I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful

Guest post by Amanda

By: LeyCC BY 2.0

I’ve started telling my girls that I think I’m beautiful. It’s been so easy to tell them how beautiful THEY are, because it’s obvious. They are the thing beauty is made of. They are the reason we started worshipping beauty. They sparkle and dance. When they’re sleeping, they turn into soft cloud babies, little perfect tufts of white on the moonlight.

There are a lot of people like me. Women who know things. Women who have seen things. Women with diseases in their livers. There are a lot of women with scars on their arms and words that carry themselves like sparrows. There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down.

There are a lot of people like me, because we’re all the same. We’re all blood and electricity. We’re lonely under the gaze of god. We’re all wet with dew and swallowing hard against DO THIS, CONSUME, SHUT UP and BE AFRAID to die.

All of you women with lines on your brow, with cracks between your fingers… it’s been a long winter. All of you, you are beautiful and so am I.

Long Island Children's Museum

The thing is, my children are perfect. I am the grown up, so I’m supposed to show them everything about life. When they wake up in the morning, though, I stare at them and they’re new. They teach me everything. They are babies and they teach me what it means to be a person. It’s easy to see that they’re beautiful.

I am slow and I am tired. I am round and sagging. I am harried. I am sexless. I am getting older.

I am beautiful. How can this be? How can any of this be true?

I don’t want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too. They will get older and their breasts will lose their shape and they will hate their bodies, because that’s what women do. That’s what mommy did. I want them to become women who remember me modeling impossible beauty. Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don’t know what to make of ourselves.

“Look at me, girls!” I say to them. “Look at how beautiful I am. I feel really beautiful, today.”

You Are Beautiful print by Etsy seller iolabs
You Are Beautiful print by Etsy seller iolabs

I see it behind their eyes, the calculating and impression. I see it behind their shining brown eyes, how glad they are that I believe I am beautiful. They love me. To them, I am love and guidance and warm, soft blankets and early mornings. They have never doubted how wonderful I am. They have never doubted my beauty. How confusing it must have been for them to see me furrowing my brow in the mirror and sucking in my stomach and sighing.

How confusing it must have been to have me say to them, “You think I am beautiful, but you are wrong. You are small and you love me, so you’re not smart enough to know how unattractive I am. I know I am ugly because I see myself with mean eyes. You are my child and I love you, but I will not allow myself to be pretty, for you. No matter how shining you are when you watch me brushing my hair and pulling my dress over my head. No matter how much you want to be just like me, I can’t be beautiful for you and I don’t know why.”

It’s working, a little bit. I’ve even stopped hating myself, a little bit.

I’ll be what they see. They see me through eyes of love. I’d do anything for them, even this.

I am beautiful.

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Comments on I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful

  1. What a revelation. I love this so much. Your writing is so poignant and beautiful- so vulnerable. Yes, you are so so beautiful. So am I… lets be beautiful for the rest of our lives with our heads held high and our arms out stretched. Lets be beautiful for the world to see and stare and gape at… beautiful and magnificent for our daughters and theirs as well. XO

  2. I’m not a mother. But recently I found these words somewhere: “You earned these stripes. You are a tiger!” on women who’re struggleing with their pregnancy stripes. I love this post. Women should learn to love themselves.

  3. Thank you for this! I loved your post & forwarded to every self-critical (read ALL) mama I know. I only wish you had included a reference to our sons…our self-image helps create their image of female beauty, for now and for their (well, for a great deal of their) future romantic partnerships. What a lovely world to live in where men celebrated the reality, strength and true beauty of the women in their lives.

  4. This brought tears to my eyes. My wife of of 24 years is so beautiful. Like so many women who’ve been the best part of their families’ lives, she has her battle scars. To me and to the kids they only add to her beauty. Our 20 year old daughter is always on about her hot mama. I tell her every day, many times a day, just how beautiful she is.

    If only she believed it. Maybe someday she will.

  5. I want to change my body. Not because I’m not beautiful, but because my body gives me pain and makes many everyday tasks a chore. Some people feel they need to augment their body for health reasons and not beauty ones. Just thought I would remind everyone not to assume that it is always a question of beauty. As much as I think my clothes will hang better after a boob reduction and lift, I mainly just want to walk pain free for a while ;-p

    • It’s so important that nobody gets to tell you what shape or size your body should be. It’s your body. You can treat it however you want to. Modeling self love for your children absolutely involves being the healthiest person you can be, in the body that suits you best, and refusing to put yourself down in front of them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. When I was a kid, I had a Barbie with two different hair colors. I called her (Mom’s first name) because my mother highlighted her hair. My mother didn’t see what I saw – she only saw her flaws, her weight struggles. After she took me and my sister with her to enough diet meetings, I stopped trying to compare her to my favorite doll.

  7. Amanda, Thank you so much for this post! As the owner of a natural skin care company for girls I often speak and participate at many self esteem building workshops for girls. Your wonderful piece communicates so beautifully what I hear from moms all the time. They feel so disingenuous telling their daughters one thing and thinking another. Our journey of just being a woman is beautiful. The love we create and the love we give is beautiful. Celebrate and live your beauty with your daughter. They will learn by example. Blessings!

  8. Thanks for this piece. I figured this out a while back as I was raising my daughter. Too often mothers are surprised that their daughters are critical of bodies, even though they rarely celebrate their own.

  9. I agree with your effort. I was middle aged before I realized that I had a beautiful mother. She’d complained to me about how ugly she was most of my life and then suddenly, I saw her through adult eyes and realized, no. This is a truly beautiful woman. Women are too often judged by their physical appearance. It’s also deeply important to emphasize that beautiful people can be bright, kind and funny and that beauty alone is not the only path to happiness.

  10. I want to change my body. Not because I’m not beautiful, but because my body gives me pain and makes many everyday tasks a chore. Some people feel they need to augment their body for health reasons and not beauty ones. Just thought I would remind everyone not to assume that it is always a question of beauty.

    • Accepting and celebrating your beauty doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to change. We are always learning and evolving. We will change in millions of ways throughout our lives. Change is an important part of learning to be who we are, and wanting to change can mean that we love ourselves, yes. We are beautiful now, no matter how many changes we want to make.

  11. I thought this was a nice piece and I totally appreciate the message. I am old enough to know that a blind man can tell the difference between an ugly and a beautiful person, it has nothing to do with your appearance. Stop tying sex appeal to your self worth. Pull the plug on your tv if that’s necessary.

  12. thank you so much for writing this. i cried when i read this too. its time to put an end to all the self loathing before we pass it along to our daughters. my daughter adores me and when I look in the mirror I think that I should probably try to see myself through her eyes, I’m sure I’d see a very beautiful person.

    • Yes! Your daughter adores you and sees your beauty because she hasn’t been damaged yet, she hasn’t been brainwashed about what beauty means. Every time we put ourselves down in front of our children, it is like telling them that society’s rigid and unfair standard of beauty is right! We can’t go out into the world and stop negative messages from reaching our children, but we can, as their biggest role model, be sure not to be a source of them.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts (and your tears!) with me. You are totally beautiful.

  13. This is awesome!! I’m here to tell you there is no way that time will not catch up to you. Skin will stretch, things will sag; it’s inevitable. Love the ‘inside you’ now, because really, that’s what you are. I’m 60, and I’m beautiful!

    • I love this. It is so important to say I am, WHATEVER I AM, and I am beautiful! It’s important to say that every day and in front of everybody who looks up to us, because we’re all certainly not receiving that kind of affirmation from the world at large!

  14. Definitely like her, as well as her essay ! But I get the impression that she still hasn’t fully exorcised the old, patriarchal definition of beauty as “youth and thinness” (an idea deliberately crafted and promoted to make women feel more disempowered and less confident with each year and pound nature inevitably adds.) I wish she would have included her real photo, so I – and probably a lot of others – could have given it a “Like,” because there are some of us who find mature beauty the most attractive, and would like to tell her that she’s beautiful not “in spite of” her age, but partly “because of” it ! (And regardless of age or shape, there’s nothing more attractive than someone who’s comfortable with who they are and what they look like !)

    • It is totally unfair to expect that a woman just spontaneously “shed” the rigid and unfair standard of beauty that has been relentlessly pounded into us, beginning the day we were born.

      I am an adult, a mom, and have had enough life experience to know that beauty has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the way a person looks, and yet, because of the negative messages I have been receiving my whole life, it is not an easy task to love myself for what I am. The reason this piece is resonating so deeply with so many people is because we, as women, ALL feel that way. We are all different sizes and shapes and ages, and we ALL have a hard time accepting ourselves as beautiful. We’re all smart and enlightened and kind and we understand that beauty is multidimensional and diverse, but because of being attacked so viciously our whole lives, we can’t acknowledge it in ourselves. It is so ingrained in us, not to accept ourselves, that it has become automatic. Changing the way we perceive our own beauty would be no less difficult than changing the sound of our laugh, or the fact that we startle when we hear a loud noise.

      I may not ever get to a point where I feel unabashedly beautiful, and that’s a shame. It means that I’ve been damaged beyond repair, and I don’t appreciate your sanctimony over my condition as a person. (Although I don’t mean to attack you, specifically. This sentiment of, “Why doesn’t the author of this piece magically change what’s been beaten into her every moment of her existence?”… has been popping up, here and there, as a response to this article.) However, as a mother, while I can’t stop millions of harmful messages from reaching my children via culture and media and society, I can make ABSOLUTELY SURE that I am not a source of those damaging messages for my daughters.

      • Funny – it was my impression that starting the process of unlearning patriarchal ideals of beauty and joyfully modelling confidence and self-worth is what your beautiful piece was all about. Unfortunately, it seems there are always those who are sitting in the wings, ready to shame women for not “spontaneously “shed(ding)” the rigid and unfair standard of beauty that has been relentlessly pounded into us, beginning the day we were born”. This kind of shaming discourse does little to actually affect change in the way women perceive themselves. Probably because it rings as slightly disingenuous. I for one don’t really believe that many women relate to the idea that it’s just so easy to magically flip everything you’ve learned since the day you were born. Your writing is honest, and points to real ways in which women can start unraveling some of the negative stuff, even though it may never fully come undone. Acknowledging that it isn’t so easy to unlearn all this overnight is honest and that is what has resonated with so many of us. Thank-you.

      • Thank you for the thoughtful – and totally on-target – reply ! Having had the misfortune to grow up in the 1950s, I can personally identify with someone still working on shedding sexist programming, so I’m sorry if it looked as if I was criticizing you for not being able to do something I haven’t come close to achieving myself. Men who grew up in the days before the feminist renaissance of the 1960s also have stereotypes and negative, self-destructive programming to deal with, though it’s different, and not aimed at disempowering them as is the case with women’s programming in a patriarchal society. Even over half a century later, I haven’t made nearly as much progress in regard to exorcising the anti-emotional and anti-affectional programming I was given while a grade-schooler as you have in getting rid of the “borderline-anorexic teenager” definition of beauty that women are STILL often assaulted with by the media and are forced to encounter on every magazine rack. I DO commend you for making so much progress and for being so honest about how it’s still a struggle. But thanks to essays like yours – and your personal example to your children and others around you – the struggle to make society as a whole recognize and celebrate the wide spectrum of beauty that exists should get easier as time goes by !

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