The Reason I Need You to Stop Calling My Baby “Pretty”

My mother tells a story of the very early years of my life. I was not yet two-years-old and all I wanted was real earrings. She ultimately gave in and had my ears pierced. I loved my pretty earrings.

That’s when I started chasing pretty–before my second birthday.

Every stranger that I met noticed my pretty earrings. In the line at the grocery store. At the zoo. My earrings and I got so many compliments. I was a pretty baby with pretty earrings and pretty dresses.

I grew into a little girl who loved being pretty. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to hear compliments on my appearance. My self-worth became enmeshed in those compliments. This was the beginning of a lifetime spent chasing pretty.

By the time I was 10, I thought I needed to lose weight. Because skinny is pretty. For a 4th-grader, I spent far too much time in my bedroom trying to curl my bangs, because I wanted to look pretty.

I wanted people to tell me I was pretty because this is how I came to measure my self-worth.

Long before high school I developed an unhealthy perception of my body. This led to diet pills and crash diets. Because skinny is pretty and pretty is everything.

I accumulated all the necessary (and much of the unnecessary) beautifying equipment. This included a closet stuffed with clothes and drawers full of make-up and hair supplies. These things helped in the chase. They helped make me pretty. Really pretty. Or at least that’s what I heard from strangers.

But despite a lifetime of chasing pretty, I never felt pretty.

Pretty was a moving target that I never could quite seem to catch.

No matter how much I dieted, how much make up I wore, or how cute my outfit was on any given day—pretty seemed to escape me. Each time I looked in the mirror or saw a photo of myself, I questioned.

Do I look pretty?

I am now 33-years-old. I am a wife and mother of two. Last year I finished a Ph.D. I accomplished great heights in my career—accumulating accolades and recognition for contributions to my field of work. These days, I have surrendered to the chase.

I no longer have the time and energy to chase pretty. Because frankly, it’s exhausting. 

I never was going to catch it anyways.

Somewhere in these major life changes I saw a photo that changed everything. For the first time, I saw a photo of myself that took my breathe away.

The photo that changed everything.

As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Although this photograph is the same-old-me, I am now looking at it through a different lens.

When I saw this photo, I didn’t see “pretty”. I saw something better.

I saw happy.

I saw intelligent.

I saw loving. 

Once I stopped chasing pretty, I started to see everything that really mattered.

I have found a sense of self-worth that I never found in my pursuit of pretty. Now, I feel lighter. The moving target of beauty is one that I am not chasing any longer.

I feel relief. 

But at the same time—I feel fear.

Because I have a baby girl. A baby girl that is told she is pretty all the time.

I cringe. Because I don’t want her to chase pretty. She’s nearly the age that I was when the chase started for me. How do I teach my daughter to value her inner-beauty? How do I teach her that self-worth isn’t sealed into pretty?

I will try my best.

I will teach her that strangers can’t see the beautiful stuff on the inside. However, out of some bizarre cultural norm she will find that these strangers constantly praise and discuss her external appearance.

World, please hear me. I need your help.

I am trying to raise a daughter to chase kindness, education, and compassion for humanity. With all that on her plate, she doesn’t have time to chase pretty.

The next time you see us at the grocery store, say hello. If you want to talk with her–please go ahead. Ask her the name of her favorite book. Ask her about her beloved puppy.

Just stop making a little girl’s physical appearance her stand-out quality.

For the love of all things good, please stop telling my baby that she is pretty. Because she’s so much more than that.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.