By Rachelle Hughes
The day I caught my six-year-old daughter looking in disgust at her tummy rolls in the bathroom I knew it was time to start evaluating how to teach my daughters about beauty and self-image. I had no idea it would start so soon, this fascination with body image. But my now seven-year-old is tall for her age, many people mistake her for a nine year-old, and she has never had a petite, waifish frame like her younger feather-light sister. Yet, she really is one of the most beautiful people in the world to me. When she giggles that first- grader unaffected giggle of hers, I can’t help thinking, “She is absolutely gorgeous.”
My other daughter, a three-year old, is adorable and knows it. “Am I princess?” she often asks me. How can I help but reply, “Of course you are.” As mothers we want our daughters to feel beautiful but we also want them to understand the true nature of beauty and also how to behave beautifully. Because we as mothers often face our own self-image demons, it can be tricky to navigate the fine sticky line between a sweet mother-daughter communion of self-esteem boosting or a potential minefield.
I am in a constant state of flux on how to handle this ongoing and crucial topic with my daughters. I often gush over how cute my daughter looks in a new dress or a cute pair of shoes. But a recent quote by a volleyball champion and model stopped me in my complementing tracks. In essence she stated that she tells her daughters it is the girl inside the dress not the dress that makes her beautiful and that kindness brings out true beauty. If a model can emphasize the person and the behavior over the latest dress than so can I. Because while, there is nothing wrong with the way a cute new pair of heels can make us feel oh so chic for the moment, a girl’s behavior is truly what lends her grace and beauty. The more I consider this thought paradigm, the more profound I find it. Have you ever noticed how some women grow more exquisite as you come to know them better? Yes, outward appearance can be immediately arresting but it is the inner strength and generous spirit of many of my friends that I find increases their beauty in increments. This is the person not the dress concept at work.
So how do we teach our daughters this concept? We tell it to them. We point out lovely, engaging behavior like a beautiful laugh or a kind serving heart or a non-whiny voice. I also believe we should point out some of their unattractive behavior. Screaming at your sister, crude language and jokes, rumor mongering do not a pretty girl make. And I believe we should tell our daughters when bad behavior strips away their beauty potential. But once again a kind voice and example are needed to avoid the nagging that can quickly turn a mom into an ogre. Or is that just me that finds herself transformed into an ogre on days she models said bad beauty crushing behavior herself?
We say we want to teach our daughters self-esteem and the true definition of beauty. But seriously, how often do we get lost somewhere between the good intention and the implementation? This is a topic I believe needs a little sharing of advice.
My friend Kari Ann Young, mother of two children, one of them a daughter shared her perspective with me and I felt myself nodding and adding my own thoughts as I read her words.
Here are her valid points with my reactions:
1- “Lead by example. Whatever you say about yourself they see in themselves. If you focus on YOUR exterior imperfections rather than the divinity within, so will they.” The day I noticed my daughter in angst over her own body is the day I stopped making constant comments about losing weight myself. I also knew that teaching her healthy active habits would boost her feeling of self-esteem about her body. I enrolled her in gymnastics and she discovered how great it feels to be active and healthy. I also started to become more physically active myself.
2- “Compliment their character and talents rather than just how "cute" they are. Or, focus on their beautiful eyes, hair, hands, etc...” I have always believed I had stunning eyes because my parents told me so. They are still one of my favorite features. I will often comment on my daughter’s cute little nose or her envy worthy hair. My husband and I are also quick to emphasize our daughters’ eager and bright minds or artistic talents.
3-“Casually remark on the talents in other women or girls.” Strength is beauty. Admiring strength in others encourages our daughters to strive for their own strength.
4-“Take the time to teach them appropriate grooming and how to feel beautiful and how to delight in being a girl.” Being a girl is fun. My mom’s subtle femininity has always been one of her greatest beauty marks. Her example never made me feel ashamed to be a girl. And let’s face it, a dirty face may be cute some of the time but a clean face is so much more fun to kiss.
5-“Remind them that while they may have opinions on what makes someone physically attractive, God made all of us unique because that is what HE thinks is beautiful.” Oh yes. I second this. Variety is what makes a garden beautiful and people interesting and lovely.
I will add one additional point. My daughters are named after a grandmother and a great-great grandmother because my husband and I admired these women. A girl’s heritage can be a source of strength and motivation. We stand taller and stronger when we remember the magnificent women who paved the way for us. So, don’t neglect to share stories of your daughter’s heritage with her.
So how do you do it? Where do you find a moment to teach your daughters both how to be beautiful and that they are already such lovely, darling creatures?