06 Jun When Do Words Start to Hurt as Much as Sticks and Stones?

My daughter went to school one day with her pants unbuttoned—they were too tight. She wore them that way at school all day. She is five and doesn’t care about her belly bursting out. No one has told her to “suck it in”…yet.

She is goofy, confident, and still too young to even think to care about how others perceive her. I want to protect that but of course, I can’t. I don’t want words or people to take these personality traits away. But I know one day she will start to care about what others say. In a perfect world she would grow up to not give a fuck, but one day she will cross over, just like we all do.

Recently, a 10-year-old boy we know called my 5-year-old daughter UGLY. This incident has been nagging me for a while—not because I am worried she is UGLY and especially not because she is worried she is UGLY. I don’t think that’s ever crossed her mind. Maybe that’s the essence of my sadness.

I am so thankful she’s had almost six years of living free. Free without worry of not being pretty enough, being fat but not in the right places, being too smart or being too stupid. She is still too young and sheltered for the world to dim her bright light. In a moment—through a boy who knew how to hurt a girl half his age—she unwillingly and unknowingly crossed into the other side.

The side of life that beats you up, just because it can.

The side of life that is UGLY.

The boy wanted to hurt her, and calling her UGLY was his weapon. Being a child still himself, I find it sad that he knows how to use this word against girls. I doubt he’s called boys UGLY.

It occurs to me that each time we praise a young girl for being PRETTY, we give the world something to take away from her. We show that we value PRETTY, and thus, we arm those who want to harm her with the equivalent antonyms.

If we could just stop assigning so much importance to young girls looks and clothing, we could allow girls to grow into a different world. A world that doesn’t hold such power over women through media, cat calls, tabloids, body shaming, and all the ways we’re told we’re not enough or too much of something.

I didn’t say anything about what happened. Not to my daughter. And not to the boy. At first, it was because words just escaped me. But as time passed, I realized that by addressing it, I would give the word and the boy that much more power. I don’t want to give that to him, nor do I want to take that from her. For the sake of both of them—one day they will both be damaged by words.

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