OP, I feel where you are coming from. I'm not exactly sure why, or what I am afraid of, but it also bugs me when people say my daughter is beautiful- not in and of itself- because she is a very pretty baby (well, now I suppose she is a very pretty toddler) and always has been a very clever, sweet, happy baby, too- which I'm sure is part of what people are remarking on- she is one of those babies that smile a lot and talk, and make even single childless disinterested folks (like so many of my friends) want to hold her. She also has startlingly blue eyes that have gotten bluer and bluer (mine are light brown and my husband's are gray) over her seventeen months. For one thing, people say "oh, she is so beautiful" with such a tone of awe- and while I absolutely agree, I don't want her to focus on her looks so much. I want her to be comfortable with herself and confident in her appearance without putting too much importance there. And that is a hard enough lesson to instill without people commenting on her beauty day in and day out. Maybe it wouldn't be so irksome to me if she didn't hear it all the time- i don't know.
At the same time, I feel proud and happy when people say that my daughter is beautiful, and that makes me feel conflicted and guilty, and adds to my fear that I won't succeed in teaching her the values I want to teach. I feel like a hypocrite because I also enjoy her beauty, enjoy helping her dress in cute clothes and such. Being beautiful was a really big deal to my mom- and I don't want my daughter to learn the pressure that I learned to look good. But I don't think there is anything wrong with being pretty, or with fashion or make-up as forms of expression-
It is really hard for me to find a balance here, between playing dress-up (which is fun for adults-me!-too) and enjoying a person's own "femininity" (for lack of a better word- and I think guys have femininity, too) and crossing the line into self-esteem harming, detrimental obsession-with-looks. I guess maybe I feel like it is hard enough for me to figure all of this out without society reinforcing the importance of being beautiful, which is why it makes me internally cringe at the same time as I internally beam with pride.
For the record, all of that cringing and beaming goes on in my head. I think that people have good intentions when they compliment dd, and I certainly am entitled to mentally react like any mom when her baby is praised- with pleasure. But in front of my daughter, I just smile and say "thank you" and move on.
I think the "why do we dress up our kids" thread is really interesting, too. These are issues I have struggled with as a mom. Before dd was born, I refused to buy "pink" clothes and wanted everything in her life to be gender neutral and practical until she was old enough to choose for herself. Now I drool over tu-tus at target.