What I Want To Teach My Daughters About Beauty

As I am raising a teenaged daughter, I've been reading a lot of posts lately about what we should be teaching our daughters about beauty. Much of what I've read is of course well meaning, but perhaps also a little misguided and even a bit deluded in my thinking.


And what I'm reading is that, in order to help them develop their character and bolster their self esteem, we should essentially tell our daughters - as we choose our outfits and accessories and do our hair and makeup, even if it's only to make ourselves happy and not because of any external pressure - that aesthetics don't matter or benefit us AT ALL. That REAL beauty is only internal and always subjective.

Well if there's anything I've learned from having two teenaged children and one toddler, it's that kids are smarter and more observant than we give them credit for. They are quite capable of synthesizing nuance over time and are savvy to our disingenuousness, or even downright hypocrisy, when we try to convince them of a "truth" that conflicts with our willful and consistent practices, even if they can't quite put their finger on it.

Another thing I've learned from being both parent and child is that it takes us a very long time to realize the truly good and balanced lessons of life, so it can take us years, decades even, before we're actuating the good things that we were taught when we were younger.

Here's my truth. I'm a pretty self confident woman with achievements behind and ahead of me that aren't based on looks. Most days, I really like the person I am endeavoring to be, whether I am well put together on those days or not.

Oh, and most days, I am really not well put together. Like, AT ALL.

But you know what? I also like when I do my hair and makeup and wear a super cute outfit and someone else notices in a nice way. I like when I wear a new dress or sport a new do and my husband compliments me on it. I like how clothes look on my body a little better when I'm 10 (or 20) pounds thinner, and my thighs and belly jiggle a little less, but I'm not losing sleep over it. I love how a little mascara and lip gloss make me look and feel totally feminine. I like when people tell me I have fabulous unfussy hair. Hell, I love my own fabulous, low maintenance hair. (And I love Loc for making it possible. Thanks, Loc!)

And it's not because I'm insecure or oppressed. It's because I am fully human and fully woman.

I am intelligent and powerful enough to pick and choose the days when I'm going to walk out my door and turn heads and then really not give a crap all the other days because I've got other ideas and priorities on my mind.

I don't think I do my daughter any favors to deny that it matters to me to the extent that it does. I am also not going to spare her too much of her teen and young adult angst about her appearance by doing that either. That is a rite of passage that is not only socially engendered, but also coded into our biology. I have every confidence that she has the intelligence and inner strength to walk through that valley and emerge wiser and more confident for the experience.

But I do believe I can teach her how empowering it can be to call on the powers afforded us by external beauty when we want to, while endeavoring to develop our inner beauty always.

So while I've never told my daughter she needs to lose weight, or do anything more to her hair than brush the tangles out of it, or wear a different outfit (I am lucky in that she doesn't test my boundaries of appropriateness - and yes, I do have them, and they are not designed to oppress her), I will continue to compliment her when I think she's done her hair in a way that I know she thinks is attractive, or when she picks a cute shirt that projects her personality, or when she tries some new Michelle Phan makeup trick she learned on youtube. And I'll keep telling her to rock and enjoy her uniquely Asian-Latina features.

And of course inner growth and development is a given always.

Both of my daughters will be full grown women one day, and I want them to embrace and enjoy all that it means to be just that.

Beautiful in all ways, as they choose.

And that doesn't start with some wholesale rejection of the idea of external beauty or attractiveness. It begins with a thoughtful and intelligent acceptance and ongoing dialogue about the fact that it is part of our reality, and that we have a choice in the positive role it can play in our lives.

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