Dear Mothers of Daughters,
Stop encouraging your little girl. OK, no, don't. But stop doing it in a way that is killing her and equipping her to kill.
I hear it all the time. Subtle killers, disguised as encouragement, loving praise, confidence boosting little pep-talks. "You're so lucky to have such naturally straight teeth, other kids have to spend years in braces" "Do you know how many girls would kill for your long legs and thin waist?" "Don't complain about your flat hair, lots of girls are spending lots of money trying to straighten and flatten their hair to be like yours." Without even knowing, and indeed, while trying to do good, to tell our daughters that they are beautiful, we communicate that it's all a big competition, that our little girls' precious body exists to be an object of envy and is praiseworthy only in the context of someone else's lack. By constantly pairing praise and admonishment to be thankful with the highlighting of what other girls want or don't have we teach that there is a limited supply of beauty and loveliness going around. That if she has something, others must be in want of it.
My little girl was born with beautiful fine, chestnut brown hair that highlights in the sun and curls into soft ringlets at the ends. We took a shower together today and she looked at me, her hair flattened by the weight of water, my tight curls barely weighed down and saturated, and said, "how come my hair doesn't curl up all over like yours. I want curls all over not just at the ends." I was tempted to say "are you kidding me?! you've got good hair, great hair, in fact. Do you have any idea how much I wanted hair like yours when I was growing up- hair that didn't frizz or grow to two times its size on a muggy day, hair that didn't require a half bottle of conditioner just to get the tangles out, hair that didn't hurt to be brushed?!" But I held my tongue and I reminded myself that I don't want to damage her wonderful sense of beauty with the self-injuring talk that I've been fighting against for all these years. So instead, I said, "I'm glad you like my hair, I really like it too. It's got curls all over, and that can be a lot of fun, but you know what, you were made beautiful too, with special little curls right at the bottom. They remind me of ribbon curls hanging from a Christmas gift" (she's all about ribbon curls). And in that moment, I knew I had turned a corner and figured something out. We're talking holy spirit stuff, y'all, because I don't know where else the truth could have come from like that. I knew, right then, that it was my job to teach her to admire without coveting and despising. To accept praise without glorying in someone else's envy.
The lie is that if we tell our daughters enough times that they are the best, that they will believe it. But it's not true, if we tell them that they are the best looking, have the best teeth, the best legs, hair, eyes, it will not give them a rock solid self-esteem. If we tell them that they are better than every other girl, it will not infuse in them a positive self image. If she has the best eyes, all the "pretty eyed" girls become a threat. If she has the thinnest waist, the new girl with a thinner waist is her competition. She will constantly be fearing the next contender who aims to dethrone her. She will always need to seek out the reigning champ to challenge and she will never be enough. Maybe not out loud, maybe not overtly, but in her heart, she will need others to be less so that she can be more. Because, she will have internalized a belief that there is not enough beauty, goodness, personality, charm, brains, whatever, to go around. And, if praise is always attached to another's pity, then it is costly and hard-won and scarce. And fickle. It can be taken away, lost. So she'll believe that she has to fight for it, to maintain her praiseworthy status and she will lose her god-given ability to enjoy others. This is the mean girl epidemic, the jealous girl trend. This is where bullying and belittling and biting come from. I am, because you are not. But this is a lie, and we don't have to the devil's dirty work for him.
So my goal is to tell the truth. I hope you will join me in trying.
Love and life y'all