she likes to do and oh well if she doesn't like ponytails, they don't define her as a person. anyway.....oprah did a show about this topic, maybe you could find some tips on how to handle this from her website?



answers from Buffalo on

I am fortunate to have a child heavily involved in sports....she is not a fluffy girly girl, but proud of who she is. Being involved in outside sports she meets people other than family. Socialization makes them very balanced. They understand there are so many types of people. They learn that there are beautiful people and ugly people, and it has nothing to do with their looks. Start with yourself...use the term beautiful to describe beauty in things other than visual appearance..... She will begin to see beauty in other things too.

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