Her browned belly poked through the bottom of her Yo Gabba Gabba tee shirt. The brightly colored shirt she pulled from her drawer was at least two sizes too small and also dirty, as she intentionally kept it from the washing machine. She stood confident; indifferent that her shirt carried mud from our backyard or that her swollen childhood belly could no longer fit under the cover of the shirt.
I prepared myself for the negotiations about to take place. I thought back to the days I sat in graduate school classrooms role-playing international political negotiations. I never imagined that my future life would involve a constant give and take with my daughter about everything. And I never thought it would be about Yo Gabba Gabba tee shirts. But here I was, face-to-face with my daughter about to negotiate beauty.
I cautiously approached the subject. “I was hoping you’d wear something nice for your birthday party.” In my head, I played out my insecurities of what my friends and our family members would think about my inability to dress my child in clean clothes, let alone clothes that fit. Without a second to process she counter offered, “I’m pretty the way I am.”
I sat there on the wood floor, clutching the clean clothes I hoped to get on her, with my jaw dropped. I had no words to give back. She has been listening to what I tell her. She believes it and now she is living it. She is pretty just the way she is.
And while now she is confident, I am conflicted going forward about how to properly teach beauty to my daughter. I don’t know how to teach my daughter about beauty. I’m scared to do it wrong.
Should I continue to tell her she is pretty just the way she is and that everyone is beautiful?
Should I dismiss the importance of beauty?
Should I teach her to define beauty in new and different ways?
My wish for my daughter is that she doesn’t waste her life chasing skinny, certain clothing sizes, new shapes of body parts or an irrational definition of beauty she creates. I want her to look in the mirror and see herself as a collective body of beauty. I don’t want her to pinch her flesh above her hips or push her belly in and out in disappointment. I do want her to believe she is beautiful just the way she is.
I wish I could give her the confidence and knowledge that has taken me almost forty years to acquire. And since I can’t give it to her, I’ll instead to my best to teach her that maybe the answer to my three questions above is yes to all three.
Yes, I believe she is pretty the way she is and everyone is in fact beautiful in their own amazing ways.
Yes, beauty isn’t that important and you know what is better? Being confident and kind.
Yes, beauty should be defined in new ways. Beauty can be in the way someone creates, in their relationships and how they love.
So maybe there is no right way to teach my daughter about beauty. Maybe each day and each new year is a new lesson for both of us. And maybe, I can use the lessons that have taken me so long to learn and give those to her to carry so that she can love herself and always believe she is pretty the way she is.