Here I am, a girl in America raising three girls in America.
Not surprisingly maybe, I’ve had experiences with my daughters recently in regards to beauty and it’s all just a muddled mess, really.
It begins in our bathroom, getting ready for the day and Mae stands next to me as I put on make-up. She grabs my blush brush and swipes her whole face bright pink and exclaims in her proudest of voices “There. Now I’m pretty.”
Three years old, grabbing make-up and declaring herself pretty after it’s on, not before.
Three years old, never too young for me to squat down to eye level- this is too important, I need to say this to her still-chubby, pink-tinged face- mascara in one hand and her chin in the other as I look her in her eyes and say “Mae, baby girl. Nope, you were born beautiful, my girl. You are already beautiful, you are already amazing, you are already exactly how you need to be, nothing you do or wear or put on or take off can make it more so. Repeat after me: I am beautiful.”
“I am beautiful.”
“Just as I am.”
“Just as I am.”
“Now I can put on your lipstick?”
This will be a conversation for the long-haul, I suppose. Not a one-and-done on a Monday morning; I’m a few decades into this life and I’m still figuring it out, I suppose.
I promise you this: I’ll be a constant voice for her to listen to as she does, too.
Next, an afternoon after school, girls home, running wild and free and in tiaras and carrying wands that double as swords.
Breathless, Brennan, the seven-year-old who was born with sparkles and courage, stops mid-leap with a gleam in her eye, twirls and says “Mama? I want to tell you something that’s real.”
“Okay, baby. Go for it.”
“I like myself.”
And off she goes, as if nothing had happened, as if that isn’t one of the most difficult phrases for a human being to think and say and actually mean.
What then, I wonder? What do I do now with girls sometimes declaring beauty after they alter (enhance?) their appearance and sometimes declaring that they like themselves already, just as they are?
We continue on, is what we do, being the voice to remind each other of what’s true, of what’s real, of what we can stand on and what matters.
Easier sometimes, harder others, but still, we do the difficult work of paying attention to the narratives in our head because the ones that we actually listen to determines everything, really.
The way we think charts a path for our life, really.
So this is how the battle goes, for me absolutely, but I would imagine also for you, maybe- A day begins and these narratives start.
So many- too many to name- most of them are about undone to-do lists and ways I missed the mark and things I should do better and more and completely.
The ones that are the loudest though among all of the rest are the ones about my body. Sometimes they are louder, stronger- the youth and insecurity of high school; the changing body of pregnancy and postpartum recovery. It’s anytime, really though, that I feel I’m a star trying to fit into a square box of what beauty is thought to be and said to be and silently communicated to be when you look at a magazine.
What do they say and how do they sound?
Oh, mostly mean, honestly.
What I’ve found?
Most of the narratives I chase in my life as a girl begin in relation to everyone else’s life as a girl.
Unfair, completely, as we have different histories and different body types and different strengths and weaknesses and ways we like to move. We have different priorities and different skin tones and different heights and different ways our feet fit into a shoe. We’re as different as we can be, you and me, but here I am, weighing all of us the same when I compare myself to you.
How do I compare to you, how do I look next to you, how does this dress look on me in comparison to how it would look on you?
What I’m saying? Chase the wrong voice and I let myself rise and fall based on my perception of another.
It’s a funny thing, women’s bodies and how we see them and how we view beauty and how it translates to how we view ourselves. It happens so frequently it’s easy to miss, easy to dismiss, easy to think there’s no other way. It happens at the swimming pool, it happens on the street, it happens in the pick-up line at school and when I look in the mirror. The body of another, instead of something to be seen and valued and cheered for, becomes a mirror of it’s own, a mirror in which I see myself reflected- her legs are longer, her stomach is more toned, her skin is more even, her hair is more beautiful.
If all of her is “more”, does that mean that all of me is “less”?
I’ll say it quick and I’ll say it strong: No and no and no.
This is the most difficult part really, the part that distracts most of us and me, really: What voice are you listening to, what story are you telling because of which one you listen to, what story do you tell about what you believe about yourself?
Beauty’s not on a sliding scale, I finally realize. We stand alone, no need to look to another to determine where you fit on the spectrum.
There is no spectrum of beauty- some having more of it, some having less, is what this means.
Created to scale mountains and hold children and climb on the counter to reach the bowl up high. Designed to command a room and lead a group and stir soup and create something out of absolutely nothing. Formed to ride a bike and lift heavy things and twirl like the most graceful of ballerinas.
A masterpiece, a work of art, a thing of beauty already, don’t you see it?
What would it take to see it?
What would it take for you and for me and for these three girls I’m raising to see it and believe it and declare it once and for all: I like myself.
I’ll tell you this. There’s counterfeit voices and a real voice and knowing which one is which plays an important role in this story.
Beauty doesn’t happen when we look like someone else, dress like someone else, make our cheeks pink and wear push-up bras. You don’t become beautiful when something else happens first.
Listen closely, because I’m about to tell you something that’s real: Beauty happens first because it’s what you already are. You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, don’t you know you’re already beautiful.
It’s been a process for me so I’d imagine it will be a process for you, but I’m seeing that freedom is here, freedom is here, freedom is right here when you listen to the voice that declares beauty first.
Pass 10 women on the street and I bet all 10 of them would be able to tell you a story about their experience with beauty.
What story would you tell?
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