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A prayer for my daughter

William Butler Yeats.

William Butler Yeats.

"I hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool," says Daisy Buchanan of her daughter in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby.

Though I'd never wish cretinism on my little girl, I won't deny I've said the odd prayer she'll grow up to be an attractive woman. Yes, I've also appealed to fortune she be healthy, intelligent, kind, happy, fulfilled and wise but, my most constant invocation has been she be given beauty.

I'm certainly not the first father moved by this desire. The revered Irish poet William Butler Yeats famously wrote in A Prayer for My Daughter:

May she be granted beauty and yet not,

Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,

Or hers before a looking glass, for such,

Being made beautiful overmuch,

Consider beauty a sufficient end.

It's a poem that's been described as "designed deliberately to offend women", yet I wonder how many of us, if given the choice of delivering our child beauty or not, would choose "not"?

We've all heard about the studies suggesting life is easier for the beautiful, that we trust them more, they get paid higher salaries and are invited to better parties ... so why wouldn't you wish that for your offspring?

Well, as Yeats observed, few people (save the cast of The Shire) want a kid so gorgeous they "consider beauty a sufficient end"; that they just coast through life, read the weather on TV, marry rich and add nothing to the world but methane.

These people, though desired by many and sainted by magazines, are also some of humanity's most secretly despised because, through no talent or effort, they've been delivered a genetic jackpot; seemingly a free-pass through life.

Witness the ferocity of attacks on anybody who is good-looking "and knows it", such as British columnist Samantha Brick, who recently made the mistake of suggesting women hate her for "being beautiful" and instantly became the most reviled blonde on the internet.

However, if you shut your mouth and feign humility about your fantabulous looks, you'll be forgiven almost anything. Like Mad Men's Donald Draper, you can be despicable, near irredeemable, but women will still drool over you and men will be your buddy, simply because you're handsome.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald also makes the observation that "there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well" but I wonder if the gulf between the beautiful and ugly is just as unfathomable?

Unless you've been shunned for your looks (I suggest Charles Bukowski's novel Ham on Rye as an insight), you'd never understand, could probably not even comprehend, the way it can shape and often limit your world, as well as your personality.

For every homely Danny DeVito or Kim Clijsters - superstars who've risen to the pinnacle of their profession based on talent alone - there's the tubby 35-year-old bus driver who's never had sex, an acne-scarred accountant who hates herself because of her ravaged skin.

Of course, there are also countless individuals blessed with good looks whose lives are still racked with insecurity, who measure their value by this standard alone or, stare into the mirror and can't see the beauty others do.

And this, I guess, forms a tightrope I somehow hope my daughter will walk; accept and rejoice in your beauty ... just don't let anyone else know.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

120 comments so far

  • What I would wish more than looks is a good balance of humility, realistic expectations, intellect and looks. I think there's quite a few unsuccessful, beautiful, princessy women out there because they've sat there waiting for mr rich guy to come along and he just hasn't and now it's probably too late for them.

    With house prices at a million bucks in Sydney most guys just can't afford to be paying for some hot girl's way as well as putting up with her shit.

    There's plenty ugly happy women out there. God bless them. Better to be like that than a 6 or a 7 bitter about not being an 8-10.

    Date and time
    August 06, 2012, 8:24PM
    • We were never taught to like ourselves. Teach your girl to like who she is and the rest falls into place.

      NO TO PHO
      Date and time
      August 06, 2012, 9:32PM
      • I taught my daughter not to think about herself too much. That way, more of the things that are worth doing well will come instinctively. Unconscious competence. She has beauty, but carries it lightly, with grace. Grace will take her further than beauty.

        BTW, why are you against Pho? Do you mean the celebrity chef?

        Date and time
        August 07, 2012, 8:40AM
    • I can't shake the feeling that Samantha Bricks has a few personality issues which act as a greater impediment to her making female friends rather than the relatively higher attractiveness she claims makes women so jealous. She strikes me as a person with the self-identity of Sheldon Cooper, with an IQ of 105, content with feeling superior being surrounded by, and lording her 'genius' over, village idiots.

      "you can be despicable, near irredeemable, but women will still drool over you and men will be your buddy, simply because you're handsome."

      If I told you that there exists a percentage of the population who find this attitude pitiful because it is generally found in individuals that are stupid, would that sound arrogant to you? If so, too bad. May they enjoy suffering their stupid person problems, furrowing their brows in a failed attempt to understand the causes of their woes.

      hired goon
      Date and time
      August 06, 2012, 10:26PM
      • When describing a person: I associate the word beauty with personality. To me a beautiful person is warm, happy, kind etc. So those are the qualities I tried to nurture in my offspring. Of course being attractive physically is an advantage but will only get you so far. Then there's the matter of intelligence. I mean really....who wants a dumb child? My kids are 19 & 23 and the greatest joy in my life is having thought provoking & humorous conversations with them. Sam when your daughter is 'grown up' you will care more about liking her as person to be with rather than as a person to look at.

        Date and time
        August 06, 2012, 10:43PM
        • i have sons. Can't help you here.

          Date and time
          August 07, 2012, 12:51AM
          • My mum was beautiful. Properly. Band she says that she didn't realise it until it went and the world stopped being so kind to her. Proactively kind. She became, she says, middle aged invisible, which hurt more for being new.

            Another person might have shrugged and been grateful for the easy times that came before, but it isn't easy, I suspect, to revisit your approach to the world.

            So yes, I would hope for a normal measure of beauty, some intelligence and some inner calm. And for good parents who encourage hard work and creativity and exercise and generosity and uncomfortable choices.

            Far away
            Back home
            Date and time
            August 07, 2012, 2:15AM
            • A friend of mine has beautiful rust coloured ringlets. One day she straightened them and she said it was like she had suddenly become invisible. She didn’t realise until then how her looks had affected her experience of the world, how the responses of strangers had fed into her feeling of worth.
              Of course she reinstated the curls at the first opportunity because the shock of the withdrawal of attention was too much!

              Date and time
              August 07, 2012, 11:33AM
          • Hmm. British collumnist Samantha Brick is not considered to be great looking by most people which was why she was ridiculed for that column she wrote.

            I only got my looks at age 18 and my dad made cruel remarks about my appearance for most of my childhood until I finally grew out of my awkwardness and he became concerned about all the male attention I started receiving. I think it's damaging for a father to judge his daughter by her looks whether it is in a negative or a positive way. I would have loved more than anything for my dad to say I was a 'beautiful person' (rather than 'stunning' or something to that effect). My dad's emphasis on my looks has made me believe that my face is my fortune. I will always believe he didnt love me enough because I wasn't pretty.

            Be very careful about the kind of values you instill in your daughter. A lot of your columns talk about how you'd happily date a 'glamour' who had an awful personality, think older mothers are embarassing and unattractive; and women your own age don't measure up to women a decade younger. These are views that will shape her self esteem and view of men in a negative way. She may well grow up thinking that father valued women based on their looks alone and therefore her physical appearance directly equates to her worth.

            You're probably nicer than my dad, but I often find the way you discuss women in your columns shallow and offensive. You're going to have a negative impact on your daughter if youre not careful with how you convey your attitudes about women. Trust me a father can make or break his daughter's self esteem - handle with care!

            Date and time
            August 07, 2012, 4:36AM
            • I have heard it said many times before that a girl gets her self-esteem from her father. Those qualities valued by a father in his daughter will be those she will most likely attach her self worth to in later life.

              I'm sorry you had that experience Camryn.

              Date and time
              August 07, 2012, 7:26AM

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