My daughter is 5 years old. She is already asking me to blow dry her curls away, to get her ears pierced. She also looks in the mirror, gives herself a curtsy and says ‘I am the most beautiful girl in the world’. My heart melts when she does this. I want her to feel that way always…forever. When she hits 16, I want her to look in the mirror and love the way she looks. When she is 45, I want her to be proud of the fine lines showing up because they are the results of smiles, laughter and tears. When she is 75, I want her to look in the mirror and still see love looking back at her.
But, I also feel I’m in a conundrum here. She thinks straight hair is more beautiful than her curls. She thinks she would look prettier with earrings. How do we balance this femininity and desire to be beautiful with a confidence that can’t be swayed by a pimple on her forehead or some spider veins on her legs?
I hope the answer to this lies in us. In mothers, fathers, teachers, caregivers and role models. What we do say and what we don’t, how we act and how we treat ourselves, and how we treat other women. How does this play out in real life?
Your daughter picks up your phone and snaps a picture of you. What do you do? Do you snatch it away from her? Delete delete!!! Ew, I look gross, don’t do that! I have to admit, I’m quiet about it, but I most definitely delete those unflattering shots. I don’t want to do that anymore. My five year old thinks I’m beautiful just the way I am, she thinks she just took a wonderful picture of the woman she loves most. Who am I to argue with that? Next time she takes my picture, I will tell her what a wonderful photographer she’s becoming and how happy it makes me that she wants to take my picture.
Your daughter comes in the room while you’re looking at yourself in the mirror. Maybe you’re pinching in your belly, or maybe you’re scrunching up your face because you don’t like what you see. Maybe you’re even vocalizing something – ugh, I hate my legs, I need to get to the gym, etc etc. Or maybe you’re simply turning side to side, examining, checking for flaws, judging. What kind of messages does this send? First, it tells her that your body is judged by its appearance. But, perhaps even more importantly, it shows her the opinion you have of yourself. It shows her YOU judge your body by its appearance and you judge it very harshly! If we don’t want our daughters growing up doing the same, we have to show them how.
Speaking of our bodies, how do you talk to your daughter about hers? Do you tell her that her legs are beautiful? Or, do you tell her how strong they are? How they let her run fast, dance for hours, climb trees, skip, play…you get the picture. Our bodies and our daughters’ are meant to support us through life and allow us to do what makes us happy. They are not meant to be a replica of the touched-up model in the magazine. We need to convey that to our daughters every day.
I think this goes beyond talking directly about our bodies. It enters into our everyday interactions. What’s the first thing you say when you meet up with a girlfriend? I bet most of the time, it has to do with how they look, how cute their clothes are, how much you love their shoes or their purse. We’ve learned that this is how we greet each other. But, do we have to teach this to our daughters? Do we have to show them that the first thing we notice about our girlfriends is what they’re wearing? That we are judged on whether or not we have the latest styles? Absolutely not! Choose your words wisely. Yes, you can still comment on what they’re wearing, but change the focus. ‘Oh, those boots look so comfortable, I bet you could walk all day in them!’ Or, ‘I love how you chose to put those dark boots with bright colorful leggings!’ This credits something she has chosen, a skill she has demonstrated, her sense of style rather than the act of simply having stylish boots or brand new leggings.
Do you ever talk about being on a diet? Needing to lose 5lbs by the summer? Here’s another area where we can help shape our daughters’ sense of self-worth. We don’t diet to get skinny. We don’t have a salad for dinner because we want to look good in a bathing suit. We eat healthy food because we deserve to be healthy! We deserve to feel good and to be strong. What else do we do because we deserve it? We put ourselves first.
And, lastly, where do the men in our lives fall into this? All these things that we do for our daughters, men do that too. But, they also set the example of how a good man treats a woman. A father shows his daughter every day that he loves his wife deeply – not because she is beautiful or because her waist is so small, but because she wakes up every morning and smiles at her family. Because she loves them all tirelessly. Because he loves her back, just as tirelessly. And he loves his daughter too. He loves her for who she is – for the sparkle in her eyes, the joy in her smile, the sharpness in her mind. He loves her for her crazy curls AND for her blow-dried straight hair. For her new earrings AND her favorite pants, ripped through at the knees. For her love of princesses AND her love of splashing in mud puddles. He loves her madly for all of her and she knows what it feels like to be loved this way by the most important man in her life.
But wait…is this only about daughters? Doesn’t this all apply to our son’s as well? I think so.