by Lee Stewart

When You Want Your Daughter to Know Who She Is

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then I want my daughter to know what I see. The world is speaking to her in the language of photoshop. The world is telling her not just how she should look, but how she should present herself, and what kind of woman she should be. I want her to hear my voice above those other messages. I want her to know who she is.

But first I have to know who I am.

Sometimes I start inching toward the freedom in knowing who I am, but then I shrink back. It’s more comfortable to stand in scrutiny. It’s hard to acknowledge God knows my frame and says I am fearfully and wonderfully made. He sees me. He says He knit me together and wrote the days fashioned for me. Where can I flee from His presence? I am not hidden from Him. Does my soul know it full well? Our bodies are part of who we are. Does it matter to God when we “smack talk” flesh and bones? We’re starting a dialogue with ourselves and there’s a thread of perfectionism strangling the whole conversation.

Insecurity does not discriminate. It preys on all shapes and sizes. It’s always chiding, “Not enough,” to whatever God has given us. During my last pregnancy, I remember those days when I begrudgingly looked in the mirror. The scrutiny in my heart bubbled over into words. As those words hung in the air, I realized something—I’m teaching my daughter a vocabulary. I’m also showing her a vocabulary. I want to splash around in the pool even if I’m 8 months pregnant and can’t reach my toes. I want to take care of my physical well-being, but I want to swallow a healthy dose of apathy about myself as well! If I can’t get comfortable in my own skin, I risk making her uncomfortable in hers.

Motherhood speaks a language of labels and measurements. The pregnancy test is positive or negative. Monthly weigh-ins happen and fundal height is checked. Then we have kick counts and timed contractions. When the baby arrives, weight is first on the list of stats. Then it’s all about who the baby looks like and how much does she favor the sibling. Then people want to know if the baby is “good” or not. We have developmental milestones, chart comparisons, percentiles, and sleep habits. As our kids get a little older, we start discussing personality, aptitude, and whether the child is social or shy. And on and on. I think sometimes we get too cozy and forget to modify our language as the children grow. As our sons and daughters mature, our labels need to be shaped by empathy. If we label (or point out observations) without discretion, we may make our children want to hide.

I don’t think the answer is to toss out labels altogether. There’s a sermon being preached in the blog world these days. I hear them tell me I should keep phrases like “You’re so pretty” to a minimum. They want me to address her mind and her heart, skipping over the beauty on her face. They think this will foster confidence and keep her focused on inward beauty. I like the premise, but the application seems frail. I’m not trying to pit her intellect against her appearance, as though the praise of the one demands dismissal of the other. I want to acknowledge all of her. I want to invest in her heart and her mind, but if she puts on a dress and twirls, I want to affirm that moment, too. I know she wants a smile and a whole hearted acceptance. She’s wondering, “Do you see me, Mommy?”

My daughter turns four this month. I hurt when I imagine her as a young woman, scorning some aspect of the way God made her. I spent hours upon hours studying that face of hers, right from the moment we met. I memorized her expression as I held her. I touched each of her fingers and thanked God He made those little hands. I noticed the shape of her head and the curve of her hairline. In those first moments with her as a newborn, I was mesmerized by something altogether tangible. I was drawn to what was visible. As time passes, I watch her grow and change. I see her golden locks get longer. I note the shades of green and brown in her eyes. I pay attention to her smile. I tell her she’s beautiful.

When we get to know who we are, it is inexplicable apart from who He is. He hems us in, behind and before. When we get to know God, He is inexplicable from the man Christ Jesus. History met Christ through His body. God incarnate came and took on flesh. Now, if He dwells in us, our bodies are His temples. I want my children to know who they are. I want to know who I am. I want us to find out who God is, what He says about us, and what He says about Himself. Then I pray we have the courage to agree with it.

Lee Stewart

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