My friend G told me several years ago that she had made a decision early in her daughter’s life never to complain about her own weight or body image in front of her daughter. I thought it was so wise at the time, and now that I have a little girl I think it even more so. No matter how alarming the post-partum figure might be, or the frustration of having fun clothes that aren’t fun to wear because they don’t fit right – I’m trying to shield my daughter from all that. I don’t want her to learn self-deprecation from her Mama. And she has a Daddy who will, no doubt, tell her she is precious and beautiful throughout her growing years.
However, recently I have been stunned to realize that this business of raising a daughter with a healthy conception of beauty is a many-headed monster, and that choruses of “fat or thin doesn’t matter” and “you’re beautiful to us” are only severing two heads of this Medusa.
Because, you see, every time I dress my daughter – I pronounce her cute. I comb her hair and dismiss her saying “that looks great”. When we look at family photos, I say “look how sweet you look!”, “how cute you were!” It’s not just me, of course: she has had so many people compliment her on her hair that she is quick to tell me: “I don’t need to brush my hair. It’s already beautiful and curly.” And yesterday: “I wish you had lovely curly hair like me, Mommy.”
And so, just this week, I realized that while I may be winning battles on some fronts, on this big issue I am unknowingly ceding ground to the enemy.
Here’s why: As cute and as lovely and as beautiful as she is (and I really do think she is), the message I think I am continuing to give her is: “Bodies are meant to be LOOKED at. You LOOK good, so now you are acceptable to present in public/ready to play etc.”
It took me nearly three decades to fight that lie in my own life. I vividly recall spending so many of my growing years feeling insecure and unworthy because deep down I believed that bodies were meant to be looked at – and since mine didn’t seem to me to be worth looking at – it wasn’t worth much at all. Evaluating my daughter and judging her to be WORTH looking at, doesn’t make it any better. I’m still using a faulty standard if I appraise her by how she LOOKS and speak my commendation accordingly. It’s still a beauty judgment based on appearance.
It took me nearly three decades to realize that the primary purpose of my body not decoration, but USE. God gave me eyes to SEE with, not to be seen. He gave me a mouth which could SPEAK kind or interesting or good things, not just to put lipstick onto. He gave me legs to CARRY me around – to get me places, to be able to walk and dance and serve and ride my bike and ENJOY, not just to be admired or scorned for their shape. He gave me hair to keep my head warm. Hands to hold and touch and experience life.
In this regard, my kids’ little potty training book has it exactly right: on the opening page it introduces the main character and says: “This is Joshua. Just like you, his body has many nice and useful parts. A head for thinking, eyes for seeing, legs for running and playing, a bottom for sitting on….”
Being pregnant and having kids really brought this distinction to light for me: on the one hand, my body had never LOOKED worse. But on the other, I had never before realized how WONDERFUL it was: capable of growing and sustaining a life, of giving birth to it, of feeding and sustaining it better than any man-made substance could. Amazing!
And so I’m thinking about ways I can change the way I speak. I need to do more than omit pejorative statements about weight and appearance. I need to think of new ways I can talk to my kids about their bodies. I want to be able to say “you’re cute”, but also “now you look warm and comfortable – ready to play for the day!”, or “look how STRONG your legs look – perfect for jumping!”, or “how wonderfully soft your skin is: it’s so lovely to be able to love and hug and touch you!” and “I love to see your smile! It makes me happy to see you so happy.” I need a long list of these for my sons and daughter – so please share your ideas with me (my imitation of them truly would be the sincerest form of flattery).
It’s not even so much that I need to stop saying “you’re cute”, I need to START injecting all sorts of other truth into their lives. I want them to know that their bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Whether my daughter is aesthetically beautiful or not, I want her to know that our goal in life is to be beautifully ATTRACTIVE… as in, live in a way and use our bodies in such a way that attracts people to be near us and near Jesus.
As that great beauty Audrey Hepburn said:
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.
The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode, but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul.
It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows.
The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.”