The Beauty of a Girl

I asked her why she wasn’t using any birth control.

“Well, I don’t think I can get pregnant.”

I asked her why she thought she was infertile, at the ripe young age of 16.

“Cuz I’ve had sex and been trying to get pregnant for 6 months now and nothing’s happened.”

I look up in surprise.  I asked why she wanted to get pregnant.

“I want a baby with my boyfriend.  Cuz I think I love him.”

My mind is racing to think of how I should approach this.  Her boyfriend has not shown any serious intention or effort in building a future together, let alone becoming parents together.  There has been no talk of finances.  There is simply love.  Love so strong that, by the end of our conversation, this young girl admits to me, “Yeah, I guess he probably isn’t the one, right?”

The expression on her face clearly told me that I am probably one of the few people (if not only person) who has told her that she is already beautiful without having to prove it through sexual intimacy.

Conversations such as these leave me both hopeful and frustrated.

Hopeful because a few simple questions and the willingness to talk frankly about motives underlying sexual behavior can truly challenge and impact the perspective of young girls.

Frustrated because harmful messages of beauty and sex appeal continue to surround these young girls, convincing them over and over again that beauty must surely be defined by sex appeal, and sex must surely be able to secure love.

As I drove home later that day, I thought about my own daughter.  Just 16 months now.  At such a young age, I don’t fret over her appearance.  She can rub her drool all over her face to her heart’s content.  However, I would be deluding myself if I said I didn’t care how she looked at all.  It tickles me when she’s in a cute outfit, and I can’t wait for the day that she grows more hair.  I notice that I worry just a tad bit more about her head bonks than my son’s.  I expect my attention to her appearance will only increase as she grows older.  Both children and parents alike are swayed by peer pressure and the opinions of others.  Whether I want to admit it or not, a physical standard of beauty is deeply ingrained in me.

Beauty should rightly be celebrated.  But what defines it?  And how does that definition grow and change in each of us?

I wonder what definition of beauty I am passing on to my own daughter.  What do I compliment and praise? How do I view beauty, fashion, and make-up for myself?  Such subtle details are absorbed by daily observation.  Over time, they form a persuasive ideal of what is deemed beautiful.  These messages start first and foremost at home.  More messages from television, friends, and pop culture will soon bombard the landscape and fire missiles of doubt or insecurity.

I hope my little girl will grow up to know that she is beautiful.  Simply beautiful.  Period.  No strings attached.  No standards to meet.  Beautiful even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it.  And as she grows comfortable and secure in her own beauty, I hope she will increasingly forget that she is beautiful and, instead, realize that she is even more than just that.

Photo by Jacques Lowe

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3 thoughts on “The Beauty of a Girl

  1. I’ve been lucky with my kids not picking up fashion pressure from television. There are so many interesting things to do in life that we’ve never watched much TV. When we do, it’s things like Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune. We mute commercials and don’t really watch them. Now with the advent of DVR, it’s great to be able to pause shows at the beginning so that when we’re ready to watch, we can skip through the commercials. That helps control what their little minds are exposed to, too.

    Our focus has always been “clean” and “modest” rather than what’s considered most stylish. When they were little, they wore whatever I bought for them, so I had a strong influence on their early wardrobe. Now that the girls are older, they dress according to their interests – which center around horses, so they wear jeans, boots, and western-cut shirts – all very modest and attractive. My boys don’t care as much what they wear – clean jeans and a shirt, and they’re good to go.

    • It’s impressive how much TV impacts the perceptions that kids have. This sounds like we’re still in the stone ages, but we don’t have DVR or cable so I don’t even know how it all works. But I love the idea of skipping commercials. For now we mainly pop in DVDs, but I know there will be more TV viewing in the years to come. I also don’t look forward to when they are in school and beginning to care about trends, popularity, etc. I am so not ready for that!
      How did you convey a focus on clean and modest? Was it primarily just teaching them this verbally over time? Did you have to put your foot down much in terms of just saying no to something?

      • Verbally and example. Discretely pointing out counter-examples, too.

        I don’t remember ever having to put my foot down as to what the kids could wear, and have been trying to figure out how that happened. The kids tend to wear jeans and t-shirts, or shorts/shirts when it’s hot. Plain T’s are $2-3 at Michael’s craft stores (maybe other craft stores, too, because they want to sell you fabric paint, glitter, etc). My older three are teens now, and they wear jeans & western shirts.

        The big issue is finding tops for girls that aren’t cut too low (next to impossible), and shorts/skirts/dresses that aren’t too short. I taught the kids when they were small that we don’t wear clothes that show off our underwear, even when we sit down, so shorts should be mid-thigh or longer. They now prefer their dresses/skirts mid-calf. Our solution has been to sew. It seems like sewing would take a lot of time, but it’s less time-consuming than going from store to store to store searching for appropriate clothes. The kids have fun choosing fabric, and I’ve been able to make some one-of-a-kind things for them. When adults gush about how great they look, and other kids wish they had an outfit like my kids’, then they feel like what they’re wearing is best/special instead of ordinary. I think we’ve been lucky.

        TV: We can’t get any reception without a satelite dish (no cable option), which means no evening news and no sports, so we subscribed to Dish. It came with DVR, or we wouldn’t have one, either. Now I’m glad we have it.

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