I’m always excited to check out a new book when the author and/or artist shares my interest in promoting gender equality. Mommy, Am I Pretty? is a new Canadian picture book by Margot L. Denommé. It’s illustrated by her young daughters Madison and Brook Denommé-Warren. Mommy, Am I Pretty? is a delightful book that celebrates the pretty qualities inside every child that should never be overlooked for superficial qualities. Denommé’s story suggests that pretty qualities are internal qualities that one must take action to express through simple acts of kindness and compassion. In addition, the bright, whimsical illustrations complement the uplifting and empowering text.
I commend Ms. Denommé on taking on the word pretty. My three daughters and I recently had a discussion about the word pretty. We decided that pretty is perhaps one of the most superficial descriptive words in the English language. Pretty, for all intense and purposes, means visually attractive and little else. The Oxford dictionary defines pretty as: a person, (especially a woman or child) attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful. (www.oxforddictionaries.com, October 13, 2014)
The title of Ms. Denommé’s book, Mommy, Am I Pretty?, is a perfect introduction to just how powerful the word pretty is in an English speaking society. Little girls hear the word “pretty” constantly, in reference to themselves or their friends. Every mother with daughters will be asked the question, Mommy, Am I Pretty?, because, at some point, her daughter will be told by someone at she “is” or “is not” pretty. Pretty is a much more powerful word than we give it credit. When a girl is told that she is pretty, her physical appearance is labeled as pleasing to the viewer. The girl becomes an object. The word pretty has been objectifying girls long before they become grown women. Demonné says it best when the mother in the story tells her daughter, “Words are important because they can make someone feel either happy or sad.”
Denommé’s taken the word pretty and turned it inside out: “The way you look on the outside has nothing to do with how pretty you are on the inside. Pretty comes from a person’s heart.” In Mommy, Am I Pretty?, pretty is no longer a passive word worn by girls as an objectifying brand; rather, pretty is a powerful word that all children can wear with pride (once they’ve earned the title through kind actions).
My 8 year old daughter Pippi was the first in my family to read the book and she told me that she liked it. I sat down with her at bed time and we read it together one more time. I recommend Mommy, Am I Pretty? as a must read for all mothers and their young daughters (from preschool to age ten). It is a simple book that addresses a complex issue regarding how girls are treated in society as objects from infancy onward. The simple, eloquent and intelligent way in which Denommé describes what pretty means empowers girls. Girls are no longer objects to be labeled, but powerful persons who create pretty with their own actions.
Mommy Am I Pretty? is available on Amazon.ca
*all quotes (aside from the oxford dictionary’s definition of pretty) are from Mommy, Am I Pretty? @2013 by Margot L. Denommé