My Daughter Is SO Beautiful

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I’m thinking of my daughter and fearing what will be her life-long engagement with the cult of beauty we shape around women.

Yesterday, I glimpsed four-year-old Maia dressed in her Greek hero’s armor and sparkly princess accessories saying to the mirror, “you are SO beautiful!” This was the first time I’d heard something like that from her.  She’s received the compliment from others. But for years now I’ve carefully avoided praising Maia’s appearance. Instead, I’ve encouraged her intelligence and celebrated her kindness. Because these are the characteristics I’d rather she aspire to, the ones I’d like to see her define herself with. Here at the start, I hope she’ll act thoughtfully rather than think too much about her looks.

Applauding my daughter’s wit and heart has been easy. When she was three, she asked for battle armor for Halloween so that she could dress as Heracles and Athena. Because Athena can change her appearance, Maia explained, she could be both Athena and Heracles for Halloween. So long braids, armor, and a lion’s fur cape it was.

She’s smart and sweet, too. She’s often the first to share. Her favorite part of a treat is giving one to someone else. How could I not want to focus on these kinds of character traits? Why would I tell her she’s pretty and teach her that “pretty” is who she is or should try to be? How could I let her think that “pretty” is why I love and admire her? “Pretty” is problematic, as poet and performer Katie Makkai expresses so well.

Hearing my daughter at the mirror yesterday reminds me that she’ll not always like what she sees there. Soon enough, the world will teach her to look for what’s missing rather than admire what’s there. She’ll see flaws: if voluminous waves are popular, she’ll see flat, stringy hair. If models flaunt straight hair, she’ll call her waves unruly. If she’s slim and muscular, she’ll wish for curves. If she’s Rubenesque, she’ll stare down the enemy in the mirror.

Because there’s always someone slimmer – blonder, taller, more photogenic, stronger, more voluptuous, luckier, wealthier, just fill in the adjective of the moment – to compare oneself to. But right now, Maia’s looking into a mirror. Not a mirror, mirror on the wall. Just a mirror. And she smiles.

So while she sees beauty, I’ll hang mirrors. A mirror in every room! I want my daughters to see themselves while they’re honest and innocent enough to see the beauty there. Now I understand that in focusing so carefully on Maia’s intelligence and kindness, I’ve left something important out. This:

Maia, you are SO beautiful. Maia, you are SO beautiful!

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6 thoughts on “My Daughter Is SO Beautiful

  1. How I remember my mother’s stock comment. ‘Beauty is as Beauty does’. Apparently it got through to me on some level; when I got together with ‘the ol’ gang’ from grammar school, one woman told me that she always remembered me as being ‘kind’. I treasure that, I really do. I’d rather memories of me warm a heart rather than make a pulse race ;-)
    And ‘pretty’? No, no. I’d much rather be known as ‘handsome’, which I view as a life-long condition that includes great posture and a striking profile!

    • Joan, thanks to you and Diane for your conversation here, of course, but also for sharing insights from wonderful mothers. I’m fortunate to learn from the greats. Please keep it coming!

      And thanks for that reminder on posture and profile. I really, really must stand straighter. And move more fluidly. So 1) raise girls to act beautifully 2) work on posture, profile, and poise.

  2. I tried my best with keeping things like beauty pageants barred from our tv viewing as I raised my female child – I never wanted her to think a female’s worth was based on her looks. I told Nicole that the word beauty meant things like treating others kindly, whether it be through sharing, being affectionate, caring for animals and the environment and other such actions that brought the word beauty to my mind as I saw them being practiced. Now I have a 30 something child who is a physically beautiful 5’9, 135 lb long dark brown haired creature. She is a nanny and a certified small pet massage therapist who wants to combine her love of kids and her love of animals to set up a program to get special need kids and animals into a therapeutic setting. I don’t know if my efforts helped or if Nicole was a natural born lover of real beauty, but the results are very rewarding. Just the fact that you are thinking about it while your daughter is so young shows that you will deal with the concept of beauty in a thoughtful and helpful way in her development.

    • Diane, how absolutely impressive. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your daughter’s caring and creative life, one shaped by your mindful attention to beauty as action. Here’s to teaching beautiful acts rather than passively accepting pronouncements of beauty!

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