Also found here, but with pictures.
My daughter is beautiful. Actually, let me rewrite that: my daughter is BEAUTIFUL.
Sometimes I feel an almost physical shock at how adorably precious Rachel is. And while she is far (far!) from all grown up, she is no longer a “baby,” no matter how often I tell her that she is. Everything we do and say to Rachel now will influence who she becomes in the future, and how she perceives herself and her role in this world. Our words and our attitudes will give her the foundation upon which to base all of her worldviews and will create the lens through which she sees herself and others.
I find that I tell Rachel, over and over again, just how beautiful I think she is. I can’t help it—it just spills out before I can stop it. I say, “you’ve got such a pretty smile!” Or, “you are the cutest daughter I have!” (She has yet to think about the fact that she’s the only daughter I have, but we’ll leave that for another day.) I want her to be confident in her appearance (just think Dove commercial, which is a whole other can of worms), but I also am worried about how frequently we comment on how she looks. Lately I’ve tried to follow every involuntary blurt of “your curls are so gorgeous!” with, “Are you going to be an engineer or an architect when you grow up?” (because I want her to recognize and value her intelligence), or, “Do you know how much we love you just for being you?” (because I want her to know that neither beauty nor brains are what make her special).
We don’t use negative adjectives such as “fat,” or “ugly,” or even say overly positive things about other people in front of Rachel, in part because we don’t want her to fixate on looks or think that other people will be critiquing her in the same way. In my house growing up, intelligence, kindness, and independence were revered, but so too was a person’s appearance. And when that is combined with society’s emphasis on beauty, bad things can happen.
So I’m worried. Collin is almost grown, so you might think I’ve had to address this issue before and have come to am enlightened viewpoint. Nope! I think Collin is as handsome as Rachel is beautiful, but I don’t worry about him in the same way. Why? Because society isn’t fixated with how men look or dress in the same way it is with women. It’s also understood that even if a man is outrageously handsome, his worth is in his personhood. His job. His intelligence. Good looks are just the icing on the cake. With women, the opposite is true… Beautiful AND smart? Intelligence becomes the icing. And of course, both of those cakes neglect to note that a person’s true worth is found in neither brawn nor brains.
How do we teach Rachel otherwise? She is beautiful. She is smart. She can create intricate machines out of Legos, a stroller, and random bits of paper and tape. She can organize three-hundred and thirty-seven toys into a symmetrical repeating pattern that spans the entirety of our main floor. She also makes my bed, feeds the baby, begs me to use the iron (don’t worry, I don’t let her). And after she does all these things we smile at her in her princess dress and tiara and tell her how lovely she is. How precious she is in piggy-tails. And she parrots back when she feels especially needy, “Look how cute I am!” And darn it, it both scares me and angers me. We should be able to enjoy all of who Rachel is without fear of repercussion. Without fear that she will not only be objectified in the future, but will objectify herself because she thinks that’s where her value is.
How many times in a row should I compliment Rachel about things other than her appearance so she will get the point that there is so much more to life? So much more to who she is?
As a woman, I know all too well the internal struggles Rachel will face in junior high. In high school. In college. And even into adulthood, when just as she is sure she is finally where and who she wants to be, something will happen to make her question herself all over again. And when that happens, I don’t want her to demand, “Look how cute I am!” but rather to say, “I am loved and special.” Period. No justification or explanation needed.