Who has your child’s ear (and eyes) about what beauty means?
What does beautiful mean to you and how are you demonstrating that to your child?
I’ve been thinking about these two things lately because of this beautiful young girl below (my youngest) and a blog post I recently read. If you missed Part 1, which addresses the former question, you can read it here. In this post, let’s dive into how we are demonstrating beauty to our children.
How are You Demonstrating Beauty to Your Child?
I remember the day we told her we were going to the City for the day and how excited she was! When she came downstairs in an everyday outfit – leggings and a t-shirt, I was a little shocked. I thought she would have worn one of her fancier outfit since it was the City. I asked her if she was good to go and she replied with a smile from ear to ear, “Comfortable and ready to see the Big City!” Her confidence blew me away, as I had changed at least three times and thought more of the pictures we would take than what I would see. (This was one of those mom moments where you realize you are teaching your kids better than you are showing them.)
My youngest dreams of living in the city and owning a fashion boutique, despite wanting to be a teacher in the school system. I’ll wait to shatter her world years from now about how these two things are worlds apart, for now I’m exploring how to empower her to achieve both because that’s what parents should be doing when their children are in elementary school – encouraging them to dream big and without boxes. I want this girl, my youngest, to always know she is beautiful and to have the self-confidence she currently has. She is so full of it right now and doesn’t let anyone tell her that she is anything other than beautiful and strong.
I wish it weren’t true but her built-in self-image didn’t come from me. Most of her life I had a poor self-image and was beating myself up over not having the right eyes or face structure, about my hair not being perfect or my thighs being too “sporty”, about being overweight even when I was not. I would tell God how much I loved Him and with the same breath curse the body I was in for carrying too much cellulite or being too tired (fatigue is a symptom of Crohn’s that I’ve long battled). My daughters watched for years as I’d go through 20 outfits in the morning to find a shirt and jeans I liked, only to go back to one of the first few pair I’d tried on because they were my favorite baggy jeans. I definitely didn’t teach my oldest anything other than how beauty and worth comes from our appearance; thankfully something happened when I turned 40 and my youngest has seen a different narrative play since then. I stopped caring about what others thought looked beautiful and started looking to God and within for the definition of beauty. I realized it was about so much more than the skin I am in.
As I read Caralyn’s post, I started to think about how her journey and mine haven’t been so different despite the different relationships with food. I won’t tell her story – you can read it here – but I will admit that I realized many years ago that I struggled with food addiction. Food is like a drug for me when I’m dealing with emotions I don’t want to feel or when I’m bored and don’t have the willpower to say no to a bag of chips and guacamole (but really, should anyone ever have to say no to chips and guac?). So while I took in too much as a way to heal my pain and control my environment (I started this habit after being violated at a going age), Caralyn had a different way she interacted with food; yet, we both struggled with one thing commonly: the mirror. For both of us, it showed a truth back to us (and maybe still does some days, I can’t speak for her) that wasn’t there. Whether 105 or 250, I have always seen myself through layers of fat and skin that didn’t belong there and have never been happy with my weight. Yet all along I could feel someone who was healthy and didn’t have a number to define her within me crying to get out. When I read Caralyn’s post, I saw that she too had someone inside all along: the woman God created.
Whether we are large or small, overweight by hundreds of pounds or underweight by 80, strong or weak, if we haven’t been brought up to see the beauty within ourselves in a healthy way, we will battle with mirror and dislike what we see. And we pass this on to our children. They watch us and see how we interact with ourselves and our world. As I think of how I passed the unhealthy body image to my oldest, who struggled with bulimia and has never seen herself as the beautiful young woman that she is, I realize that I would tell her with my words that beauty came from within and that what we do outside only enhances it, but then I would show her differently with my actions and speak very loudly through them that our outside had the most importance. With my youngest, I’ve been more careful about it but still put too much focus on outward appearance until two years ago, and really within the last year.
Caralyn’s post contained this statement:
Now, when I look in the mirror, that’s what I see. I have to shut off the critical eye that wants to pick apart my reflection, and see instead the beautiful creation of God who is loved and cherished, despite my flaws and shortcomings. See instead, the instrument of God, that was handcrafted to fulfill an important, divine purpose that He has planned for me.
When I read this I realized how important it is to help my youngest understand that she was handcrafted by God to fulfill a specific role and one that only she can fill. And I can’t demonstrate to her how beautiful she is and how true that is if I show her through my actions that beauty is what’s outside of someone’s body and how they wear clothes and makeup.
But how do I do this?
How do we as mothers and fathers show our daughters and sons that beauty goes beyond the skin?
I started to reflect upon this and thought about the changes I have made in talking with my youngest and how I speak. We have a friend who is absolutely stunning… her cheekbones are to die for. When we speak of her, my mother, daughter, and I can’t help but speak of how beautiful this young woman is. But the first thing we noticed when my daughter and I met her was not her cheekbones but her vibrant personality. When my daughter met her for the first time, she loved that the young woman stood up and greeted her as if she was somebody special. She commented on how the young lady included her in the conversation and made her feel wanted. Those of you who have children who come along on gatherings with friends know how important this is for our children, especially our daughters being raised without father figures in their lives.
We have another friend who has eyes that people would pay to get contacts the color of, but his are natural. I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t tend to spend more time in eye contact when talking with him because of how beautiful his eyes are. But when I first met him, what I noticed is how he took interest in something most around us had missed about me and how he inquired about parts of my life that only those close to me had ever picked up on. When my daughter met him, she picked up on how he used her name and inquired about her extracurricular activities and whether she spoke Spanish (then proceeded to humor her by speaking her broken up Spanish with her).
What defined both people who are beautiful to the world as beautiful to my youngest, who was 8 and 9 when she met these individuals? Not their cheekbones or eyes, but how they treated her. How they made her feel in their interaction with her. Something I have done for a few years is share how people make me feel when I am with them. My little one is very attached to me and always asks me how my plans were, whether community meeting or night out with friends. I reply by saying, “I feel energized by X and the conversation we had. It brought me alive and helped me think about …” or “I really was saddened by how X complained all night about others getting ahead and so I am really tired now but let’s pray that things will get better and thank God for what we have.” She started picking up on how certain people made me feel after being with them and once commented, “Beauty also includes how people make you feel, Mama. People like [name of severely overweight friend] and you may have extra skin and may be called fat but you always make people feel better. That’s why your friends always ask for Shell time.” I remember that conversation and how proud I felt in the moment.
What actions can we take to demonstrate to our children the true definition of beauty?
How do we help them understand their worth doesn’t change based upon whether they align with what culture defines as beauty or whether they are outside those line?
Beyond reframing how we talk to them about others, we have to highlight what we see within them. Talk to them so they understand that their worth to us is beyond what they look like and what grades they bring home. If we say beauty runs deeper than skin, let’s complement them for their qualities that aren’t always applauded in society.
Let’s show our kids by running out for milk without heels and makeup, by picking them up for school in jeans and a t-shirt instead of business casual wear, by demonstrating for them that we are paying attention to our inner qualities and what we project from our deepest parts instead of whether we covered up a zit or didn’t let anyone know we have Rosacea. Let’s go to the gym in mismatched tops and bottoms and not be afraid to sweat it out. Let’s stop focusing on the cellulite and honor the fact that our bodies carried and nurtured those little people and then birthed them. Let’s stop shaming others and ourselves for being less the perfect by society’s standards and instead measure up to how we define beauty personally, whether faith-inspired or by your own standards and influences.
It won’t change overnight, but it won’t change all until we do. Instead of focusing on dieting, get the whole family involved in healthy eating and learning about the food we consume. All sizes of people should understand this, and it’s a great way to introduce math and answer the question, “When will I ever use this in real life?” Right here; right now!
By changing how you interact with yourself and others, changing how you process your own ability to nurture your self-image, and changing how you show up in the world despite not feeling perfect (or maybe you do and you have been overly focused on that fact and it’s rubbed off on your children), your children will notice the change and start making changes of their own. We may only impact our children at first, but soon they will affect change within their friends, and then the community, and then the region, and then the state, and so on. If we all make small changes in what we accept and how we frame beauty within our minds, reminding our children that there is beauty in imperfection (like the art of Kintsugi) and being different from the crowd, using “beautiful” to describe sunsets and warthogs alike, and taking time to teach our children through our own actions not just words, soon we will change the way the world thinks of beauty. It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with our children.
How are you demonstrating your definition of beauty to your kids?