Ask Julia: My daughter takes forever in the morning; is it low self-esteem?

4 min read

Dear Julia,

I’m a single dad to a 14 year old who takes 2 hours to get ready every morning. There’s an oil and steam ritual she must do daily, and then hair styling and makeup. Sometimes it makes us late to school, and she rarely says anything positive about her appearance. I tried saying “I’m so glad you take such good care of yourself, sweetie.” like the author of this article, but my daughter was wise to the message beneath, which was, “I don’t think you need to do so much to your face and hair.” She told me, “You just don’t understand, I’m not pretty. I have to do all this.” and now I don’t know what to do or say.  She’s very pretty; her aunts and grandmother say so too. I’m worried she’s got a very unrealistic view of herself and it will undermine her self-esteem in the long run. Help?


Thank you for reaching out. I was a teenager in the late 90’s and it took me about that long to get ready. My morning ritual involved three different sized curling irons and enormous amounts of Rave (basically glue) hairspray. If my bangs didn’t curl perfectly, I had to brush them out and start over. Sometimes, the hairspray flaked into colossal white chunks and I’d have to wash my hair again. Needless to say, my mother was less than thrilled about my routine and a lot of fights ensued as a result. I do not think your daughter’s morning routine is solely about being pretty. On the surface, perhaps, but if you dig – it is about societal norms and peer norms and insecurity and wanting to feel confident and being 14. Teenage girls are consistently bombarded with overt and covert messages about what they “should” look like. It’s likely your daughter has internalized these messages, and she does not have the cognitive ability to say, “You just don’t understand, I’m trying to conform to social norms and avoid peer rejection.”

I have come across numerous blogs and other publications that suggest we stop telling girls they are pretty and/or beautiful, and focus on character traits. I agree and disagree.

It sounds like your specific concerns are your daughter’s negative remarks about her appearance, and potential long-term impact of a negative self-concept. I first want to say you are ahead of the game by recognizing what is going on, doing your research, and taking the time to learn about these pertinent issues. You are doing all of the right things, so kudos. Next, over the years, I have come across numerous blogs and other publications that suggest we stop telling girls they are pretty and/or beautiful, and focus on character traits. I agree and disagree. I agree that as a society, we are quick to call girls “pretty” and boys “smart.” Girls are more than pretty (and boys are more than smart) and we need to do a much better job of regularly pointing that out. In the right context, however, I think girls (and boys) need to hear positive affirmations about how they look. It’s important. Here are a few additional tips:

  • Put a post it note (or two) on her bathroom mirror with something positive written on it. For example, “Smile! I love you” or “You are perfect, as is.” She might roll her eyes or throw it away, but she’ll remember that gesture for years to come.
  • Try to understand where she is coming from. In a calm, unsuspecting time (not when she’s late for school…) say something along the lines of, “I’m just wondering, what would happen if you didn’t do your oil and steam thing?” Tell her you’re not judging, but curious. She may or may not tell you, but it might give you insight to the pressure she is feeling at school or with her peer group.
  • Guys have body image issues too; tell her about a time you were (or are…) insecure about your body without offering a solution.
  • When she says something negative about her appearance, try replying with, “I completely disagree with you, but understand you feel that way.”
  • Reach out to other fathers with teenage daughters; it may help you feel validated in your experiences and concerns.

Lastly, I’m wondering if she has a strong, positive female role model in her life to talk to about anything and everything? I believe every teenager needs a strong same and opposite sex role model that isn’t a parent. If she does, and you know this person, talk to her about the situation and see if she can inconspicuously bring it up. If she does not, encourage her to reach out to a coach, school counselor, teacher, or a friend’s mom.

One more time, it sounds like you’re on the right track; keep up the curiosity and concern, and best wishes moving forward!



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Dr. Julia V. Taylor is a Counselor Educator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens,  The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You.  She can be reached at

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