What do you think of when you look at this picture?
I'll tell you what I thought the first time I looked at it (hint: It wasn't "Oh, what a cute picture!") For a split second I looked at it and thought, "Wow, my butt looks big!"
And then I cringed. Not because of my pant size, but because it seemed tragic to look at a picture of my beautiful, happy family and think, "Man, my rear end is huge!"
Coincidentally, the same day this picture was taken, this article was published, in which U.K. Women's Minister, Jo Swinson, encourages parents not to tell their children they are beautiful: “I know as an aunt, you fall into the trap of turning to your niece and saying, 'you look beautiful’ — because of course all children do look beautiful — but if the message they get is that is what’s important and that is what gets praise, then that’s not necessarily the most positive message you want them to hear.”
This is not the first time I've read something like this, and I'm sure it won't be the last. In the last year alone I've come across dozens of articles that chastise parents for telling their daughters they are beautiful instead of focusing on the more important things like intelligence and work ethic. (These days "smart" is de rigueur. "Smart" and "capable." They don't need this "beautiful" stuff).
And then, in the midst of my musings on the subject, a duchess gave birth to the future King of England and everyone slunk out of their holes to weigh in (pardon the pun) on the new mother's post-pregnancy belly. Less than 24 hours after she delivered the future monarch, news outlets across the globe couldn't think of anything better to do than to comment on Her Royal Highness's "mummy tummy."
This is the world we're living in. A world that's full of derision for anything less than bodily perfection, a world where IT MAKES THE NEWS because the future Queen of England appeared with a rounded stomach less than a day after giving birth. And, in this world, we think that the best way to boost our daughters' self esteem -- the best way to make sure they achieve their potential in life -- is not to tell them they are beautiful?
I'm sorry, but this is madness!
How is it that we have frightened ourselves into thinking that "You are beautiful" or "You look beautiful" translate into "Looks are the most important thing."? How have we twisted these words so much that we think we are doing our daughters a favor by not using them?
Well, I'm here to tell you that these words are vital for our daughters to hear. They are vital for our girlfriends and mothers and grandmothers to hear. Because as much as we like to pretend otherwise, most women need to be told they are beautiful more than they need to be told they are smart. (You don't believe me? How many women do you know who complain that their husbands never tell them they are intelligent?)
Problems with body image and poor self-esteem aren't caused by telling our daughters they are beautiful; they are caused by living in a world that makes them feel like they must meet an impossible standard before they can be considered as such.
My daughter will spend her entire life in this world, and it will tell her that she is not beautiful, that she is not valued, that she does not have infinite worth; it will denigrate her body and discourage her spirit. Which is why, every single day, I will tell her she is beautiful. Every single day I will tell her she is loved.
And when she's grown and looking at a picture like mine, I hope she sees the truth -- because the truth isn't ugly, it's beautiful.
And so is she.