Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why I tell my daughter I think she's beautiful

I keep reading things about girls and how they're judged by society on looks, and I agree that it's a concern in raising a daughter.  One of the things that never resonates with me, though, is that we should avoid telling our daughters they're beautiful. That we should just ignore that conversation completely and only tell them about how great they are in other areas.

Hmmm.

That doesn't make sense to me. 

I tell my daughter several times a day how beautiful she is to me. Will I ruin her entire psyche?  Maybe.  I'll report back when she's grown and gives me notes from her therapy sessions.  

But these are the thoughts I considered when I tell my daughter she's beautiful:

I think the problem is when it's about a competition.  Is she more beautiful than other people?  How does she compare?  Whether it's beauty, intelligence, or any other variable...that approach will always bring disappointment. 

But I don't think that's what acceptance has to feel like.  I'm not telling Simone she is better than other people...more symmetrical than other people.  That she fits the Red Queen algorithm for beauty, more than other people.

I'm telling her that when I see her, my being lights up.  She enchants me.  I love looking at her.  And she brings me joy.

And someday, I will send her out into the world.  When she falls in love, if that's how her path heads, I want there to be a spark of recognition when a man tells her she's beautiful to him.  I don't mean the construction-worker catcalls...I mean something different.  What she's learning from her parents.

Quite honestly, I want her to demand that of her relationship: Not to settle until she finds someone who finds her beautiful.  Whose being lights up when they see her.  That she enchants him.  He loves looking at her.  And she brings him joy.

That's not about physicality.  And oddly enough, one reason I know that is because I first fell in love with my husband based 100% on looks.  He was going to be my hot-guy fling.  

Now, his physical traits are completely irrelevant to me; I can go very-long periods without noticing the shell of him.  And it can almost shock me when I *really* look at him and see his physical traits.  

But physical shell aside, I do find him completely beautiful to me.  Er, handsome.  Whatever.

What I see in him is the inner Steve.  In part, the history we have together. But also, the traits in him that make him irreplaceable to me.  His integrity, his kindness, his wisdom.  How freakishly awesome he is at being a dad to our children.

And quite honestly, the inner Steve is the only part of him that matters in the end. 

My husband tells me regularly how beautiful I am...and I ASSURE YOU, many, many, many times I'm not even in the ballpark.  Un-showered...hair all crazy from just waking up...or the middle of childbirth, for Pete's sake.

What he's saying is that *I'm* beautiful to him, regardless of how I look in the present moment.  Communicated right, real beauty has absolutely nothing to do with where your eyes or nose landed on your facial DNA mapping.

Here's what I think, whether it's wrong or not.  There might be hundreds (thousands) of messages later on, telling my daughter she's not good enough.  But if she's grown up in a family that finds her amazing and beautiful, I really-truly believe those messages will slide off of her.  Like an error message will pop up, saying, "Does...not...compute."  

That we'll have created this foundation of acceptance, love, and respect for her that creates a code in her psyche.  That if people treat her that way, they'll feel like "home" to her.  If they don't, they'll be irrelevant.  

My grandmother never wanted my mom feeling like she was better than other people - so my grandmother worked hard to avoid any messages that my mom was beautiful, intelligent, etc.  And my mom did struggle with viewing herself that way, because the code wasn't written in her.  She was brilliant...she was beautiful...but external messages telling her those things "did not compute." 

I deeply believe that if you feel confidant to your core of your worth...that you were meant to be accepted and loved...then competition doesn't even become a part of it.  It's only the persons who feel lacking in those areas who require the competition - need to quantify things.  

I have a hard time believing that telling my daughter she's accepted and cherished and celebrated at home is going to mean she's going to go out into the world needing to prove it to anyone, or even needing to hear it from anyone.  She'll know she is lovable and worthy, and will look for people who treat her with the respect she was taught to have for herself.  

As with all my parenting thoughts:  We shall see. :)

5 comments:

Emily@theNest said...

I came over from the Mahogany Way:Well said!! I have a daughter too (and 4 sons) all of whom I tell constantly how beautiful/handsome they are. Everything you said here resonated with me- we were never told how beautiful we were, and all have had confidence issues, only now I feel I am coming into myself. Tonight, like every night I was snuggling my little girl (3&1/2) to sleep and I said, "I love you so much, ypu are such a beautiful little girl" and she put her hands at the sides of my face, smiled and said :" I know" !!!

Sarahbeth said...

That's really nice to hear, Emily, and it's a great feeling when others' thoughts resonate, isn't it? So many ways to look at it, I know...but this way feels right. And in the end, I'll know that I meant well, even if I can't be assured of how it will play out in the end. Your children are lucky to have such a loving mama. :)

Lisa Wynkoop said...

Sarahbeth, this is so well thought out and beautifully written. Simone is a fabulously lucky girl to have you for her mama. I have no doubt that she will grow to be a confident, joyful person who will find a mate who values her for who she is inside and out. Wish you were still close enough that I could hug you and Simone and tell you both what lucky gals you are. xoxo

Sarahbeth said...

Lisa, thank you for you kind words. Y'know, when I think about my "model" of total beauty - you always come to mind. You have so much confidence and joy in you -- and you take such good care of the people around you, because it just spills out of you. That happiness is so contagious; I think it's why even children know to adore you. I would love for Simone to grow up with that type of light inside of her!

Sarahbeth said...

And, my son thinks Cindy Crawford is YOU - so clearly, you have "outer beauty" covered, too. LOL.