Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm not beautiful

Sean was working late and I had the girls in various stages of undress as we transitioned from reading to dancing. Ave was the first to get dressed, donning her pink ballerina costume with its bodice of dog-eared bows and quirky, stick-straight-up-instead-of-out-tutu. I was rushing to get Briar a fourth, fifth and six skirt to add to her faux hoop-skirtesque ensemble.

"Inowbooyflll," tickled at my ear.

"What?" I asked turning to see who and where it came from.

Ave was sitting with her knees tucked beneath her in the corner, her hair fell over her face as she looked up at me. "What did you say, sweets?" I asked.

"I'm not beautiful," she said, eyes sorrowful and piercing.

"You're what?" I said lowering myself to her level.

"I'm not beautiful," she said louder, clutching one bent knee in her arms as her chin rested on it.

"Excuse me? You aren't beautiful? I'm sorry, but you are the most beautiful middlest, Avery I have ever known." I said it with a playful, emphatic tone, but inside my chest felt as if it was pressing in on itself.

No, please no. Please don't let this be happening.

"No, I'm just not beautiful." Her eyes were free of tears, her mouth flirting with a smile, but the damage was done. She said something that shouldn't matter, shouldn't stop play and that simply wasn't true.


I still have days when I put on a dress and I fear that my height or build will make someone question my femininity. It's ridiculous, but years of doubt and insecurities, genuine and posed, leave a mark. I am cautious not to say things in front of the girls, but they see beyond what we know. I am strong and proud, tall and sharp, but it is in my moments of slouching, my hesitations springing from doubt that call out to them.

She didn't say she wasn't smart, didn't say she wasn't strong, she chose beautiful. She wanted my attention, my concern. Have I done something to make her think that beauty is what I value most? Has someone else? Does it matter?

She is my strong, beautiful, hilarious, amazing Avery. Her hurt made me feel powerless and I fear it's but a fraction of what lies ahead. Now I have to try and find my way between "Yes, you are" and "You are so many things," making sure I get the balance right.

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Anonymous said...

Oh boy, have I been there. I think there is such a fine line because we want them to know they are absolutely beautiful. Yet, at the same time we want them to know and understand that what someone looks like on the outside is not what defines them. How we balance this and make sure that we do not do additional damage is beyond me. I wish I had a great one liner for my daughter(s) when they make this statement (so far, only the 5 year old has).

Ahhh, the joys of raising daughters.


Anonymous said...

I sigh with you- that must be painful... You're daughter is so beautiful- you just tell her I think so if that will help! It is a cruel world with a lot of twisted values. I'm wondering if she is just comparing herself to the magic of the ballerinas she has been admiring? I fear the day when my daughter sees herself as the "different one" and try to offset that with whatever I can think of!

BetteJo said...

I used to tell my daughter she was smart and talented and as a bonus - she was beautiful too. And then I would tell her - but the most important thing is that you're a good person with a wonderfully loving heart. The emphasis out there is SO much on looks, I fought against that every step of the way.

Heather said...

It is hard to know what to say or do to make our girls feel value. I ask my daughter if she is smart and beautiful and she always smiles and says yes to both. Who knows if I'm screwing up? I'm just doing the best I can. I think that's all we can ask.

flutter said...

her beauty steals the breath out of me.

Myshka said...

That post feels like the beginning of a whole new chapter for you, for Avery... all of them will get to that point. You and I survived that feeling, and are still battling it in little ways. It never leaves, but they will find their own amazing way to flick the little shadows away when they come to distract them. They'll always know that they're smart, funny, talented, kind and beautiful. Because they have the perfect example of it standing right in front of them.

Amanda said...

It never fails that, just when I think I might be posting something that is "just me," you all gather and nod, or furrow your brow or simply let me know that you are there.

Much has been going on in the blogging community and outside, commenting on approach, attitude etc. I just want you to know that I cherish your comments and depend on this place; it is my community, my family and one of my great joys.


Jenn said...

Oh, how this hit home...

You know how they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? It's just tough when that beholder is ourselves and we aren't in the least bit kind to the image before us.

I don't have words of wisdom here, I just have a hand, patting an empty spot on a couch, beckoning you to come sit for a while.

Janet said...

It starts so young.

My own Avery-aged girl is obsessed with princess culture right now. she won't wear pants because she wants to be a "beautiful pwincess." She balks at dresses that don't fall into her precise, sparkly definition of beauty. And I hate it.

But my first girl went through this too, and has moved on. She still likes to look pretty but she wears pants unapologetically and shows off her muscles to me, proclaiming her strength. I think your approaach of stressing all of their wonderful traits is a good one. Stay strong, mama. We're in this together.

Amy said...

Oof this hits home. Ave is magic. And as was said before, she's in the hands of one wonderful mama to show her the way.

Crystal D said...

From the sound of the look on her face, she might have just been testing you to see what you would say. Madeline did it from time to time, before she went to school, with "Nobody will like me" and she would make up stories and situations where kids weren't nice to her.
I think they wonder about leaving the nest of protection and wonder what it would be like to just say the thing that is the opposite of what they hear. How often she hears you say how beautiful she is and how much you love an adore her. Maybe she is just testing, she knows you are a safe person to do that with.

Anonymous said...

Something I always dreaded. In that one very small way, I'm glad I've only got the boys left. I can't imagine trying to teach a little girl to love herself when filled with the opposite for myself.
Your blog is amazing!

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

Striking that balance is key, and the hardest part.

My daughter spoke of her (nonexistent) thunder thighs over the weekend - something not of my lips - and my heart broke.

I thought I could protect her from that crap but it found it's way to us, as she starts middle school this fall.

So I struggled to say the right words: Speaking the truth and reminding her we are more than our looks, our bodies.

I wish I knew how to do it better.