Call me biased but I think my daughters are the most beautiful girls in the world. And in a world that serves us up unrealistic standards and expectations when it comes to beauty, I yearn for them to grow up knowing how perfect they are; to grow up to be comfortable in their skin.
And as I have realised, I can have a lot to do with how they view themselves. I’ve heard it before and read it again recently in an article in The Atlantic - the way a mother perceives her own beauty will influence how her daughters see theirs.
As Hannah Seligson writes in the article, “A 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology called “Body Dissatisfaction and Its Correlates in 5- to 7-Year-Old Girls: A Social Learning Experiment,” revealed what I feared: When mothers and their young daughters are put together in front of a mirror, girls emulate how their mothers talk about their own bodies.”
Thinking back, my mother was pretty no-fuss when it came to things of beauty. She would (and still does) always present herself well, taking care in her appearance, but not letting it take over her life. I guess, looking at it in hindsight, she had a good balance. I don’t ever recall her complaining about the way she looked, something which is probably a rare trait in women of my generation+. And she taught us to also present ourselves well out of respect for ourselves and others. For my sisters and I, without us even being aware, her attitude was a blessing. I’m sure we all have our little insecurities but overall we like to dress and look our best, though it’s not the be-all and end-all. I think she taught us that.
I’d like to be that example for my daughters. It’s already something I’m aware of even though my girls are little. The airbrushed images of women that I’ve grown up around have had their impact on me, I know. I am aware of how easily I can complain about my image to my husband or siblings or friends, and how that reaches the ears of the little girls who just want to be pretty like their mum (no comment on my looks, it’s just what little girls do!) I am aware of how I don’t easily take a compliment, and I am trying hard to be intentional about accepting them now rather than brushing them off or disagreeing.
“Indeed, deflecting attention from how girls look is one of the most important, if fraught, issues of our time,” says Seligson in The Atlantic piece. I have to say that I don’t entirely agree. To an extent, girls and women need to know that they are beautiful, because this knowledge is so connected to our sense of being lovable. So while it wouldn’t be healthy to never talk about beauty, it should be in there among all the other wonderful traits and talents that we have.
I’ll always remember dressing for a party one night many years ago, umm-ing and aah-ing about a jumpsuit that I liked but wasn’t sure would be as loved by everyone else. My dad told me to “be myself and be happy,” and I don’t think he realises how much those words have stayed with me. When self-image can make or break a healthy psychology, we should be very aware of how our words and actions impact our daughters.
Tamara El-Rahi is a full-time mother of two and freelance writer from Sydney.