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