This idea behind this post is so very complex that there is NO way I can tackle all that I want to here. It is such a huge issue, that books and documentaries need to be (and are) dedicated to it. Let me start with 2 stories:
Mine: I grew up the oldest of three girls. In my day (the 1990’s) all pre-teen/middle school girls were either chubby or rail thin. (Now they are either obese or perfect looking-and those are two more lengthy posts I don’t have time for right now). I erred on the chubby side. To top it off, I had braces and my boobs were too big. My hair was WAY too long. I wasn’t cute. Boys weren’t piling up to ask me out or hold hands. Nevertheless, my parents told me constantly how beautiful I was. And for the most part, I believed them. Like any girl, I thought I was kind of fat (I still do-who doesn’t?) and I didn’t like my boobs (who does?) I wasn’t by arrogant about my looks, but I was ok with them. I didn’t loathe myself.
My friend’s: I don’t know much of this story, but my friend (who said I could share this), is the oldest of 4 girls. I didn’t know her growing up but I know her now. I don’t know her sisters at all, but have seen pictures of them of Facebook. Their mother, in an attempt to stave off arrogance, didn’t tell them that they were pretty. (They are ALL very pretty girls) Thus, they grew up not believing that they were pretty. While their mom’s intentions were noble and good, they back fired.
SO, fast forward to now. I have my own little girl (and another on the way). Subjectively, I think she’s beautiful. Even when she was a newborn, a wrinkly 5 lb newborn, I could not believe how wonderfully and amazingly beautiful she was. I think that even if she is someday awkward in middle school, I will still think she is beautiful. BUT, here’s the hard truth-no matter how objectively or subjectively beautiful she is, culture will tell her undoubtedly that she is flawed, and that will happen very, very very soon.
Here’s the deal. Not only is my child beautiful in my estimation, she is objectively smart and objectively athletic (takes after her daddy on that one-wohoo). I also think she’s pretty hilarious-a total spit fire. Furthermore, as her parents, we are trying to instill in her goodness. This is hard, but it’s so important. We are trying to teach her respect, kindness, generosity, and how not to whine. all of the time (AHHH!!:)) These things are the most important parts of raising little girls: esteeming them, building them up, teaching them kindness. As a culture, we have no problem telling our girls that they are smart, or athletic, kind, or funny. (Well, I admit to a large degree there is still a bias toward boys/men in all of these categories-but once again, another post, or book, or EPIC). When she aces her first test, she’ll know she’s smart. During the first race she wins or basket she makes, she’ll know she’s athletic. When people laugh at her stories or jokes, she’ll know she’s funny. What I’m saying, is there will be markers and affirmation for these other attributes. But I think that in all of this we forget that maybe she also wants to hear, “you are beautiful.” Don’t I? Don’t you? Despite all of our other attributes?
At the end of the day, although we know that who we are on the inside IS the most important thing. (We also know that when a beautiful woman opens her mouth and only garbage comes out of it, she becomes ugly). Appearance is important to us. As much as we say “oh I don’t care about how I look,” we do. If this wasn’t true, why do we spend time on our hair? Why do we spend time on our make-up or buying clothes that we like? Why do we get pedicures? Why do we wear high heels that give us bunions when we turn 28 (sad day for me 5 years ago….still missing my heals even now)? Why do even very little girls have an opinion about their personal style? Why do they want to dress up in mom’s clothes, or wear tutus over their jeans? We can buck this innate fact as much as we want, we can say it’s a lie, but deep down, we want to be and feel beautiful…desired. If this were not the case then attraction would not be an issue in relationships. We are who we are on both the inside and the outside. The inside is the most important, but the outside is important to us, too. And a when a woman or young girl does not feel beautiful, her insides are affected.
If you believe in a Creator (which you may or may not), and if you believe He is good, and you believe He made humans in His own image, then we are all beautiful. We may not be beautiful in the world’s eyes, but we are beautiful as creations. I don’t believe in a God that would make some ugly and some pretty. I just don’t.
So that’s why, if no one else tells my little girls that they are pretty, they will hear it from me and from their Daddy. They will know the abundant truth that we think they are valuable and worthy inside AND out. They will hear everyday “you are smart, you are one of a kind, you are loved, you are pretty.” And no matter what, at some point they will hear or believe the opposite. And when that happens then they will be irrevocably changed in some way, and it will break my heart. But I, as their mom will keep telling them “you are smart, you are one of a kind, you are loved, you are pretty.” Because they are.
Three more stories:
Mine: The other day a random girl who I happened to see TWICE in one week (I also happened to be wearing the same blue dress both times), told me I looked stunning pregnant. She pretty much immediately apologized, “Oh that’s so weird, I’m sorry.” No one ever (besides my husband) says that. And you know what? It made me feel pretty great and I told her so and the thought made me smile for days.
My dad’s: While visiting church members at a hospital he encountered an older woman who was volunteering. Having such a kind and sweet countenance, he found himself telling her “You have a beautiful face.” He was embarrassed by the randomness of such a statement, but I’m also sure this woman’s day (and maybe week) was made.
A middle schooler’s: While serving as a leader on a youth trip in Florida, I was counseling a 7th grader. In the middle of our conversation, an older youth, one who was pretty cool, walked up and interrupted us to ask me a question. In the middle of his question he stopped, and said to her, “You are just beautiful.” Years later, when I brought up that incident she still remembered it and smiled. I hope she still does.
Tell your daughter she’s beautiful today. Tell someone you know that they are beautiful. Tell a stranger, too.
To see how culture distorts natural beauty, click here:
To read about the film, Missrepresentation, and how you can go against culture’s flow to esteem young women, click here:
If you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and you are interested in helping to build confident and healthy young girls, click here: