It was Easter and my niece looked up at me with her gorgeous brown eyes encased in long, dark lashes. She grinned. Her hair was messy.
I commented, “You’re beautiful.”
That’s how it started.
I was then hip-bumped indicating we weren’t allowed to say that, and I realized I was to follow lead as we complimented her on how smart she is, how graceful she is in ballet, and what a great sister she is.
After each of these things, I added, “And you are beautiful.”
Yeah, I wasn’t winning gold stars for this rebellion, but I am standing my ground and here’s why.
I understand society tends to objectify women, but I also know that no matter how we look, we each question if we are beautiful.
Sure, “beauty” has an “ugly” demon, but my children need to know they are the entire package.
My niece is indeed smart. She is graceful in ballet and she is an awesome sister.
Let’s talk about my children here for a moment.
They are interesting.
They have a sense of humor (some more of my taste than others).
They are creative.
They are smart.
They play sports.
They play musical instruments.
They are confident.
They have a depth of character.
They are honest.
They have friends, teachers, neighbors and absolute strangers who tell them this
They make friends because they share these traits with others.
They bring home awards and merits that proclaim these things.
All of these traits take extraordinary effort.
They have to consciously make the choice to be kind, to be funny, to be interesting, to be honest, to practice playing the violin or guitar.
My trademark line is “You’re beautiful”.
I tend to say it in conjunction with “Thank you”.
I use it instead of “You’re welcome”.
I answer my phone and greet others with, “Hello, Beautiful”.
My husband mocks me.
He mocks me to the point that we had a conversation where he told me I think everyone is beautiful.
I replied, “This is true.”
We all have something beautiful about us. Perhaps the entire package isn’t beautiful, but individually there is something in our genetic compiling that is beautiful. Maybe it is our eyes, our hands, our hair, a dimple, our smile.
We all have beauty.
In fact, that conscious effort we make to be kind, compassionate, funny, generous, smart, it all adds to our beauty.
Beauty is not all or nothing.
It isn’t something you are born with or not.
The fact is, all these traits that parenting is trending on praising, while leaving out “you’re beautiful”, are things my children are reminded of, they are the very things that cause people to enjoy being around them.
As the mother of many, I can tell you, that my children never have come home crying because someone thought they weren’t kind, or compassionate, or smart.
They came home because someone felt they didn’t fit their image of “beautiful”.
The reality is the world is always going to point out the flaws in my children’s looks.
They will make fun of their lips being too full, or too thin.
They will point out their “too chubby” or “too thin”.
Their eye color will be wrong, their chin too strong, their ears too big, their hair too straight/curly, their height too tall or too short.
There will be those who want to take someone else to the dance.
They will, somehow, always fall short in someone’s ideal of beautiful.
There’s a lot of money being made because people feel bad about themselves.
Children and adults scrutinize the tabloids and magazines where beautiful people have been edited with Photoshop. Think about that– even the people we are told are beautiful are so flawed that editors believe they need to be recreated.
One in four children aged 10-15 are unhappy about their appearance.
I’m telling my children and those around me that they are beautiful.
It means a lot of things and it’s up to them to absorb that meaning for whatever hole is in their bucket of self-esteem.
It means if someone tells my child they are less than perfect in their eyes, my children know they are enough.
I’m not saying “you’re beautiful” should be the only compliment.
A beautiful person recognizes the beauty in kindness, empathy, timeliness, mindfulness, hard work and joy.
My role as a mother is to fill my children’s bucket of self-esteem so full that no matter how many holes the naysayers and bullies poke into it, it never runs dry.