When I asked my little sister what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered with: “pretty.”
What an ugly word.
A seven year old with the entire world at her fingertips, her life an unexplored forest, every tree ready for her to climb. There’s room for dreams bigger than the moon she watches every night, brighter than the stars that dance in her ocean blue eyes when sleep won’t steal her away.
But she wants to be pretty.
I watch her clumsy little fingers flick through the pages of the magazines and her eyes widen at the images of girls that look like dolls, with legs as thin as breadsticks she now refuses to eat and skin clearer than the mirror through which she spends so much time glaring at herself. And every time she blinks, my heart pauses because I hope that when she next opens her eyes, she’ll see her own beauty. But instead, I catch her tugging at the ends of her hair in a hope it’ll grow longer, colouring strands with yellow highlighter because blondes beat brunettes, according to the magazines.
As I do, I want to scream loud enough to silence the voices that echo through her mind, those that tell her that being pretty is all there is and the rest doesn’t matter unless your eyelashes have enough volume. Because I think she thinks that pretty is synonymous with being worthy because, after all, that’s what I used to think. The tears start to stain my cheeks at the mere thought that the same dark doubts could cloud her head as they did mine.
And when the day comes that she asks me if I think she’s pretty, I’ll swallow the sorrow and I’ll tell her that the word pretty will never contain everything that she is, or everything that she will be. Because she is more than two sorry syllables and six empty letters. I’ll remind her that she is full. Full of life, full of love, full of everything that it means to be a young girl born into a world that doesn’t make any sense and yet there she is, trying to make sense of it all. Because she is pretty determined that way. I’ll tell her she will always be pretty creative, pretty intelligent, pretty fearless. But she will never be merely pretty.