When my daughter was a baby, complete strangers would stop me in the store and tell me “I have kids, but I’ve never seen such a beautiful baby!” It’s true, her eyes were a piercing blue and she had perfect chubby cheeks. And of course as her mother, I’ve always thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world.
That adorable baby is now in middle school. When it comes to 13 year old daughters, I’ve hit the jackpot. I’ve heard horror stories from parents of middle-school-aged daughters – and I remember being a nightmare myself – but my daughter is kind, considerate, intelligent, creative, thoughtful, and loyal.
Notice that none of my compliments had anything to do with her physical appearance.
For middle-schoolers, everything seems to be about appearance. She wants to wear clothes that are on-trend. She changes them several times throughout the day before leaving the house to make sure she looks right. She keeps talking about how she wishes her hair was thicker and could hold a curl. How do I help her to see that I don’t want her to be anything but herself?
I’ve decided to make sure she – and all my children – knows that physical appearance is not the only thing that people should appreciate about her. Sure, it’s the first thing they see, but any relationship that actually matters in life is going to be based off who she is as a person. I want them to see that she’s really, really smart – SCARY smart. I want everyone to appreciate how this girl reads (and reads and reads and reads) passionately, and will argue how the book is always better than the movie. I want people to see that she’s a natural leader, probably because she’s the best big sister on the planet.
So if you’re going to call my daughter anything, don’t call her beautiful. Call her responsible. Call her respectful. Call her strong. Call her hilarious. Call her a force to be reckoned with. Call her a good leader. Call her intelligent. Her contributions to this world go so far beyond what she looks like. When our daughters spend so much time comparing themselves to the other girls that they are trying to measure up to, we are doing no favors by reinforcing society’s idea of beauty determining value.
And yet, how does my daughter see me as a woman? She sees me applying makeup 99% of the time before we leave the house. She sees me spending far too much time on my hair trying to get it right. She’s heard me complain about how after turning 35, my clothes just don’t fit right now that I’ve added twenty extra pounds.
Clearly I need to adjust how much time I’m spending worrying about my own appearance, and lead by example. I am so much more than my reflection in the mirror. I held a food drive in December. I bring my kids on many volunteering trips to Feed My Starving Children in Eagan. I started working on my Master’s degree. My daughter sees me reading, doing homework, painting. Maybe I should start focusing on those positive aspects of myself, instead of wondering out loud why I have gray hairs popping up. Maybe I should be celebrating my accomplishments and contributions instead of going on another diet.
I can’t have my daughter thinking that her value is just in a pretty face. The other day she asked me, “Do you think I’d be a good nurse?” I told her yes, emphatically. Nurses are smart, compassionate, and patient – and she’s all of those things. “Do you think I’d be a good police officer?” she followed. I told her yes beaucause she’s strong, both physically and emotionally.
Moms, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating our daughters for who they are, and not what they look like. Let’s build them up and lead by example – an example of kindness, especially kindness to ourselves. You’re amazing.