Fran: When my daughter goes to school, I don't say “you look gorgeous, you look pretty!” I say – you look smart, because thats all that matters when you're getting ready for school.
Tony: So you never say to your daughter “you look beautiful, you look nice?”
Fran: Um, not as regularly... I mean, maybe once or twice”
Tony: But you just said you never do it? You just contradicted yourself.
Fran: Okay. But I contradicted to extent where (school, I said school – I know I said school!!!)... once or twice in her life I've said “you're beautiful!” but I say on a daily basis “you look really smart, you look really good.”
Interview ends. I listen back – I did ok! That last bit – transcribed above – lingers in my mind.
That was me getting a bit flustered at the end of a radio interview with Tony Snell on BBC Radio Merseyside. I was the only other person, other than the MP herself, to come on air and be rugby tackled over supporting the Common's early day motion (led by Katie Clarke MP) on challenging the heavy presence of gender marketing in advertising children's toys in the run up to Christmas.
I've been on radio a few times before, the last time I was asked one question and wasn't allowed to speak again. On that occasion it was about austerity and job cuts faced predominantly by women (when asked by the presenter “don't we need austerity?” - to women who had lost their jobs as a result – I jumped in, controlled but a shay annoyed) and I was too pro-Labour. Apparently.
So, this last bit bamboozled me. First off – I'm not appearing on behalf of an organisation, I'm not an MP, I'm not being paid to do this – I have a business which is related to this issue, but its not mentioned and I don't go for a plug, this is bigger than that.
I sway awkwardly thinking (quickly - this is *live*) am I a bad parent for not telling Scarlett she's beautiful?! After all it “turns my stomach” is a fairly strong statement to make. I have said it! I just don't make a big deal of it. I don't scrape her hair back into a bun, adding bows and clips, bells and whistles, and then congratulate her on her appearance. I don't make comments about anything she chooses to wear other than to add if I think she may be too cold without a top on. I was also asked “hasn't Scarlett every walked around in your shoes?” (re: children wanting dressing up heels/be like Mum) and the answer is no, her shoes are far nicer than my smelly Converse.
That doesn't mean I don't compliment her, tell her everyday how much I love her for who she is – what a wonderful young girl she is. I just don't place any value on appearance, because lets face it, there is too much in our society and wider culture placing pressure on young girls, teenagers – heck, women of all ages – to look a certain way, to all hail a certain standard of beauty.
Lets also look at this another way. How often are boys told they are beautiful or pretty? Does that turn Tony Snell's stomach too? Seriously. One of my male friends told the mother of a boy “your son is really beautiful!” and she balked, “what? What a thing to say to a boy!” My daughter Evie – often mistaken for a boy, was called a “cheeky little scamp!” by a man at Scarlett's school. When I pointed out “yes, she can be” with a a smile, he got upset, backpedaling furiously “I'm sorry! She's gorgeous!”
So “beautiful” or “pretty” - its NOT important for a child to hear. It should turn your stomach that girls are made to feel they should look beautiful, or that looking pretty is something to value. Girls and boys don't need to hear it. No more than they need high heels, nail varnish, dressing up tables (for toddlers...), lipstick, handbags (obviously for the mountain of pink cosmetics) – that all, regrettably, comes later (for most) so lets value fun and childhood instead. Getting messy, caked in mud, ripped clothes from climbing trees.
Most importantly perhaps, if its not heard a great deal in our house, if Scarlett and Evie aren't told they look beautiful once a day, once a week, once every 6 months – its because they hear this instead.
You are so clever
Brilliant! Smart for school
I love how creative you are...
You look like you'll get cold without a top on...
Make that “very very intelligent”
You are mighty Scarlett!
A great big sister :)
I am so very proud of you.