I just read an article that has me all twisted up and irritated. I have that feeling you get sometimes when you are just uneasy…like you did something wrong but aren’t really sure what?
So, in this intelligent and well-written piece, the author basically chastises parents, friends, and society for habitually lauding a young girl’s appearance. For example, upon seeing a 5-year-old girl dressed up, most of us would smile warmly and compliment her hair or dress or wand or, in Haddie’s case, the entire coordinated ensemble. The author argues that we are perpetuating our society’s emphasis on beauty instead of brains. And, in the process, our young girls are taking a self-esteem beating.
Here is my take.
My girls are beautiful. No, not in their souls (actually by some accounts, Hadley has a dark soul) or in their minds. They are pretty. Period.
Take my Maisy. She is tall and thin. Her legs are about a mile long. She has thick luxurious hair (chopped off a few months ago as I wept) and crystal blue eyes. Her eyelashes are so long that they literally cast a shadow on her cheeks.
However, despite her most natural beauty, she is not into her own appearance. She does not spend hours in front of the mirror or agonize about her clothes. She is confident and strong-willed and not afraid to stand out from the pack. She thinks nothing of wearing sweatpants and oversized t-shirts most school days.
She is also brilliant.
No, I am not just saying that as her mom. She really is one of the most self-motivated, organized, and driven kids I have ever met. She is also an amazing writer and gifted cellist.
And, on most days, she is a pain in my ass.
When I was Maisy’s age, we had May Day at my school. All the eighth graders dressed up and marched into the auditorium. A few “smart” kids were selected to give speeches about different activities over the school year.
Not only was I chosen to speak about our class trip, but I had begged and pleaded until my Mom splurged and bought me a new dress and iridescent pumps for $25–a small fortune for us back then.
That night, my stomach was in knots. My father was even going to come to the event.
For the first time I could remember, I looked in the mirror at myself and felt good. My hair was smooth. 45 minutes of trying later and I had managed to get my hard contacts to stick. I had even put on a little lipstick. My mother pinched my cheeks and gave a tiny, wordless smile.
The school lobby was bustling with all sorts of girls dressed to the nines. Tall ones, short ones, blond ones, and brunettes. In the early eighties, I was definitely the ONLY Egyptian kid in my school, and probably the county.
I ran into the bathroom to settle my nerves and came out to overhear my mother talking to my grandmother in Arabic.
“…bes mish zay il Amrican.” She tisked. Translation: “..but not like the Americans.” She was telling my Tayta that while I was, in fact pretty, I did not hold a candle to the tall, blond, blue-eyed, REALLY pretty American girls.
My bubble burst, I went into the packed auditorium and before long it was time to deliver my speech. As I approached the podium, my nerves seemed to melt. I remember feeling strong, loud, confident., and relaxed…everything EXCEPT pretty. I kept scanning the audience for sight of my Dad. Finally, as I was getting to the end, I spotted his unmistakable curly head poking through the double doors way in the back of the room.
Later that night, I asked my Dad what he thought of the event. I was busting with pride at my flawless description of the eighth grade trip to NYC.
He put his head down and mumbled something about traffic and getting there late.
” I did hear a girl talking about the Empire State building though! She was good!”
His 5’5″ stature, terrible astigmatism, and the packed auditorium had collectively obliterated my father’s visual of me. He had no idea that I was the one giving that speech.
Thinking back on that night, I would have given anything for my mother to grab hold of my shoulders and look down at me and say “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!” What I would do to hear my father say “You killed that speech Cat!”
So, I will take every opportunity I can to tell my daughters that they are smart and strong and powerful. I will also, without fear of dashing their self-esteem, tell them when they are annoying the crap out of me.
However, with all due respect to Latina Fatale, I most certainly and with unashamed repetition, tell them they are beautiful. Because, even a smart, sassy, self-made girl needs to hear that from her Mom now and again.