I remember exactly how I felt when DRL and I found out the baby I was gestating was, in fact, a girl. I was surprised – I thought for sure I would be that darling petite woman with sons who towered above her – and I was excited. Beyond excited, in fact. When the husby and I decided to increase our family from three to four, I desperately hoped for another little girl, and we were blessed with Stella.
Their infancies were fleeting and miraculous – and DRL and I tried to savor every. single. moment.
Fast forward 3.6 years.
It’s morning, and I’m helping Elena get dressed for school. I’m trying to put her in a darling french-bulldog-with-a-neon-mustache Zara sweatshirt when mutiny ensues. She starts screaming and crying and she throws herself on her bed in a fit of tears and sorrow and frustration too insurmountable to describe with a six year old’s vocabulary. After a few moments, some balloon breaths, and a big fat giant mom-hug, I ask her to tell me what’s the matter. She looks up at me teary eyed, her voice trembling and hiccupy, filled with heartbreaking sorrow, and tells me that she doesn’t want to wear the sweater to school because kids will laugh at her. “They’re not going to laugh at you, sweetie,” I assure her.
“Yes they will, Mom.” She retorts almost instantly. “They will laugh at me a no one will think I’m pretty.”
And at that exact moment the walls came crashing down and my ears started buzzing and I felt like my heart was going to explode.
My six year old daughter is worried that people won’t think she’s pretty.
MY SIX YEAR OLD DAUGHTER IS WORRIED THAT PEOPLE WON’T THINK SHE’S PRETTY.
So I helped Elena get dressed in something else, brushed her hair, kissed the top of her head, and sent her off to school. Then I fought back tears, and sat on my stairs and wondered how I was going to address my child’s concerns about the way she looks. How at an age when I should be helping her read and learn take-aways and how to tie her shoes, I was going to have to help her understand that her worth isn’t in the way she looks. I sat there attempting to wrap my brain around an issue that I wasn’t prepared to deal with for at least a few more years.
And I was lost.
I confided in a good friend of mine, who is also raising two daughters, and she lovingly sent me a link to this post, and I felt better. Even though I still had this massive cloud hanging over me, at least I felt like less of a failure as a mother. I stopped feeling bad because Elena watches too many Disney movies (she doesn’t). And because she hears her mom critique her looks (she doesn’t). I let go of all that mom guilt that came flooding over me, and in that instant a million other snippets of memories came flooding into my brain. I started seeing flashes of every single time Elena was forced to hear someone go on about how adorable/cute/pretty/wonderful her little sister is. “That blonde hair!” “Look at those lovely blue eyes.” “Oh my goodness, that cute little voice!” It never occurred to me that the kindness and doting of strangers was causing my perfect and smart and loving and intelligent and creative and imaginative (and beautiful) little girl to feel…unpretty. Even worse, to believe that her worth is measured in the attention she does – or does not – get from others.
And then I got mad. I got really mad, even. I screamed and I shouted to DRL about how society has failed our little girl and how is it fair that this girl who is so wonderful and so loved thinks she’s unpretty? But then I remembered that she’s SIX. Attention is what she knows. As a baby, she’d cry and she’d get fed, or put to sleep, or have her diaper changed. As she grew she’d babble and coo and get a laugh or cry and get a hug. She could draw a picture and get praise or eat her dinner and a get a treat. So perhaps it’s not so far off base to assume that attention, or lack thereof, is how she measures whether or not she’s good enough. Or pretty enough. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it okay, but at least I’m finally starting to understand what’s going on. Although I can’t hope to change everything overnight, I can still do something right now.
I can ask people who interact with my daughters to talk to them like people. Not like dolls, or babies, or princesses, but valuable, interesting, real (albeit miniature) people. DRL and I are making a conscious effort to do the same with the little girls we encounter outside of our home, and we are teaching Elena and Stella about self-worth and self-esteem and confidence. We are devoting extra attention to the awesome things that make each of our girls unique – not what makes them better or smarter or prettier – but what makes each of them exactly wonderfully and perfectly who they are. We are hugging them, and loving them, and hoping that we are doing enough to ensure that they become strong women who understand how smart and loving and intelligent and creative and imaginative (and beautiful) they are.