My husband and I welcomed a daughter into the world six years ago. Since then, we have watched the princess dolls pile up around our home; everyone from Tiana to Merida with the occasional Barbie mixed in for good measure. But honestly, we teach our daughter that she is not a princess.
We allow these fictional women to enter our daughter’s small world, and they parade around her bedroom floor and toy chest with zest. They all seem to have a couple things in common no matter their brand or origin; they are each beautiful. Their eyes take up half their faces and their bosoms are, ahem, usually very generous. They come with shiny coifed hairdos and are molded with impossibly tiny feet. My daughter thinks they are beautiful, and I have to agree. But this is what our family has started calling “Princess Beauty”. What I want to remind my own living, breathing daughter is that real beauty comes from the heart.
I would like to say that every parent that has welcomed a baby girl into the world knows that they are The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. It’s just a fact. We all believe our daughters to be legitimately beautiful, and I wholly support this. But when beauty started to become associated with looks instead of brains, actions, and heart (around the age of three for my daughter) I started to question how we could tell her she’s beautiful without making the compliment a parallel to Sleeping Beauty. (Who, by the way, just lays there being beautiful.)
Enter the days when I do not wear makeup. Purposefully. I stand before my bathroom mirror and as my daughter runs by I say, out loud, “I can see my beautiful heart shining through today. I don’t feel like I need to put on makeup.” She usually skitters to a brief stop, listens for a beat, and then runs off again. But I know she heard me. I am trying to do a little self-talk that will hopefully inspire her to hear my intentions. I want her to see where my value of beauty lies; in my heart.
When my daughter shares with me that she invited a new friend to sit with her at lunch, or when she snuggles with her younger brothers, I tell her I can see her beautiful heart shining through. When she sees an actress on TV and remarks that the woman is beautiful, I always add, “well, she must have a gorgeous heart then!” She laughs, usually understanding what I’m playing at, but she also hears me.
Having a daughter in this day and age is sometimes a scary thing. We parents are up against some pretty big cultural delusions about what beauty is and what it is not. However, we can start with reframing what real beauty can be for our daughters (and, for that matter, ourselves). Real beauty cannot be seen by the eye of the beholder because real beauty isn’t seen at all; it lies deep within the hearts of all of us, and speaks volumes about how we live our lives and raise our children.
I want to remind my daughter that our family believes in a faith that treasures hearts, not faces. That our family cherishes love not lipstick. That I think building a strong foundation is composed of character, not bottles of liquid. That fighting for a grace-filled heart is more important than fighting wrinkles.
My daughter still plays with Barbies, Tinkerbell, and the like. Sometimes they go to the hair salon. Sometimes they get ready to go the ball. But every so often the done-up dolls sit quietly in a box while my daughter and I go outside to sit under the sky and find shapes in the clouds. No mirror needed. Her smile tells me everything I need to know.