Today is my daughter’s 17th birthday. And as I reflect back on her life, the word Beauty comes to mind. When she was a baby, my girl would make complete strangers smile with just a glance. No matter where we were (grocery store, park, crowded mall at Christmas time) or what mood people were in (crowded mall at Christmas time…Grrr!), she would simply flash a toothy grin, bat her big blue eyes, and just like that, hearts would melt. Every day, she would hear the words “She is SO beautiful…” and this concerned me. Why? Because I didn’t want my child’s entire identity to be defined solely by physical appearance (and I didn’t want her to get a big head about being pretty, either!) So, from the time she was a toddler, I began to actively counter-balance those daily comments with “Sweetie, you are also very smart” or “…kind” or “…funny” My little girl was beautiful then, but now, as she is developing into a young woman, well, I’ll just say with all the modesty and humility that I can muster, that my daughter is truly stunning. I know we all think our kid is the most beautiful child in the world, but I’m not kidding…this girl’s a looker! But, you know what? It’s not my daughter’s looks that make her so breathtaking. Sure, her radiant eyes, dazzling smile, and long flowing locks don’t hurt, to be sure. But what makes her truly beautiful is who she is on the inside. She is intelligent, witty, strong-willed, outspoken, hilarious, quirky, kind-hearted and even a little weird at times (which is one of my favorite things about her!) She has a larger-than-life personality that radiates from within and commands attention the second she walks into a room.
Too often, the messages our teens receive reflect our society’s extreme emphasis on what the media considers beautiful. Whatever that means. Just take a look at the strategically placed magazine covers the next time you’re in line at the grocery store. The focus, especially for girls, is inevitably on youth, physical beauty, and specifically on thinness. Teens are constantly bombarded with ‘ideal’ beauty. But, here is the problem: that ‘ideal’ is generally not attainable or even real – it’s called photo editing! Constant exposure to these images makes way for teens to form unrealistic expectations that can be very damaging to a young person’s self-image, self-esteem, and confidence when those expectations are not met. It is no accident that young girls in the U.S. have staggering rates of depression and eating disorders. We, as parents, cannot control media content; nor, as much as we wish we could, can we totally control our children’s exposure to such content. But what we can control are the messages that we choose to give them.
So, parents, it’s time to celebrate your child’s nerdiness! Or her funky style, weird sense of humor, gentle spirit, band geekiness, along with the multitude of other cool character and personality traits that make her the amazing and beautiful person she is and will become. Despite being somewhat cliché, there is clearly truth to the notion that real beauty comes from within. The truth is that skin will wrinkle, hair will go gray, and looks will fade. But, why does this equate to no longer being beautiful? It is time for us to begin a paradigm shift of sorts where we instill in our children the willingness to truly appreciate the value of real beauty. The kind of beauty that transcends age, weight, and aesthetics. My daughter’s beauty goes much deeper than her pretty face. With her unique character, personality, and yes, even her stubborn streak, which is a mile long (no idea where she get’s that!) she is now, and always will be my ideal beauty.