Monday, March 31, 2014

Defining Beautiful

Makeover Sunday!
I tell my daughter that she is beautiful. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day.

On Friday morning, Mark and I were standing in the kitchen getting ready, and Ellie came into the room, spun around, and said “I’m beautiful!”

“Yes, you are!” I responded cheerily.

Mark chimed in, “You know, I read recently…”
I interrupted him, “I know what you read. I know what you’re going to say.”
He continued, “Should we really be telling her that she’s beautiful… you know, all the time?”
I waved my hand dismissively, “I know, I know, I know. They say that you shouldn’t praise your daughters (or sons) based on their looks, that it puts too much emphasis on looks versus brains… blah blah blah."
“Okay, and…?” Mark asked in that tone that said, “So why are you still doing it?”

“It’s just something I need to do!” I yelled from the bedroom, as I scrambled to get dressed.
I came back to the kitchen to see Mark contemplating my answer as he spread mayo on his ham sandwich.
“I’ll explain later,” I smiled.

It’s a lot to get into during the 5-minute rush out the door, and I hadn’t even come to terms with it quite yet myself.

Makeup by E!
I know what it means in my heart to tell my 2-year-old that she's "beautiful" and "pretty." My heart swells with joy and pride, and I watch, with wonder, this little creature that dances, spins, her eyes wide with excitement, her own wonder. Brown curls fall over her plump baby cheeks, messy bangs tangle in long eyelashes. Big brown eyes take in the world. Her smile radiates warmth, acceptance, love, for the tiniest little ladybug, for her stuffed doggie, for Auntie Bee's pugs, for the lonely old woman in line at the pharmacy.

Besides her typical selfish toddler moments, every fiber of her being is love and empathy. "Is that man okay?" she asks, as a disabled man gets his cane stuck between floorboards at the Sugar House. "Oh no, let's help him," I say. Days later, she asks, "What happened to that man at the Sugar House?" and I explain.

Then, "You are beautiful," I say.

Of course, I tell her she's beautiful "inside and out," and that she is:

I praise her in context with phrases like, “You were so kind to that woman when you introduced yourself” and “Wow, what a smart solution to that problem!” When she flips my stamps upside down to use the handle as a stamp -- first, I cringe, but then I say, “I never thought to use the stamps that way. That’s creative! Look at the pretty block-pattern you made.”

But besides all that mushy junk (which I sincerely feel and believe), is it so bad for her to also really feel beautiful and pretty on the outside?

She is a beautiful human being. Her hair is beautiful, her eyes, her body. Not because they look a certain way or conform to some cultural standard of beauty but because she is a wondrous little creature of light. A miracle.

And, I think that, maybe now, at 2-years-old, is the time to start feeling this way, to have a foundation, to feel beautiful on the outside, just for being glorious, perfect you.

Soon enough, some child will tell her that she’s ugly, that her clothes aren’t “right,” that there’s something wrong with the tiniest part of her body. And I can only hope that my voice sounds louder in her ears, in her heart – that beautiful (inside and out) is a state of mind, a state of accepting yourself completely, even in the face of adversity and criticism... even when you feel there's something you want to change about your life. To be able to assess your current situation, feel okay with yourself, to look at perceived mistakes and know that it's all part of growing, transforming; and watching that beauty grow and transform as you do.

I’ve also considered that I may need to explain to her at some point why it isn’t entirely appropriate to stand up in a crowd, spin around with a handful of scarves, and shout, “I’m beautiful!” But then again… is it?

Is that so bad? Is that really conceited? It doesn’t feel that way. I don’t look at my 2-year-old, and I surely wouldn’t look at my someday-15-year-old spinning in front of a mirror and think, “Wow, she’s so full of herself.”

I'd think, “Wow. I can be beautiful too.”


Shauna said...

Wow, Gretchin, this hits a chord with me. I struggle with this a lot. I tell my 16 month old daughter that she is beautiful all the time, and her twin brother that he is handsome or beautiful, and then I sometimes cringe after: Am I setting them up for self-consciousness about what they look like? I try to mostly focus on the many wonderful traits they display, as you do, but sometimes it's impossible not to let "you're beautiful!" slip from my lips when I look at them and they SOOOO impossibly ARE! Good post.

AdminG said...

Thanks so much, Shauna!!