Have you seen this post? I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful, by Amanda King. That link will open it in a new tab for you, but here’s the gist: “I don’t want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too”.
I first saw this post when our dear reader Carol sent it to me on Facebook. It brought tears to my eyes, and I told her so, but truthfully, I stopped there. I’m not very comfortable with being on the edge of an emotion. I default to blinking away the tears and stabilizing (numbing?) myself in the everyday, and staying the heck away from that emotional cliff. Plunging into fully feeling is…scary.
But my friends and the universe and social media made sure I kept seeing this post until I started to slip over that cliff. Until I started to really Get It.
After the fourth time I’d read it, I stood looking out the kitchen window, lost in thought. My daughter came in the room, tousled and sleepy-eyed. In the foggy gray light of a northern autumn morning, all I could see was the beauty of her complexion, the petal pink undertones of her skin, the fine clarity of her smooth cheek.
And the light finally dawned in my head: This beautiful creature came into this world through me. She is her own unique self, separate and whole, but she carries a part of me with her. If there is beauty in her, there is also beauty in where she came from, and that is me.
She already knew this. The real question was how many times have I scoffed at how she saw me, how many times have I rejected the gift of seeing myself through her eyes?
There was more: we mothers are their first home, the vessels that nurtured them. What do we do to them when we sigh over our bodies, push them up, suck them in, encase them in Spanx and apologies? What subconscious message do we send when we hate the very place they came from?
Yeah, that thought frightened me, too.
It will be almost a quarter of a century before my daughter reaches my age, but what I want for her is this: At 40, I want her to be beautiful. However that beauty manifests in her, I want her to know she is beautiful. I want “I’m beautiful” to be her default thought, for it to be normal for her to think of herself as beautiful because that is what the women in her life have done.
I already proved to myself that the most powerful message I can send to my daughter about following her dreams and passions is to make it important enough to do myself. If I want to give her permission to feel beautiful, to BE beautiful when she’s 40, then I have to make it important enough to do it myself.
In her post Amanda speaks of “modeling beauty in a mean world”. That’s what I want to do for my daughter, but I’m not sure I know how. I don’t have any obvious role models, no family history about what it means to be beautiful. If I look to the women around me, I hear a litany of too fat * too old * too much pain * too much deprivation * only if I work really hard * buy a more expensive cream * maybe then I’ll be acceptable. And if I look to society for what it means to be beautiful…well, there’s that mean world with one painfully narrow definition of beauty.
It’s not just our daughters who need women modeling beauty in a mean world. We all do.
I don’t have a list of clear action steps to take, no manifesto to share with you about being a role model of beauty. What I do have are a few ideas to start with:
- No qualifications: “She looks good for her age” might be the most poisonous compliment ever. Who gets to define how one is supposed to look at any age? No more “for her age” or “despites” or “thanks to P90x/Expensive Miracle Cream” caveats to compliments or comments. It’s time to stop putting qualifications on the complements we give each other or accept for ourselves.
- No comparisons: I’m beautiful no matter how I compare with you. You’re beautiful too no matter how you compare with me, or how either of us compare with the latest supermodel. It’s time we started defining beauty for ourselves…and including more than just superficial things in that definition.
- Education: The more I learn about Photoshop, the less I believe anything I see. We are bombarded with images that are manipulated and altered past the point of possibility every single day. (One more reason to stop comparing yourself with others! Check out this Pinterest board for a place to start.) I think it’s vital to learn to spot these manipulations so you can base your ideas about beauty in the humanly possible.
- Decide to be beautiful: I’m not saying that I’ve flipped a switch and now I wake up with a rosy aura and birds sing when I look in the mirror. I am saying that I can decide to look beyond the bags under my eyes or the pimple on my chin. I’m saying that I can decide to live with a broader definition of beauty than my age or my dress size. I can decide that not feeling beautiful is a sign that I need to pay attention to my health or my mind or my soul, not a comment on my worth as a woman.
My beautiful friends—and yes, I’m talking to YOU—what would you add to this list? Who have you found to be a model of living beautifully?
And perhaps the most important question I want to ask you: will you give yourself permission to be beautiful, right now, as you are this very moment?