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.)
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.