A couple of days ago I shared this post with you from our guest Lee Skallerup Bessette. In some very moving passages she shared with us how easily a legacy of self-loathing and insecurity can be passed down between generations, and how she is determined to give her own young daughter healthier, more loving messages.
I don’t know what kind of woman society will value when my daughter is a teen ten years from now. I do know that I have to somehow figure out how to love myself. Everything that I saw, everything that I still see as a fault, I have to learn how to embrace it as a strength rather than a liability. I already think that she is perfect in every way, and that won’t really change. If I want her to see herself that way, too, I can’t just tell her, I need to model it for her. That way, maybe I can break the cycle of women who see perfection all around themselves and never in themselves.
I am the mother to a daughter just a little older than Lee’s, and her words above made me teary. I hear and see too many women and girls out there that do not love themselves. I see it online, I hear it when I talk to girls, I read about it over and over again, I see it when the women in my fitness classes are self-conscious about their bodies, I hear it when my girlfriends talk about weightloss and dieting. It boggles my mind how controlling this is in our lives.
I love and appreciate my body. I am grateful for my health and my strength and my curves and my softness. I have muscle in the places I want it and softness in the places that show I am a woman who has had two children. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a beautiful woman looking back. I accept my entire body, even the places that would be considered “flaws”. Yes my former flat stomach is gone, and in its place is stretched out skin from when I was full with my children. I suppose I could give time to thinking about this, but I am too breathless at the magnificence of the two human beings my body made from scratch to really notice. I have defined beauty on my own terms.
Mothers have the responsibility to teach their daughters their own definition of beauty. Beauty is something WE own. Beauty is something WE give life to. Beauty is something WE create inside each of our familes, around each of our circles of women. It is not something that can be sold to us or packaged or photoshopped or glued to a billboard. It is OUR responsibility to not only define beauty on our own terms, but to then teach it to our daughters.
Recently my good friend and life coach Andrea Owen put forth a question to her Facebook community, “If you could have one wish this holiday season for a specific group of people, what would it be?” The asnwers given by such warm and caring people moved me. My answer: “For all of the girls out there who are insecure, unloved, and full of self-loathing to understand they are more beautiful than they will ever know.”
That is my wish. A girl’s heart is not meant to be beaten down and twisted and starved so that the companies who sell us things can turn a profit from this culture of insecurity they have manufactured. Each girl is born with a heart that is open to the joy and awe this world can bring to those willing to see it. As mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, grandmothers, and mentors, it is our job to protect the hearts of our daugthers. The health and happiness of the girls in this world rests on the shoulders of the women who care for them.
As the heads of our families, women need to define beauty on their own terms. All of our families are different, but each is beautiful. Each family has traits and physical features that repeat themselves with each generation of girls born to them. We honor our daughters by giving them a legacy of loving these traits and teaching these as the definition of beauty.
This time of year, when families from all over come together to celebrate various holidays and traditions, create a culture of beauty inside your own family:
- Review old family photo albums and show your daughter how she looks like grandma and grandma looks like great-grandma, and share stories about their lives.
- Spend time laughing and talking and sitting and playing and cooking and sharing with each other. The face is most beautiful when smiling. Create smiles.
- Play dress up and take silly pictures. Sillyness looks beautiful on everyone.
- Make time for family traditions, as your daughter will pass these down to her family some day.
- Sing. Dance. Sing and dance. Dance, dance, dance.
- Play flag football or shoot hoops or go sledding or ice skating. Show your daughter the joy of what her body can do.
- For little girls, color or finger paint self-portraits or family portraits. If she is old enough, ask her to say three nice things about each woman and help her write them by each likeness.
- For older girls, find a special dish or vase and fill it with little scraps of paper upon which you have written things and people and actions and places you find beauty in.
- For adopted girls who may not share physical family traits, create a piece of art in silouhette, filling the form with wishes or funny family jokes or words that reflect her character. Family isn’t about genes, it is about heartbeats.
- As a whole family, use ribbon and noodles and markers and colored paper (or scraps of wrapping paper) and whatever art supplies you can find to create self-portraits or collages with verse about what beauty means to your family.
We live in a culture that focuses on physical beauty. Our collective definition of beauty and those that fit inside of it needs to be expanded. As mothers, we need to take back the control over the messages that reach our daughters. If each of our daughters came from a family that had defined their own beauty and taught that to her, well oh my goodness. My wish would come true.