General Question

Aethelwine's avatar

My 12 year old daughter keeps saying she's ugly. What can I do to help?

Asked by Aethelwine (42961points) October 4th, 2016

I encourage her and tell her she’s wrong, but it doesn’t help. I felt the same at her age so I understand. I just hate to see her put herself down.


boys are easier to raise. for real.

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27 Answers

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Your daughter strikes me as a compassionate and intelligent young woman. I think encouraging her to value attributes other than her looks would be a good plan. Can you get her involved in any groups (especially involving women who are achieving their goals across a range of disciplines)? This might help her to see her worth beyond her looks. Are there any charities you can get involved with together? Things where you’re both helping others (but with a side value of showing your daughter how much she has to offer in this world)? I think trying to convince her she’s pretty is unlikely to work. She has to learn to value herself for attributes other than just what’s in the mirror. Learning to love herself for reasons beyond her prettiness is something that will be helpful to her across her life.

JLeslie's avatar

Awww. Your daughter is beautiful. I hate hearing that. Truly as I see her over the years in photos you have posted she is growing up to be such an attractive young lady.

The questions that pop into my mind are does she have friends she who she feels really comfortable around? Also, is she worried about boys being attracted to her? Are some of her friends already developing, and she is lagging a little behind them? Maybe she is defining pretty as looking more adult.

If you can figure out exactly what she means and help her with it, maybe it will help. I know you endulge her in changing her looks and hair, and I think that’s really great.

Maybe she is mostly lonely and feeling like she is on the outside as so many people her age do. Loneliness is one of the biggest sources of depression I feel (I’m not saying she is depressed, just putting it out there as a possibility) and depression can make everything negative.

Comment on her beauty, and your husband too. I think when girls don’t feel pretty they are more vulnerable to boys and men who will take advantage of them and treat them badly. I think girls are vulnerable to begin with, but if a boy comes along and makes her feel pretty she will be possibly easily sucked in.

kritiper's avatar

Tell her every day that she is pretty. If she says anything after that, ignore her.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Perhaps some positive female role models that encourage empowerment beyond appearances? I love Erin Brown. She comes to mind because she wrote a book to her daughter in hopes of preemptively squashing some of these societal messages before they got into her head. I haven’t read it (though, I want to), you might want to give it a look here.

Also, maybe curbing things like magazines, celebrity or fashion news, see who she is watching on YouTube and Instagram, as well. Unrealistic images of women, including young women, are damaging even when we recognize them as unrealistic. And the truth is, that most of the images that young girls see today are edited, filtered, angled and use every camera trick in the book to make the subjects look especially beautiful. Then we look in the mirror and see our chubby cheeks and slightly crooked nose and short legs and think that there is something wrong with us. Limiting time spent looking at those images can help and finding (real) images of women that she admires for their beauty, and women she admires for other reasons.

It’s important for most of us to feel beautiful, so we can’t write it off and just say that she is more than pretty. She is, of course. I don’t even know her personally, but I know that she is bright and talented and creative, and I’m sure that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Those things are even more important than appearances, but it’s important to feel good in your own skin, too. Can you get her to tell you things about her body that she appreciates or loves? Maybe she is a fast runner or she can bend her thumb back to touch her wrist or maybe she likes her eyes. Help her focus on the good things, her strengths, the things that make her unique.

Hope that something in here is helpful, I hate that this ever happens, it breaks my heart.

CWOTUS's avatar

If this is the girl who appears with you in your FB profile photo from time to time, she is mistaken: she is incredibly beautiful. (I’ve managed to withhold myself from making that observation in the past for fear of confirming anyone’s assessment of me as a dirty old man. I figure that now that the opinion is being actively solicited there’s less danger of that, and it’s in a good cause.) Seriously, she is major-league adorable.

I would be concerned that she has something else going on that you may not be aware of. It’s normal – and even healthy, I think – to be “a little bit” concerned with minor flaws and imperfections. I’d guess that’s part of the human condition, and people who believe that they have zero imperfections are to be avoided for one’s own health.

But that little girl has the face of an angel, and I hope that you help her to realize it. (Even “face of an angel” doesn’t make her a perfect person, but it should help to open doors for her. I fully realize as the father of a now-adult and also-gorgeous young woman that good looks come with a sometimes terrible flip side: additional unwanted attention from actual creeps.) So I would suspect that there’s more there, and I hope you help her get to the bottom of that and resolve it, whatever it is.

rojo's avatar

Sadly, there is probably nothing direct you can do to help; she is at that point in her life that, I believe, most women go through.

What eventually convinced you that you were wrong at that age?

Just keep telling her that she is wrong and that she will eventually see that you are right and that you love her. And for gods sake don’t say “Anyway” or anything that might even give her the idea that she may be correct, She will glom onto the slightest negative and that is all she will hear.

Pandora's avatar

Tell her everyone has their awkward looking years. It is usually around the tween years. I’ve seen many young women go from awkward looking to drop dead gorgeous by the time they were 18. Also your self perception of beauty changes over the years. Also, that real beauty comes from real confidence and self love. Self love is not to be confused with selfish.
For me, my father got me over that with the following words.

You never have a reason not to hold your head up high ever. There is no reason to hide or be ashamed of how I looked. God never makes junk.

I had to do the same with my daughter and add that I did not make junk because I did not come from junk and neither did she. But what we believe of our selves will become fact with time.

The awkward years can come with zits, and the larger teeth coming in, giving you a awkward smile, and greasy skin, or greasy hair, or a larger nose that is more fitting of a full adult look. There are models who are actually picked for their awkward looking features. It’s not the makeup that makes them more beautiful but the confidence in their own individual look that makes them more beautiful.

There is a difference between generic beauty and individual beauty.
You could also try looking at the link below. I don’t agree with the title and don’t believe any of them were really ugly, but it gives a good look at how those tween years can be funky looking until they have a full grown face that fits their features or their features (like smiles) change to fit their face.

cookieman's avatar

My daughter (13) has said similar things. I tell her that I’m sorry she feels that way but that ultimately it’s not for her to decide. Beauty is subjective and many people will see her as beautiful whether she feels it or not. What’s more, “beautiful” should really be defined by more than just your physical appearance. Plus, feelings change, so yours likely will too. For now, how about you just focus on being the best you you can be.

I repeat this as needed to her. Works pretty well.

It is hard to hear your child say such things though.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora The thing is, this particular girl does’t look awkward. Maybe you still have the same advice, I’m not questioning your advice really, but this girl is downright pretty even at this usually awkward age.

If you coiffe her hair a little more sexy, and put some heavier make-up on her, she could be in magazines. The thing is at her age we (the big we) don’t necessarily want to “sex” her up.

Although, as I think about it, @jonsblond, if you’re reading my post here, if she is interested in looking prettier and more “grown up” then you might consider getting her hair styled in a more sophisticated way and take her for a make over. I just don’t know if that’s what your daughter means by pretty?

I had a friend in school who was always one of the heaviest in grade school, and her hair was a little unkept, and she wasn’t especially pretty compared to some of the other girls. Summer passes, and first day of Jr. High she walks in with long straightened hair, list ten pounds, clothes that are more fashionable, she was transformed. She went in to be in the popular group at school. It really was quite dramatic. Your daughter is not like this girl. Your daughter is already naturally beautiful.

You could take her for a glamour shot so she can see what can happen and tell her it’s just for fun at her age. Maybe do the photo with her. Just the girls, and put it in a frame in your house. I can see a down side to doing this too though.

She likes sports I remember. Is she still into sports? Maybe her interests are changing and that’s hard in her.

jca's avatar

I didn’t read the comments above. Will check them out later.

I think that 12 is such an awkward and tough age. Their friends are all going through this hormonal thing so everyone has this big upheaval, physically and emotionally and mentally. Physically, some girls are heavy still from their younger years, and have yet to sprout up. As we all know, being heavy can bring on meanness from others. Yet still, some girls are really skinny, gangly and awkward, all legs and arms. Girls can be really mean to each other (as kids and as adults). Really ruthless. I think no matter what adults say to them to try to counterbalance the comments, kids take what their peers say to heart.

My mom experienced it as she was not heavy but she was big for her age. I experienced it as I was heavy and had braces and glasses. In my family, we’re tall My mom was 5 foot 7 which she attained as a young teen, and I was 5 foot 9, same thing. Age 13, tall and big. I’d be called names like “whale” and “sow” and I’d hear mooing noises and cruel stuff like that. Of course I wouldn’t want to tell my parents or the teachers. It wasn’t until I was older and did some things to look and feel better that I started accepting myself. I had low self esteem for much of my adult life.

In the meantime, my thoughts were the photo shoot you can do at home since you’re a pro photographer, doing some hair and outfit changes might help. Trying some edgy clothes. Maybe some fun nights out with friends (movies, soda at a soda shop, even McD’s with friends).

At that age, friends can be fickle, too. There may be times that your daughter prefers to be alone or with family, because there are no hurt feelings when you’re alone and hopefully not when you’re with family, whereas with friends, friends who may be backstabbing or gossipy, you never know.

It’s such a tough time and I think there are no easy answers. You don’t want them to be heavy but you don’t want them to develop anxiety about body image or weight, either.

My daughter is 9 so we’ll be dealing with this very soon. I live in an affluent school district where many of the moms don’t work and spend the day doing yoga and hanging out on the horse farm, and there’s a lot of Wall Street money flowing. Then there are families like ours: far from poor but far from rich, too.

SmashTheState's avatar

This is a good opportunity to bang home some hard truths, such as that not everyone can be physically attractive. If everyone was physically attractive, then the bar would just go up and it would require even more symmetry and more blemishless skin to qualify as physically attractive. Since physical attractiveness is something you win through the genetic lottery at birth, there’s little a person can do about it.

All of this is why it’s so important to cultivate traits which make a person attractive in ways which are not related to physical beauty. I’m fat, hairy, ugly, and have indifferent hygiene, but I not infrequently get college co-eds less than half my age flirting with me. That’s because I have my own sense of style, I’m confident, intelligent, and – probably to the amazement and disbelief of people on Fluther – I can be charming and charismatic. You don’t need to have a flawless, beautiful body to be attractive. Perhaps it would help if you pointed out celebrities to her who are not conventionally attractive, but whose personality or talent or humour make them appealing, people like John Goodman, Adele, Steve Buscemi, Kristen Stewart, Sarah Jessica Parker, et al. Personally, I’ve always thought Dr. Ruth Westheimer was sexy: a wrinkled little gnome of a woman with an absolutely encyclopaedic knowledge of every sexual perversion known to humanity.

Aethelwine's avatar

I’m here and reading all of the responses. Your advice has really been helpful. I’ll try to answer some of your questions in a bit.

Thank you!

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie Insecurity is still insecurity. Rarely are people truly ugly. Society has made young people more conscious of the slightest flaws because of air brushing photos. They think perfection is beauty. That and she is probably headed to puberty soon and her added hormones are making her emotional about things that didn’t matter before. Not all outer hatred towards one’s look is simply always about looks. She may be taking in the whole picture of herself. What I mean, is that she may not feel smart enough, or funny enough, or interesting enough and she is translating it all to her look.
I’m not sure if I’m saying this right. So bear with me.

Looking back at photos when I was a teen, I now realize I was quite pretty even if I had braces and a few zits. But I remember feeling ugly as hell. Although I was confident in my intelligence, I felt I wasn’t as exciting or as interesting as other girls my age. I was a misfit. Misfits are ugly and not unique, not special.

I came to realize I was pretty enough but not special in any particular way, despite the fact that a lot of guys would hit on me. By then I had the confidence to believe I was fun but yet not special or very pretty. I still don’t see myself as very pretty but once I learned that I was special in my own way my outer looks wasn’t as important. My confidence grew by leaps and bounds and I felt beautiful because I was the best me I could be. Feeling beautiful isn’t always about just looks. Feelings in general usually have very little to do about looks. If it did, than no parent would be able to love a funny looking baby or a baby born with a physical flaw. She has to learn how to love herself. All of herself. Not just parts. The good with the bad, and understand that she has the right to be and enjoy who she is, as she is. It would help to remind her that she has a long way to grow and she will not be the same person at 18 as she was at 12 and that one day, she will look back and think fondly of her former self.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora I agree with a lot of what you said.

I find a lot of mom’s don’t take seriously little things that bother girls. Like, their hair is very curly and frizzy a parent might love their daughter’s wild lochs, but in school it might make her feel in the outside. I think parents too often worry about their daughters feeling secure in the sense that they shouldn’t care about outward appearance at a very young age, and they dwell on inner beauty and their other talents, when it really does matter to some young girls. They really do want that mole removed, their hair straightened, and to wear mascara so they can feel better about themselves. Or, whatever it is. I don’t think this about the OP, I think she readily will help her daughter if they can figure out what will help, it’s just an example.

You’re right. Most people are pretty, and with a little help they can easily be especially attractive. I think we should help young girls with it so it doesn’t become an obsession either with looking perfect, or an obsession with feeling imperfect.

@jonsblond I don’t want to make assumptions, but was your daughter changing hair color and cutting her hair because friends are doing it? Or, because she fills different already and that makes her outwardly different too? She might be changing her appearance to match her feelings of not fitting in. Or, I could be reading a lot into nothing. If she wants to look pretty and mainstream she can easily achieve it. Maybe that not how she feels though. Being a teenager is so complicated.

Stinley's avatar

I think that there is some good advice here about helping her to see how lovely she is underneath, not how she looks on the surface. Doing good deeds, helping others, working hard on projects and tasks, doing the best she can. These are things that she has control over, that will strengthen her self-worth.

The problem with feeling ugly is if someone tells you that you are pretty, it does two things
1. it doesn’t change how you feel. You still feel ugly.
2. it dismisses your feelings and feels like the person is saying ‘your feelings are wrong’. That can’t feel good.

I also really don’t agree that a photo shoot will help. It’s not the intended message, clearly, but if you feel ugly then someone saying to you ‘change what you look like then you’ll be pretty’ is not a good message. You’ll still feel ugly underneath and will now have to go through tremendous hoops in terms of maintaining your appearance in order to feel beautiful.

So in summary…
– Address the feelings of ugliness ‘I’m sad that you feel ugly. That must be an awful feeling for you to have inside. I’m glad we are talking about it. I don’t believe you are ugly inside or out, but I understand how that feels. I felt like that when I was your age. I wasn’t ugly either but I sure did think I was. How can we help you feel good about yourself because feeling like this is making you unhappy’
– Praise her actions and ask her about her feelings – ‘that was a kind thing you did, helping dad with the dishes because he has a cold. How did it feel to do that good turn?’, ‘Well done on working really hard for that test. You did lots of studying and really improved your score from last time. How did you feel when you heard your mark from the teacher?’. Praising the things that she has control over is key. Praising things she has no control over eg how other people perceive her looks, is a bit pointless.

JLeslie's avatar

I want to add that I was not saying we shouldn’t compliment our children on their achievements, and when they are kind, and also talk about admiring other people who do good deeds. I’m only saying in addition to all of this, most girls need to feel pretty enough. It can affect them the rest of their life. Teens tend to be very superficial unfortunately.

Growing up I didn’t dwell on my imperfections, I think because I received enough compliments on my features that people found attractive.

flutherother's avatar

Being loved is more important than being beautiful. Try to teach her this truth through example.

jca's avatar

You know what might be a fun way to open up this discussion without being obvious? Tell her you want to watch some movies from when you were a teen, and watch some ones like “Pretty in Pink” which, if you remember, were about this very topic. Teen girl was a little quirky and unpopular. She lived with widower dad and they didn’t have much money for clothes, so she made her own. She got made fun of and in the end it turns out ok. I don’t remember it too well but I’m sure there are conversations that are had between the girl and her dad and/or friends and/or school staff that are around the topic of popularity and self image.

You could make it like “let’s do a movie night” and have popcorn and some fun stuff, even a friend or two over and say you have this movie from your teen years. Then you can discuss the issues when it’s over.

Cruiser's avatar

All you can do is to validate her feelings by telling her you felt exactly the same when you were her age and it was especially hard when the other kids might try and make you feel self conscious about your looks. Tell if and when that happens to ignore it and to always remember just how special and beautiful she is inside. Then tell her that someday she will meet a man like her dad who will then make her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.

JLeslie's avatar

^^I say leave off that man part at the end. The rest sounds good.

Aethelwine's avatar

I want to respond individually but I’m on my phone and it’s a pain. I’ll try to cover some questions that were asked.

Emily has always been active until this past year. She danced for 8 years, played flag football in the fall and softball in the spring. She was very skinny compared to her friends. She now only plays softball. She’d rather play her ukulele and draw. She’s gained weight, but I wouldn’t say she’s fat. She’s pretty average for a girl who isn’t active, but her friends who continued with sports are all fit.

She is more developed than most girls her age. She doesn’t look 12.

Her best friend took a selfie of the two of them last spring and she told Emily to suck in her gut. She didn’t want her friends to know she has a fat friend. Emily told her that was rude and the friend said she was joking, but still. How mean.

Emily came out to her father and I this summer. She’s pangender. She’s open to relationships with anyone. She currently likes a girl in school who is bi. She’s not attracted to any of the boys because they are immature.

We let her cut her hair and color it any way she likes, but she just told me last night that she’s going to grow it out and stop coloring it because she’s over her Goth stage.

She wants to fit in but she attends such a small school and doesn’t have many peers that enjoy the same things she does. This school is all about sports. She is practically begging us to move so she can attend a larger school.

JLeslie's avatar

@jonsblond It does sound like she is lonely. She also sounds very self aware, and intuitive, which I think is great. She knows she wants and needs more friends I think.

That “suck in your gut” comment is mean! Mean and can be one of those life changing moments. Ugh. There is no such thing as “just kidding” with those sorts of comments.

Maybe she is getting boy attention she doesn’t want, because she is developing. One friend of mine was one of the first girls to develop, and she was fairly large breasted, and she hated it. It was really hard for her.

I’m so glad she seems to be telling how she feels. Much better than keeping it all inside. Hard for you I’m sure.

Aethelwine's avatar

*correction- I meant pansexual, not pangender.

SmashTheState's avatar

Touchy-feely “words hurt” saccharine Millennial whinging is why we’re producing generations of weak, emotionally-vulnerable victims. If you want to build a strong person capable of shrugging off the worst the world can inflict, you need to cultivate appreciation for stoicism. That means not over-sharing emotions. It also means learning that the world is a harsh, cruel place where the weak get devoured. It’s your duty as a parent to make children aware of truth, even when it’s hard and unpleasant, and develop ways of dealing with this truth.

The most important thing to teach a child is that the world isn’t fair. Some people are born beautiful and rich, and these people will get a free ride through life. They will never know want and will believe they are superior to everyone else. If you want your children to be anything but a subservient pawn for the rest of their lives, you need to cultivate self-reliance in them. They have to learn how to live in an unjust, unfair world using what tools they have. Fortunately, persistence counts for a lot more than natural talent and beauty.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think this is only coincidentally related to looks, but “ugly” is the best word that she has to describe how she feels about herself – for whatever reason. I would be concerned that her stated belief that she’s “ugly” is simply a manifestation of other things that she’s dealing with. I expect that @JLeslie‘s comment is apt, and that she has probably started to attract unwanted attention from unwanted boys (maybe girls, too, but primarily boys, I expect – and that’s a near certainty if a rejected boy has even the slightest inkling that she’s interested in a girl or girls in general instead).

I know that as a 12-year-old boy I was starting to be very interested in girls, especially the pretty and early-developed ones. I was polite about it, but I recall – and this is from a different age, over a half-century ago! when we seemed to be generally more ignorant and reserved about sex to begin with at that age – that not all of my classmates were so reserved or polite. If they were rejected by a girl, then it was because – as they would bray repeatedly – she was “a slut”. I had three younger sisters who were also good-looking and reserved, and I know what they went through, too. So, yeah, “rude boys” is just something that she’ll have to deal with, and let’s hope that’s all it is.

I’m sure that given time and your already-close relationship you will be able to find out from her what her real problem is, because it certainly isn’t looks, not in the least!, and I’m sure that she’s self-aware enough to realize that, too, but she may not even have the words to describe otherwise. Obviously, the advice immediately above is as wrong as it can be (as I’m sure you already know), but you also can’t invalidate her statements about wanting to move, about being ugly, and so forth. All you can do for now, I think, is continue to quietly ask her “why” she feels that way in the attempt to draw out what the real problem is. And make sure you can have that conversation quietly and privately, so that she can explain without fear of interruption, overhearing, etc.

I would be hopeful that it’s just minor stuff that she’ll grow through, but be prepared for her to tell you things that you may not even be ready to hear or believe, yourself, about who is doing what to her. Childhood is a lot different now than it was when we were kids. (I came within a few steps of being a victim of sexual abuse myself when I was half her age, even back in that “gentler, simpler” time.)

tianxiaweigong's avatar

The world is very bigļ¼

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Oh dear. I don’t know if any of us get spared feeling like this about oursleves. Society is way harsh about looks in general, but it’s especially cruel to young girls and women.

The best you and probably do is let her know she is loved and appreciated—not just for her looks (which are somewhat out of her control), but for her other qualities most of all—kindness, intellect, sense of humor, good cook, athletic, nice singer, good writer, etc. Anything that is positive and unique about her that isn’t just about looks or attracting the opposite sex. (A BIG deal at that age)

Also, I’m not sure if you are her mother or father, but if it will help her confidence, it may be a good time to introduce her to some more advanced self-care. Now, this doesn’t mean buying out the Sephora inventory and letting her turn herself into a Kardashian clone (if that’s not appropriate for your family), but dealing with some of the things she’s insecure about head-on in a sensitive way may prove helpful.

Example: When I was that age, I wasn’t “ugly” but was extremely insecure about my big, bushy Italian eyebrows and my general adolescent awkardness. I shared this with my Mom and she took me to get my brows shaped by a South Asian brow-threader who gave me a beautiful brow shape that improved my looks and helped me feel better about mysellf. She also took me to get my hair cut regularly and to the cosmetics counter and had a makeup artist teach me how to do tasteful, age-appropriate makeup that suited my features and gave me skincare advice to keep my complexion clear through teenager hormone fluctuations. This was helpful in improving my self-image and allowed me to focus less on what I disliked about myself but rather on accentuating the positive and taking care of myself instead with the proper tools.

A combination of a philosophical shift and a practical approach may be helpful to her.

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