There is nothing worn with telling your daughter that she is pretty. She is and it's important for her to believe this, however, should her self esteem wander off and she's used to primarily being complimented on physicality she needs to have re-enforced that physicality is just one part of an amazing whole.
Never forget to tell her that she's also brave, strong, quick, witty, agile, creative, intelligent, empathic etc. That she has many many qualities that make her so perfectly her. It's also important to emphasise how they make you and others feel, such as loved, proud, happy. To know that she can positively effect people because of who she is and not what she looks like.
It's natural to compliment how a person looks, it's an instant feel good buzz if someone compliments you. However, think about what part of her you're aiming to compliment.
For instance, if your child is looking particularly slim, in a healthy way:
Don't say: 'wow look at you skinny minnie!' even if you're saying it with affection or even with well intended humour, you're essentially sending the message that she is only looking good because she's slim and that she must stay that way, re-enforcing the illusion that to be beautiful you have to be slim.
Instead: Focus on the overall thing she is exuding such as 'you're looking really healthy' or 'you're glowing lately!' This suggests that she as a whole is looking well and happy focusing on the person not the body.
Maybe your older child is experimenting with make-up and despite your better judgement it actually really suits her.
Don't say: 'Is that new make-up? it makes you look stunning' This is suggesting that it is only the make-up that makes her beautiful and that she must therefore need it to be beautiful.
Instead: focus on something particular such as 'I really like that colour lipstick on you' or 'you have such pretty eyes, that colour eye-shadow works well with them' in these examples you complimenting the product yet not insinuating she looks better for wearing it and in the latter example you're placing the emphasis on her eyes, not the eye-shadow. This way you're sending a message that she improves the make-up not vice versa and that make-up can be fun and interesting yet it's not needed, it doesn't improve her as she's already enough without it.
Never reprimand a girl for not being girly enough or insinuate that she can't do nor be something because she's female. Never make her feel like she should be doing something or liking something purely because she's a girl. She is a person, not a gender. Likewise, never try and purposefully de-feminise her, do not use or mould her to make your own point against gender roles and stereotypes. Both are forms of oppression, despite your liberalising intentions. In both instances you're impressing upon her what she should and shouldn't be.
A friend just said to me 'when a little girl tells me she is a princess - I always say - 'what is your special power princess'? and they never struggle to tell me ' which I find incredibly empowering.
Despite being close to My Mother, I never truly feel able to confide in her though to be honest I don't confide in anyone as a rule of thumb. I don't ever remember her explaining periods or sex to me, I just pieced things together from stuff I'd heard and read. She never knew about my disordered eating nor self harm. Even now, she has absolutely no idea that I'm on long term medication for depression nor that I've been referred. I didn't tell her when a few years ago I had a tiny lump on my breast nor when my periods were so erratic with spotting that I feared the worst. If I argue with The Husband, I never talk to her about it. Don't get me wrong, It's not her fault. Not at all. However, I want Thing Two to feel she can come to me. I want to be open from the start. I want to be the one who makes her feel better. The one who helps her untangle the confusion. The one who offers the explanations and possible answers to her questions. I never, ever want her to be as insulated as me, because it's not healthy and even now, I'd sell my soul to feel able to talk, really talk to someone.
I never want to make her feel fat or ugly or not enough. I never want to make her feel selfish, ungrateful or a burden.
Through relationships both social and romantic, even when her wings have fully grown I want her to feel like should she need me, I'll always be her home. Should it be to celebrate or commiserate, even if she chooses not to come to me, I'd like her still to feel that she could if she wanted or needed to.
I'll admit, it can be impossible to get her to explain what's upset her at times and I'd be lying if I said this didn't worry me. Bottling things up isn't healthy nor helpful. I just have to trust her that if it was something significant enough to need help, she'd tell me.
I want her to believe she can be anything and do anything.
So through honesty and respect and being careful with how we express what we mean I hope that no matter how much life tries to turn her into rubble, that she believes she is a sky scraper.