In this day and age of ultimate makeovers and anorexic teen stars, my husband and I decided to aggressively build our daughter's self-esteem before the media blasted into her life to set outrageous standards for success and beauty. We've never hesitated to tell her that she's beautiful, smart, funny, and kind. I have to admit, I've detested my body for, hmmm, going on twenty-five years now, and I didn't want that for Leah. But we may have gone a tad too far.
The other night while blessing the food, Leah said, oh so gratefully, “Heavenly Father, I'm thankful that I'm beautiful.” Unfortunately she didn't add, “I'm also thankful that I'm smart, funny, and kind.” It was unnerving to hear so much ego from a three and a half year-old, barely potty trained. Had we created a diva?
So what's the balance? Kaleb's latest hobby is puzzles. And for some reason when he says, “I'm super good at puzzles, huh Mom,” it doesn't bother me as much as Leah saying, “Thank you, God, for making me beautiful.”
But is that really so bad? If I could choose, I would rather my daughter be conceited than self-loathing. Neither option is very appealing; in an ideal world she would love herself and all her idiosyncrasies while celebrating the qualities of those around her. But let's admit it, in this world of America's Next Top Model and The Swan, it's difficult to celebrate anything when most of us don't measure up to this wicked ideal of womanhood. Ladies, it's time for a revolution.
Dove's current campaign for real beauty is, well, beautiful (www.campaignforrealbeauty.com). Their ads use real women, with real bodies. And each woman, black, white, plus-size, or waiflike, seems confident and calm in her own skin. In some of the ads there's a slogan accompanied by a picture of a young girl that goes something like, “Let's change the standard of beauty before the current standard changes her.” When I hear it I tear up. Leah jogs naked circles in our living room without shame. When she does I watch her little tushy jiggle as she moves, and I think, “Someday she'll hate that part of her body.” Her natural genetic code has blessed her with abundant buttocks. And I think it's beautiful. I would like her to think it's beautiful too.
How our daughters view themselves depends largely on how we view ourselves. While I want to celebrate a new standard of beauty that is more inclusive than exclusive, I dedicate too much eye-time to the walking Barbies of our day. If women are disturbed by current beauty trends, they need to voice their disapproval. The stars that monopolize entertainment news, glossy magazine covers, and primetime advertisement slots are there because we watch them. They're there because we pay their salaries with our fascination. We need to demand something different.
Someday I hope all women can celebrate what's diverse and what's real. I hope for a world where plus-size women are sexy and the bespecled and befreckled stop traffic. But until then I've changed my mind about my daughter's prayer. As long as she can see the beauty in others, I'll say amen to any prayer that celebrates Leah's beauty. And to that I'll add my own prayer: “Thank you, God, for making me beautiful too.”