I remember lying in the ultrasound room at my OB/GYN’s office when I found out I was having a daughter and feeling the rush of excitement that comes from knowing you’re about to get the opportunity to raise a strong female. I also knew right away that I wanted to raise her differently from the way I was raised.
When I was a child, everything was about appearances—how you looked, how others looked, how one presented themself, etc. It was a pretty traditional Southern upbringing, but a toxic one, to be sure. As a result, I grew up hyper-conscious about how I looked and with horrible body image issues. I flat-out refused to place that same burden on my own kids.
So, I gritted my teeth when my toddlers insisted on wearing their Halloween costumes year-round in public. And, once my daughter was in middle school and her body began to change, I sat on my hands while she went to school every day with greasy hair and an unkempt look. It was hard to allow this to happen because when I looked at her beautiful skin and thick, auburn hair, all I could see was beauty and how pretty she was when her hair was clean and bouncy and she was wearing something cute. But, I also knew better than to say anything about her appearance and make a big deal out of anything focusing on her outsides, instead of her insides. I was on a mission, but, man alive, was it hard to endure!
As any parent does, I worried about the other kids at school making fun of her. I wanted to shield her from that criticism, but I also knew I didn’t want to make her appearance an issue. She seemed perfectly content going to school having just rolled out of bed, with zero time or attention put into her hygiene, and so I rolled with it. I hoped and prayed that all of my hand-wringing and looking the other way when she came downstairs with mismatched clothing and crazy hair would pay off at some point down the road.
But now, something extraordinary has happened. She has taken an interest in taking care of her body and enjoys clothes and makeup! I don’t know what switched inside of her—and I’m happy to report that it wasn’t anything I said or did to make this change occur—but she is blooming into not only a beautiful creature on the outside, but also a confident and secure creature on the inside. I don’t know that I can take the credit for her confidence and security in how she looks, but I hope that by taking the constant self-criticism and hyper-awareness of her outside appearance out of the equation, she was afforded the chance to come to terms with who she is and then realize that she can take care of her appearance and use it to exemplify who she is on the inside.
As parents, we often have lofty aspirations for the messages that we want to impart to our kids. Some of my aspirations circled the drain early on, but I’m pleased that I’ve broken a nasty cycle that has tormented the women in my family for generations. While I often think that my grandmother would spin in her grave if she could see my daughter on her less-pulled-together days, I also think my grandmother would be proud of the strong, confident female I’ve helped raise and how my daughter will walk in the world without having to carry the heavy burdens of people-pleasing and self-doubt that generations before me have endured.