Q: My daughter is 9 years old. She is intelligent, personable, talented -- and increasingly depressed. She has no friends, because she is beautiful.
My daughter has been a model since about the age of 4; she's done catalogue and major magazine work. Next week, she will do her third television commercial. The major portion of her money -- she makes an enormous amount -- is placed in trust, but she is free to spend a certain amount as she pleases (after all, she earns it).
With her earnings she worked with a decorator and furnished her room just as she wanted. She has every toy a 9-year-old would want. Her wardrobe is the envy of all her peers, and that is the problem: envy.
She tries desperately to make friends, but the minute they see her room, her clothes, her toys or see her on television, they become distant and sometimes, quite mean. One of her so-called friends once tried to cut her hair (it is blond and falls to her waist)!
I have tried to explain the motivation behind such vicious acts and her inability to make a lasting friendship, but I don't think that at her age she truly understands the complexities of jealousy and envy. I don't think her "friends" even understand why they dislike her so.
My husband and I have tried to keep her life style as normal as we can. All sittings are scheduled, when possible, during school vacations. She attends a public school and is in Girl Scouts. She enjoys modeling -- it is, to her, more a game than a job -- and looks forward to bookings.
At least then she is treated, usually, with a certain amount of respect and friendship.
What can we do to make her understand that it isn't her fault that the other little girls dislike her, that being beautiful can often be more of a curse than a blessing?
A: You have a tidy problem on your hands, but is your daughter's beauty really the cause? Study after study shows that the best-looking children are usually the most popular.
Consider conformity instead. In the middle years children have a universal need to be like each other. Your daughter's work has made her different from her classmates and if this depresses her -- and it probably does -- each assignment will make her feel worse. The difference can also invite mockery from her classmates, particularly if she shows off about it. And with so many possessions, they will think she is showing off, whether she talks about her work or not.
Your child may have the best clothes, the best toys and the best room, but if she doesn't have a best friend, her possessions will seem like dross.
Nor can modeling really be a game to her. You try to be supportive, but she's one who has the grueling all-day shoot under hot lights.
Loneliness is another factor. When the shoot is finished the child can feel finished, too, unless she has friends. Depression is common in this competitive business.
Competition and rejection will probably increase in her mid-teens, when the careers of child models typically plummet. Beautiful children seldom maintain the same level of beauty for 15 years; even when they do, the fashionable look often changes. This is a terrible let-down, especially after years of work.
It's time for you and your husband to ask yourselves if the spotlight and the money are worth your daughter's happiness, for that is the price she is paying and may continue to pay. Even though she enjoys modeling, she is also getting alienated from children her own age, just when she needs friends most.
Your child will have a better chance to fortify herself if she drops modeling for at least a while. She has her whole adult life to make money, but she only has one childhood.
This isn't to say that modeling is necessarily bad for a child. She may get a great sense of accomplishment out of it, but only if she has other important interests and if the work is treated as an interesting adventure, with no emphasis on the money she makes.
For this reason, your daughter should have clothes, toys, a room and an allowance that are appropriate to your income, not hers, and that are paid for with family funds. By limiting her outlay to work-related expenses, her classmates will have less to be envious about and she will be less isolated.
Instead of encouraging your child to spend money in conspicuous ways, have her give some of it to others -- but with no public announcements, please. She could adopt a foster child overseas, contribute to African relief or help victims of a sudden disaster. The lucky are obliged to help the luckless, just as the beautiful must be nicer to those who aren't so blessed.
Whether your child stays in modeling or not, you want her to know that she is loved and appreciated for herself, not for her good looks. Those, after all, were just a genetic fluke. Instead, she needs you to compliment her on her kindnesses to others, on whatever characteristics she has for which she alone is responsible. Inner resources make a child truly beautiful.
Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.