Dear Carolyn: We have a bunch of little girls in our neighborhood who play with ours. One of them sometimes comes up to me and asks, "Don't I look pretty?" What do you think is the best thing to say? I usually say something like, "What a fancy dress," but it feels fake.
— I Want My Kids to Be Nerds
I Want My Kids to Be Nerds: Funny, I was just talking about this last night with someone.
A few points:
1. A world where you can’t tell kids they look pretty every once in a while sounds like a real pain in the butt to live in.
2. It’s naive, however, to ignore the collective effect of comments about looks. So, you’re right to think about your answer before you get asked. It’s also right to notice it’s one girl who tends to ask you this. Any thoughts on why?
3. Nerds are great, but so are jocks, and so are artists, and so are people who put together just the right things to wear and look stunning as a result. So are people who sample from all these categories. So are people who defy categories. Don’t take a stand against pigeonholing by cramming people into the pigeonhole you like better.
4. When someone asks, “Am I pretty?” and you respond with, “What a fancy dress,” the message some people hear is, “You’re so ugly the only nice thing I can do is compliment what you’re wearing.” So provide alternate answers with caution.
5. And it’s a basic human pleasure to behold and appreciate beauty — in a vista, in a flower, in a child’s face. It’s not a failing.
6. So please don’t be afraid to respond, “You sure do look pretty.” Every once in a while. But also look for what people do vs. just are. “I love that you picked that shirt with those pants. You have an eye for color.” And mix it up: “I think so — do you feel pretty? That’s what I ask myself.” Taking an interest and asking good questions can shift her attention to her own sense of herself.
Dear Carolyn: My aunt recently died. She was a wealthy woman with no children, and she always told my sister and me, "I'm taking care of you in my will." We both assumed that meant enough money to buy a house; she left us enough to buy a used car, and the rest went to charity.
My sister is absolutely furious with our aunt and just won't let it go. My attitude is, it was my aunt's money to do with as she chose. Is there a nice way I can tell my sister she's being an entitled brat? Our aunt didn't have to leave us anything. How do I get her to see it that way?
Anonymous: There are dozens of nice ways to call people entitled brats.
She’ll change her thinking when she’s good and ready.
You, however, don’t need to listen to her get there. Speak only of and for yourself: “I thought there would be more, too. I just don’t share your rage — it was Auntie’s prerogative. I am also through talking about it, because it won’t change anything.” Empathy, honesty, logic, out. Decline to discuss it again.