I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately warning mothers of the influence their self-image can have on their teenage daughters. Most of the bloggers say that mothers should exude a sense of confidence in their own beauty, instead of communicate words of insecurity. According to these authors, we should look our daughters in the eyes and say “I am beautiful, and so are you.”
If I heard my mom say this to me when I was in seventh grade, I would have first rolled my eyes and thought, “Mom, you’re old.” (Side note: my mom was the ripe old age of 29 when I was in seventh grade). My second thought would have been “Get over yourself lady.” And lastly, the words “She’s lying” would have gone through my mind.
The reality is that some of us are not genetically blessed according to societal standards. Before braces, I was renting out storage units in the spaces between my teeth. I had a permanent Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid stain on my upper lip. And the array of hair styles I sported, from mullet to boy cut, made for constant speculation into my gender.
When I looked in the mirror I knew I wasn’t beautiful compared to the blond, straight toothed, perfectly proportioned popular girls in school.
But instead of convincing a girl like me that all her so-called blemishes are beautiful, how about we give physical beauty the attention it deserves?
By saying “you are beautiful and so am I” to our daughters, we perpetuate the idea that a girl’s ultimate goal is to be attractive.
I realize that these well-intentioned bloggers want the same end result as I do. We all want our daughters to feel confident in the body they were given. Yet, doesn’t any focus on the empty quality of physical beauty lead to the very insecurity we are trying to dissuade?
My point is that every girl discovers what society considers attractive. They may or may not fit into that standard. Either way, if mothers made it a non-issue from the start, maybe girls wouldn’t care so much.
If mothers exuded a sense of confidence in things like their faith, brains, strength, creativity, and compassion, maybe our daughters would place appearance at the bottom of the list.
That’s where something that cannot be cultivated, earned or changed (without considerable costs) belongs.
So, while I wish that every mother would take this point of view regarding beauty, I know that’s not always the case. My daughter may face the same kind of judgement I did when she walks through those middle school doors. If she comes to me wondering why beauty seems to be so important, I hope I can communicate these truths (even though I’ll know she’ll be thinking, “You’re OLD mom!”):
1. A Compliment is Empty Unless it’s Attached to Something. Here are the type of compliments I will try to give that include the word beauty:
You have a beautiful heart for others.
Your faith is beautiful.
The way you encourage your teammates is beautiful.
The unique way you think about the world is beautiful.
You create beautiful paintings.
These compliments are specific and attached to something more than appearance. The words encourage them to grow and cultivate a skill, rather than admire themselves in the mirror.
2. Physical Beauty Fades. For some women beauty becomes their identity, and when it starts to fade, which it always does, they can’t handle it. Sure, I’m only in my early 30’s so I can’t say how I’ll feel when things start to droop (more than they already have). I hope I accept that my body was not meant to last forever, and focus on the one thing that does – my soul.
3. Your Beauty Comes from Your Creator, Not What You Look Like. I admit there are times when I look at my daughter and think “you’re so beautiful”. But in my mind her beauty doesn’t come from high cheekbones, long lashes, or big eyes. It comes from who she is. The beauty of her existence. She was knit together perfectly and all the changes her form takes along the way are and will be perfect. The bruises, bumps, wrinkles, and asymmetries are all part of her path on this earth, and I hope she embraces them as marks of distinction.
But mostly, I pray that her physical attributes occupy the least of her thoughts.
Same goes for me.