Despite my lack of frequent showering and propensity for wearing the same yoga pants for four days (and, truth be told, nights) in a row, I can clean up pretty nicely. I like to shop for clothes; I wear a little make-up almost daily, and shoes. Yes to shoes.
Being a young, one-income family on a budget has helped lessen my vanity to a certain extent, but now I have a new problem. The daughter factor.
It starts off innocently enough, when one has a girl-child it’s ever so much fun to dress her up, and then of course exclaim over how a-freaking-dorable she is.
|Try and tell me she's not so cute you are dying right now. Just try.|
It’s almost frightening how sponge-like my daughter’s ability to assess “pretty” is. The morning of her “Winter Program” I had shaved my legs, fixed my hair, and actually gotten dressed-cute shoes, jewelry, skirt-the works. As I hustled Gianna out to the car, she rapturously proclaimed, “My mama so pretty!” Screwing the lateness, I stopped in my tracks and felt my eyes well up. Ah, sweet, sweet motherhood! A few mornings later, we were having a tussle over clothing- I wanted pants, she wanted a Christmas party dress. As my daughter sat on the floor, a puddle of crinoline and salty tears, she wailed, “But maaaaaa-maaaa….I wanna be so pretty!!!!!!!”
For the second time in the span of a week, I felt my eyes well up, but for a different reason. What trash have I been teaching my daughter??? Since when was being pretty the most important thing? When did I forget that I wanted to teach and model virtue and inner beauty? The beauty of being joyful and charitable to others? The truth that a woman has inner strength, that she has the capability to change the world around her by her very nature? How to convince her that party dress or no, she is lovely because she is a daughter of the King? A unique soul, never having a existed before, the only G on the planet? Crap. This parenting thing is tricky business.
The culture we live in doesn’t help. A woman’s body is used to sell everything from tires to the latest action movie. Standing in the check-out aisle almost every magazine cover promises tips on how to be pretty, which will make your man happy and then possibly you will be happy, too. Taking a cursory glance at the messages sent to little girls, over and over, all I see is, “You are a consumer, so be pretty, that way, later, you will want to be consumed.” No thanks. Not my daughter.
Daily, I engage in what I am coming to see will be a life-long battle.
When we spend special time together, I try to not always make it be about going shopping. I try to encourage her to get a little dirty and scrape her knees up. I don’t want her to think that relating to other girls must always include buying things. As she gets older, I want to read her stories about girls who were adventurous and faithful, resourceful and feminine in a way that respects their humanity as creatures of God.
When she tells me, “Mama, I am so pretty!” I try to remember to say, “You like how you look today!” so that maybe she will remember that SHE is her only evaluator, that her worth comes not from what other people tell her, but from herself. When she asks me if I like her outfit choice, I try to remember to describe what I see (“You picked the shirt with the dog on it, and plaid shorts! You look ready to play!”) and not jump to the limiting phrase of “You’re so beautiful!” But it’s so, so hard. For one thing, she’s ridiculously cute. And for another, this language is foreign to me, because I grew up in this culture, too.
Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding have helped to alter my flawed body image because now I look at the hips I used to hate and think, “These hips gave birth to babies; big, beautiful, healthy babies.” But I am still wounded; I still struggle to remember that my superficial image should be second to the quality of my character. As I struggle to teach my daughter the importance of her soul and the true beauty of holiness, I see that I am teaching myself, too.