Don’t call her cute

Don’t call my daughter cute.

I don’t mind. I think she’s cute too, sometimes. But she’ll have your guts for garters if she hears you.

A particularly chatty (and somewhat clueless) fellow customer in the supermarket made that mistake a week or so ago.

“You’re just so cute,” she said, in a cutesy-wutesy voice.

The five-year-old was unimpressed. “I’m not cute,” she countered, with a steely gaze.

I asked her later why she doesn’t like it – not because I disagreed with her stance, but just because I was interested in her reasoning.

“Cute means small. I’m not small. Babies are cute. I’m not a baby.”

Fair enough. Much like Thumbelina, in her heart she’s six feet tall. It’s not her fault that grownups are all still bigger than her.

On Friday, the dentist’s assistant tried to call her cute. Mabel was nervous about the visit, but I could tell this was galling her, so I came gallantly to her defense:

“She doesn’t like to be called cute, actually.”

“Oh? Well, what would she prefer?”

I took the opportunity to put some words in her mouth, since she wasn’t feeling quite as perky as she had been in the supermarket, and I suggested, “How about, I don’t know, smart?”

The dental assistant took that on board, though it’s not as easy to believably tell a child you just met and who won’t meet your eye, never mind talk to you, that she’s very smart.

But you know what, you wouldn’t tell a stranger you’d never met that she was very pretty. (Unless you were in a bar and trying to score, and bolstered by alcohol, and even then she might not appreciate it.) So how about you stop making superficial remarks about children in front of them, and instead, wait for them to talk to you first? That way, if they want to tell you about their new shoes or the fact that you’re buying their favourite snack because it’s their birthday next week, or that their favourite animal is the proboscis monkey, then you can legitimately have a conversation, at the end of which you might just be able to remark with sincerity that they are, indeed, a smart kid.

And then I will try to help them learn to take a compliment graciously, with a smile and a Thank you.

6 thoughts on “Don’t call her cute

  1. Meeshie

    You know, I’d never thought about how odd it is that we do this to children. You’d think we’d want to get away from teaching children that attractiveness equals worth.
    Thanks for the provoking thought.

  2. Sadhbh @ Where Wishes Come From

    Your daughter is amazing. I love how strong her sense of self is. Congratulations to you for recognising it and supporting her and encouraging her to be true to herself. I don’t tend to tell children that they are cute to their faces, I usually say it to their parents, where it is more gratefully received 😉


    Oh dear this brought back a terrible memory.I remember having my gang out shopping. I minded kids so I had a squad of seven under eight that day. One lady looked at the two sitting in the trolley, and the three standing in it, and said “I think you’re all lovely”. One of the three walking seven year olds looked at her and said just for effect, “I think your ugly”. I was so very embarrassed. He was only looking for a laugh and the other two burst out laughing. Needless to say no treat after shopping that day.

  4. Justine Levine

    I struggle to do this with my daughter, too … I want her to take compliments, but I also don’t want people to reduce her to some narrow expression of gender. Despite my best brainwashing, she has already taken to heart that “pretty” girls dress in certain ways, have certain kinds of hair, etc. And that comes from the kinds of compliments people give her, in part.


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