I could parent this little girl as if she were going to live in a world where appearance doesn’t matter, where her inner worth is the only thing that counts and that no one will judge her for anything other than her character. I wish that the world existed but it simply isn’t so. I feel certain that she will be a teenager at a time where the self will be projected on to the big screen of social media (into whatever form it morphs into in the next decade) and her appearance will something of which she will be acutely aware.
Don’t get me wrong; I talk about lots beyond appearance. I encourage her to solve problems and praise her when she is helpful, tenacious, kind, thoughtful, and witty. I firmly admonish when she is contrary, defiant, or ill-tempered. I simply have made a conscious choice to verbalize self-confidence in everything from my cooking to decision making and back to what I am wearing. I feel strongly that if she doesn’t hear positive self-talk modeled early, often, and consistently, she won’t have an inner voice telling her that she indeed looks (and thus should feel) great when her peers, media, or regular ol’ teenage self-doubt have her feeling otherwise.
I have read countless pieces about how young women should quit focusing on how they look and focus more on matters of the heart, mind, and soul. I absolutely agree but feel that many miss the mark by failing to accept the reality that appearance will absolutely be the focus for much of adolescence, at the very minimum. If positive self-dialogue isn’t modeled, from where will young ladies learn it?
I teach junior high and I can tell you without a doubt, the 12-year-old girls who tell me they skipped lunch because they are getting fat and they can’t figure their homework out because they are too stupid learned those ideas, words, and phrases somewhere. They are very likely parroting the sentiment of other women in their life who say they themselves look like shit or are too fat or dumb. It is one thing to say that young women should be confident but entirely another to model it. Many young women today are encouraged to behave and think in a way that entirely different than their mothers which is nice, but a bit unrealistic. It is our job to do our best to model a better way of treating ourselves.
The thought of my daughter repeating some bullshit thing I said to myself like “I’m so stupid” when I misplace the keys makes me sick. The times I might want to comment on the frown lines appearing between my brows or when I have neglected to see my hairstylist and feel less than gorgeous as a result are when I keep those comments to myself. I’m faking it in those situations, because I do have moments of self-doubt, but hopefully because I’m modeling self-love and acceptance her moments of self-criticism will be far fewer.
My daughter has a noticeable birthmark by her nose. I have never made mention of it but wasn’t surprised when she asked me after brushing her teeth one day what it was. I told her it was a mark, just like my freckles, and that it will probably fade by the time she goes to school. I didn’t expect to feel a lump grow in my throat, but it did because I was worried she wouldn’t like her reflection now that she noticed this red spot. She studied the mirror for a moment and said, “I like it! I look great!” and the lump in my throat disappeared. I know, I know, these things are a piece of cake with small children. But, I think that hearing me say that I’m happy with my appearance, my choice in a recipe for supper, or my drawing on our shared paper will influence her to feel similarly. If she doesn’t hear me say that I feel beautiful, smart, and ready for the world, how could I expect her to feel that way?
I am beautiful, and you are too Wildflowers.