Here’s something I’ve been thinking about, nothing new to parents of a little girl: Do I tell my daughter that she’s beautiful? Immediately, my gut response is “You betcha! Absolutely!”
Start now and never stop. Tell her through those awkward pre-teen years. Tell her during the difficult teen years. Tell her when she starts dating and gets stood up for the first time. Tell her when she realizes her “first love” was a d-bag. Tell her when she gets married and is walking down the aisle. Tell her when she feels like a whale pregnant with her first child. Tell her. And, then tell her some more.
Does that make me a bad mother?
I want my girls to feel beautiful. Are they going to feel beautiful just because I say so? No. I realize that there’s much more to it than that…
Comments on appearance is such an icky topic. It always brings up weird stuff in people. For me, it brings up the wicked teenage years when I lost over 30 pounds at the vulnerable age of 16. I got comments on my physical appearance for the first time in my life. It was off-putting. It was always the same people over and over, too. I just got tired of it. Talk about something else! And, some people, honestly, I didn’t believe. Like, once I got the strangest compliment from a gorgeous and popular, thin girl in my high school. (I think she was dating the quarter back at the time.) She actually told me, in line at the cafeteria in front of God and everybody, that she thought I had a great butt. Maybe, I’m just not “girly” enough, I don’t know how girls talk to each other, but this was weird… right? I had such a horrible self-image, and all of these comments made me more obsessed with my appearance and more obsessed with keeping my body a certain size and shape.
What is the message that my daughter is getting when I tell her she is beautiful? There’s a difference in my story. No one told me I was “beautiful.” Well, at least that’s the difference that I see. People were commenting on my new thin body, on new muscle tone, downed pant sizes and tight buns, apparently… But, none of my peers, or teachers or friends ever said, “You are beautiful.” The only ones that ever did were boys… and those I clung to like a starving tick behind your dog’s left ear. I fully invested myself in these relationships because I didn’t have enough self-esteem to believe it myself. When I put on make-up and voraciously fixed my hair, it was to do just that: “fix” myself. When I dressed up, I never thought I looked good, I always hated the first 10 things I put on and settled with number 11. (That’s all normal teenage stuff, right?)
There was a definite shift in my thinking when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I felt the undeniable feminine beauty of housing and growing a child. I was becoming a mother and knew that this was beauty that could neither be denied nor taken away. Becoming a mother is a lot like being a child of the King, my relationship with God can’t be taken from me. It is. And He is mine. And, it is beautiful. So it is with being a mom. The God-given gift of carrying a child in your womb is one of the most inherently beautiful miracles of the world….
Where was I? Oh, yes. When I stepped on the scales at the labor/delivery ward to be induced on that fateful day 3 years ago, the number jumped passed two bills…. And, I knew it would… Did it sting? Sure, how couldn’t it? Did I feel beautiful? Yah, I did. A mighty beautiful and swollen, pregnant mama carrying within her the mostly beautiful baby girl her eyes had yet to see. This began a beauty revolution in which I wanted my girls to know that they’re beautiful–that they are God-made and He said “It is good.”
Let me tell you where my thoughts are coming from. As you can imagine, my little 3-year old is a parrot. A parrot and a mirror. She repeats everything she hears. She takes it on. The most hilarious thing that she says is a quote from a book that I am not recommending… maybe, you’ve heard of it: Pinkalicious. It’s a bit of a sensation, I think… Oh, what a book. We’ve read it 18,000 times. We’ve nearly worn the jacket right off that library book. We’ve had it for well over a month and read it more than once a day sometimes… Shew. I like to hide it sometimes. Anyway, in case you haven’t read it, it’s about a girl who turns pink from eating too many pink cupcakes. This is what she says about being her favorite color, “I cried because I was so beautiful!”
So, out of nowhere, I will hear Sophia say this. She often hollers it out throughout the house. It’s quite hilarious because she’s quoting a very funny moment in a book. But, I also here her calling out things like, “I’m pret-ty! I’m pret-ty!” She also told me in the library a few days ago about “the most beautiful little girl in the purple sweater.” It’s sinking in. She’s commenting on other kids…
Here’s why I don’t think it’s so bad. I’m a thoughtful person. I know that beauty is not just what I see with my eyes when I look at my daughters. I know that it’s also about what I know about them, about who they are. It’s also about what I feel about them because I know them. It’s about who they are and who they will become.
The problem is that my girls really are physically beautiful. (Is that a problem?) Well, they get comments all the time. Abby’s red hair is a magnet for all gushy,over-talkative,pseudo-aunties. Often during said gush session, Sophia will yell out, “My hair’s beautiful, too!” Or, “I’m pretty, too!” Just yesterday a man on the square told us that our girls looked like they came out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Nice. Lovely. Yes. I eat it up… But, what are these messages sending them? Will they stop? And, what happens when they do? When they go through those awkward years of 11-14? I’ll still be telling them how beautiful they are. Will they believe it? And, what about when they’re 16, 17. Will they believe it or will they look for boys to tell them that? And what about sibling rivalry? I didn’t have a sister, but I’ve seen enough made-for-TV movies to fear what jealousy may exist between the two of them…
I’ve read all this stuff like “When you tell your daughter she’s beautiful, make sure you say ‘inner beauty.’” Or, flat out, “Don’t tell your daughter she’s beautiful. Tell her she’s smart, she works hard, she’s good at ________.” Or, “If you do tell her she’s beautiful, be sure to greater emphasize her other characteristics.” What the #@#!#%$! Besides this being totally confusing, I want her to know she’s beautiful! Is that so bad? I want her to know that I think she’s beautiful! I also want her to know that she’s smart… and strong… and kind… and loving… and nurturing… and independent…and interesting… and worth knowing… . I also want her to know that she’s loved… and adored… and cherished… and enjoyed… and loved by the King… I want her to know that the Father thinks she’s beautiful.
It’s like beauty is this thing that some people have and some people don’t. That’s just not true in the eyes of the Father. That’s because the Father truly sees. He truly sees the whole person, the whole forgiven beauty that is His child. I want to love like He does. I want to foster that in my girls.
But, how do I do that? How do I navigate the ugly stigma that is attached to “beauty”? I don’t want to tack on “inner beauty” to every compliment like some caveat or some over-used cliche that my girls will need therapy for. I can’t (won’t) keep my girls out of our culture. At the same time, I don’t want my girls to be obsessed with their physical appearance, worried that they have to look just so or worried about when it will fade.
That’s what they say, right? ”Beauty fades.” May I respectfully say, “Bull $#*@!” My grandmother was the most beautiful woman I can remember in ALL OF THE WORLD! Not a touch of work done. White as a ghost and very overweight in her old age. But, skin as soft as silk and a heart of pure gold. An absolute gem of God’s pure light. And, her husband loved her boundlessly, with a lifetime of faithfulness to prove it.
What can I do other than thoughtfully parent every age, hoping to nurture my girls into strong, beautiful women. Beautiful women who know who they are, know they are loved by me and loved by God. What else can I hope for? Does telling them they are beautiful sabotage that?
I don’t think so. What do you think?
Ultimately, my daughters will have to navigate within themselves a feeling of beauty–of inner beauty, of outer beauty… everything. They’ll have to navigate within themselves every kind of self-feeling. I’ll nurture what I can. But, I want my daughters to know that I think they’re beautiful.