A Post About Beauty

I started worrying about my children back when they were zygotes. With a daughter, I have worries that are completely different from those I have for my son.

Self-esteem and body image issues are some of my biggest concerns for her. She’s only seven weeks old, but already I find myself wondering how best to foster a positive self-image that will get her through the tough times… like puberty.

As I see it, we can talk as much as we want about how physical appearance doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but the fact remains: beauty – or at least our perception of it – IS important.

I want my daughter to feel and know she’s beautiful. Unfortunately, I think that’s one of the toughest achievements out there.

It might seem silly to care about physical appearance. After all, we’re all just a bunch of cells. We’re made up of un-pretty things like skeletons, eyeballs, and intestines. We see only the very surface. Furthermore, if we have naturally nice skin or lustrous hair or straight teeth, it’s accidental – not the result of any hard work or particular worthiness on our part. Still, somehow, appearances are a source of judgement.

I’ve known it since childhood. There’s that line in the Free to Be song, “When We Grow Up“, where the girl says, “I don’t care if I’m pretty at all.” I knew, even back then, that I should feel the same way, but I didn’t. I wanted to be pretty. And even before age 10, I worried that I wasn’t. I fretted about my crooked teeth and my stubby fingernails and my freckles and my flat chest. Then, by the time the braces were off and the breasts showed up and I quit biting my nails, I was already worrying about being too fat. (Looking back, I know I was in no way too fat.)

twentysomething dilovely
Dilovely at age 20 or so…? A LONG time ago, anyway.

I thought a lot about looks when my university boyfriend entered medical school in my fourth year. I was taken aback when I visited him at school, because I quickly realized that basically 100% of his classmates were somewhere on a continuum between Quite Good-Looking and Downright Gorgeous. I remembered the process my boyfriend had gone through to get into med school – a rigorous series of essays, interviews, and references, not to mention the MCAT – and figured there had to be a correlation. Not that beautiful people are smarter, or more cosmically deserving of success, but that beauty facilitates confidence. Confidence is an undeniably large factor in success.

Doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true. Naturally, I want my daughter to have that confidence. I wish I could just install it in her psyche like software… but alas, instilling it is a much trickier process.

This video is a nice attempt to break through the self-esteem angst.

I like all the different, lovely faces, and I appreciate the positivity. Some of the advice is great (2, 7, and 10 are my favourites), but two of them really annoy me: “Control your perspective” and “Another word for sexy? Confident.” As if it’s that easy. If your perspective is getting you down, just fix it! And if you’re not sure you’re sexy enough – simply BE CONFIDENT. What have you been waiting for?

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

Why don’t more of us grow out of this dissatisfaction? Don’t we adults know better? Not always. I recently read a memorable blog post by a thirtysomething mom who had included a photo of herself that she hated.

The photo was neither pretty nor horrendous. There are other photos on the blog of this woman looking very appealing – but that’s not how she sees herself. I was impressed by the raw way she wrote about her appearance, how she considers herself ugly, and how often she feels inadequate because of it – in spite of a happy marriage, good family, friends, and readers.

I was touched by her post, because most of us can relate to feeling ugly sometimes – I definitely can… but it depends on the moment. I have times when I feel pretty, too, which makes it easier to get through the ugly times. How hard would it be to feel ugly every day? Because no matter how other people perceive us, it’s how we feel about ourselves that makes the difference.

A wise friend, in response to my post about my pesky wrinkles and grey hairs, sent a link to this wonderful piece by Amanda King, “I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.” It is full of love, pain, protectiveness, and amazing words. This lovely mom has nailed it: she’s beautiful to her daughters, and she doesn’t want to tell them they’re wrong. So she says it aloud – she is beautiful. She writes, “I see it behind their shining brown eyes, how glad they are that I believe I am beautiful.”

Oh. So true. I think of my sweet daughter and my heart squeezes.

I tried to imagine saying to her, “Aren’t I beautiful?” My mind balked at the idea, because, well – isn’t that conceited, somehow?

Wait – NO. It hit me. Society gives women a preposterous goal: work endlessly to attain beauty, but don’t acknowledge that you have it. We’re not supposed to be satisfied with ourselves. How perverse – and dumb. After all, I admire tremendously the people I know who seem most comfortable and happy in their own skin.

I also realized… my children are worth the effort of tossing that stupid goal in the toilet. If anything can convince me to own my beauty, it’s knowing that my children might need me to.

The clichés are true: beauty comes from within, and it’s also in the eye of the beholder. If my child sees me as beautiful, I am. My friends get more beautiful to me the more I know and love them. It’s not that I stop seeing “flaws”; it’s that inner and outer beauty are all wrapped up together.

We ARE beautiful.

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35 thoughts on “A Post About Beauty

  1. I love Free To Be You and Me. My mom played it for me all the time when I was growing up, and every time I hear the songs I get this wave of nostalgia. I love this post because you say so well what all of us are thinking. It is a tricky thing, this need to pass along healthy body image thoughts and habits to our girls, while so many of us are still struggling ourselves. I don’t think that there are any easy answers, but having the conversation is a good place to start.
    Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted..Grocery StoreMy Profile

    • diblog says:

      Samantha, isn’t it amazing how those simple chords can bring back a whole childhood?

      Rereading your comment, it strikes me that I should have been thinking about this sooner, for all the other young girls I talk to and teach, not just my own girl. I’m sure there are opportunities for that conversation that I’ve missed in the past…

  2. Beverley says:

    The “beauty issue” becomes even more challenging as we start to age. There defintely are societal expectations not to “let yourself go”. I won’t be having cosmetic surgery, but I`m still conscious of proper diet and exercise (mainly for health reasons…but it`s also nice to be slim). It`s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder….I`m always reminded that my little grandchildren don`t care if I`m having a bad hair day or if my makeup is on. It is so freeing to feel loved for just being me!

    • diblog says:

      Beverley, I know I’m already thinking about that very thing (hence, my greyphobia) – and being in my childbearing years, there is a lot of (self-)pressure to “get your body back”… It’s exhausting sometimes.

  3. Mama says:

    Beverley, you are right on! And if you are slim, even righter on. I’m conscious of proper diet and exercise but I’m not slim. I am of a weight to which I seem to return without any effort on my part (either for or against returning) after a shift away from it, so it seems to be the weight I am. I’m learning to live with that (though, yes, I still want to be slimmer – for health reasons, of course). And I (another grandmother Beverly) also love being loved for being Grammy, not Gorgeous.

    The other side of the positive self-image coin is a care not to put too much emphasis on one’s appearance if one IS beautiful. I have known (only slightly – never wanted to get close to these) women, and men, who are convinced their good looks are really all they need, and they should be revered and admired simply because of them.

    Oh, it’s all such a balancing act!

    • diblog says:

      Mama, you are beautiful. (I was just thinking of that “beautiful shiny red nose” quote from your little daughter, if that’s what it was…) And I think it’s valid to want to be slim not just for health reasons – I know when I couldn’t lose the baby weight after Sebastian, I felt awful about it.

      And you’re right, it’s always been very off-putting to meet people who seem ultra-aware of being good-looking…

  4. I will admit to the completely vain thoughts I had when my children were born, “Oh, thank goodness they’re not ugly.” Because it IS easier for attractive people. I hate that it is, but it is.

    That being said, everyone is beautiful in their own way, but it is very hard for me to accept that about myself. My hubby tells me I’m beautiful and all I hear is, “Yeah, under my fat.” Sigh…
    IASoupMama recently posted..The AgreementMy Profile

    • diblog says:

      IASoupMama, I felt the same way when my kids were born. (I had a bit of anxiety about it, because my dad once use his computer to morph photos of me and my husband together – and the result was hideous!) And it’s sadly true – no matter what nice things other people might say to us about how we look, we’re still our own worst critics.

  5. I really appreciate the way you describe the clash between wanting to be pretty, knowing you shouldn’t want it because ideally it doesn’t matter, and then wanting it all the same. It is a seriously hard one to work out. Recently I’ve started trying not to get down on myself for wanting to be pretty, but counteracting that with also accepting the things about me that are ALREADY pretty, and not worrying so much about the parts that aren’t. I will always feel like my ass is too big, but it makes me happier in the long run to expend the energy on admiring my ridiculously sparkly nails.
    Cassie recently posted..What’s wrong with wrinkles?My Profile

    • diblog says:

      Cassie, it’s a tough question, but I’m thinking it’s not wrong to want to be pretty – or at least to want to be happy with what you see in the mirror. Because that totally affects your day, right? And I LOVE sparkly nails (I think that falls into the “If it makes you feel awesome, WEAR IT” category)!

  6. I often wonder if I’d have a different perspective about myself if my child was a girl and not a boy. I don’t think he thinks of people in terms of pretty or ugly. I don’t know if I talk about the way I look in front of him (I’ll have to listen for that).
    Michelle Longo recently posted..20. Remembering Once Again.My Profile

    • diblog says:

      Michelle, I think you’re right. I asked my husband outright whether he thinks most guys worry much about their appearance, and he’s pretty sure most don’t. I hope my boy – and yours – will be carefree in that respect.

    • diblog says:

      Angela, I’m glad you enjoyed it – although I think the credit goes to Amanda who wrote the post that was my inspiration! The whole piece is amazing.

  7. It has always amazed me how ugly physically beautiful people can be and how beautiful, less attractive people can be. it is what is on the inside. Although my husband would have to be the exception, beautiful on the inside and out, but I may be biased…
    Bill Dameron recently posted..Clear CreekMy Profile

    • diblog says:

      Bill, I couldn’t agree more. And if we’re biased about our partners and loved ones – so be it! (Also, if they’re universally adorable, that’s great too.)

    • diblog says:

      A Morning Grouch, good point. Although I hope I won’t be feeling anxious about her looks – I think most moms look at their children and see total beauty… But my anxiety about her well-being is a whole other project… sigh. But you’re right – Just Be Enough is pretty cool! I’ll have to bookmark that one. Thanks!

  8. Even though I know it in my head, I don’t always believe it in my heart. Some days I can truly focus on what is beautiful about me, and then on others, something will hit me, whether I’m comparing myself to someone else, or I catch a bad glimpse of myself in a mirror, and all my hard won acceptance goes out the window. I don’t have a daughter, but if and when I do, I would so much want to spare her from this. Not sure that I can, though.

    • diblog says:

      Kianwi, I feel EXACTLY the same. If only we had a self-confidence muscle that we could work out like a ham string… or maybe self-confidence IS like a muscle? We just have to practice with it? Hmmm…

    • diblog says:

      Thank you, Christie. (I started replying to this earlier but I think I got hijacked by the baby…) NOT sick at all, I absolutely agree that it’s unfair the med students were so pretty AND smart AND successful – particularly because the all-encompassing hotness+confidence was not good at all for my relationship with my boyfriend. 😛 Ah well, ancient history.

  9. I’m an aunt to one niece and five nephews, and I can’t believe how much I worry any time someone criticizes her. (She’s 9) You nailed the reason why: she’s gorgeous and smart and funny, and I don’t ever want anyone to get her thinking that she’s not. Thanks for reminding me of one of my main missions as an aunt.
    MizYank recently posted..Soaring with the turkeysMy Profile

  10. Thanks for all the inspirations and the thought-process. My kids are very young, and they think I’m beautiful. My husband thinks I’m beautiful. And I think I have a potato face. But I don’t let me kids know that. When I’m not thinking about how I look, I feel thin and gorgeous and just plain awesome. That’s how I want my kids to always think about themselves.

    Great post.
    Kristin recently posted..Holiday Challenge: Generational ExchangeMy Profile

    • diblog says:

      Kristin, thanks for the comment. Isn’t it strange how differently (and harshly) we see ourselves, compared to how other people see us? We just have to find a way to harness those thin, gorgeous, just plain awesome moments. 🙂 (Piece of cake, right?)

  11. This made me feel weepy, because it’s something that really bothers me but I try (without success) not to think about. I was going to write a lot more, but when I got going I realized I have a whole post of things to say and I should sit and think about them instead of rambling in your comments. So thank you for a touching, thought-provoking post. I’ll be sure to credit you for the inspiration when I write mine.
    Azara recently posted..Put your drinks upMy Profile

    • diblog says:

      Azara, I feel the same. Somehow it seems like I ought to be able to not care, but I don’t feel anywhere close to that. Thank you for your kind words – I look forward to reading your post.

  12. This was a great post and one I really needed to read. Beauty and body image is one of those things in my life that I cope with my making myself not address it. I exercise, eat right, take care of my health, and wear clothes that I like. If I am doing all those things I force myself not to think about my appearance. But I can’t expect my daughter to do that. At some point I’m going to have to face the issue head on. Nice job!
    Larks recently posted..Cranberry sorbet.My Profile

    • diblog says:

      Larks, thank you. It sounds like you have a really healthy attitude – I think your daughter has a very good chance of inheriting/learning that… so bravo!

    • diblog says:

      Mamarific, thank you. I don’t know why it’s so hard to say those words, when it’s so easy to tell someone else that THEY are beautiful… I guess I’m going to have to practice.

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