She doesn't model $500 cardigans for Vogue Bambini or twirl batons in Little Miss beauty pageants, but my 5-year-old daughter is the most beautiful person I've ever seen — and I tell her so. Often.
Many parents who have little girls are torn over whether it's okay to describe them as "beautiful." Some worry it will send the wrong message. They say you can't be both a feminist and a mom who values her daughter's intelligence, talent and worth if you spend even a moment focusing on her beauty.
But here's where I feel beauty naysayers are getting it wrong: The word "beautiful" isn't going away any time soon. Instead of pretending it doesn't exist and never using it in your daughter's presence, teach her to take back the word. The problem isn't in telling others they are beautiful, but in buying into the idea that you have to have a certain nose, skin color and body type to be deemed beautiful. I want my daughter to grow up knowing Vogue just sells advertising space. She gets to determine her beauty ideal — what could be more empowering?
Let me be clear: I don't follow my daughter around the house, patting down her crinoline dresses and saying things like, "Well, aren't you the most gorgeous, beautiful little princess pie the universe has ever created? How do you live with yourself, being so devastatingly pretty? Why, you're just the cutest little girl in your class and in the galaxy." If, for example, she chooses her own outfit that morning, I won't say she looks "beautiful," which emphasizes what I perceive as beautiful, but rather that I love her style and how she paired red and purple together. When possible, I prefer to shine a spotlight on the specific ways in which her actions are creative or inspiring.
The point isn't to fill her head with the notion that she owns beauty or is better than anyone else. Beauty belongs to everyone and each person has the right to be their own kind of beautiful and put forth their ideas of what is pleasing to the eye. You can be another pretty face at a casting call waiting to hear if you're the right kind of beautiful for the job, or you can be your own Anna Wintour calling the shots from a corner office. My hope for my daughter is that she will get to say whether a strong nose or round face is beautiful — better still, she'll hold that belief so deep within her that she'll convince the rest of the world of it, simply by walking with her head up high and not breaking eye contact with anyone who challenges her gaze.
There is going to come a time when my little girl questions whether there is a room for her at this exclusive retreat we create for so-called beautiful women, where they get to hang out for 15 or so years, eating the finest of foods and drifting aimlessly around the manicured grounds like ghosts.
If she inherits my body type, she may wonder at age 15 whether it's enough to have a B-cup. Whether her porcelain skin detracts from her ability to compete with Brazilian bombshells, even though she, herself, will never be able to articulate the ultimate goal or prize doled out in such a competition.
I want to save her the stress of sending in her application to this retreat, which we find out after age 35 was only ever crafted out of cardboard.
As the first person in the world whose opinion will matter to her, she needs to hear it from me first. You are beautiful. And kind. You are smart, talented, creative and capable of improving the world and the lives of those around you. You are everything you are even when you're doing nothing at all; even when you're just sitting on the rug, breathing and existing. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Don't let anyone hijack your version of beauty because they don't understand the power of their own beauty. Inspire them to see their beauty by sticking up for your own.
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