The Danger of My Daughter’s Beauty
My daughter is beautiful. I say this as a smitten mother, as mothers are wont to do, and as a person who hears it constantly from others. “So cute,” “so pretty,” “gorgeous,” and “beautiful” are adjectives others use to describe her. Again as her mother, I think that she is beautiful outside and in, even though the tantruming thing is getting SUPER OLD.
Being beautiful was valued in my word growing up and that was tricky, particularly in my 20s when I had to confront the fact that I thought no one would like me if they didn’t think I was beautiful, or at minimum, desirable in some way. It was a difficult and painful realization that altered my relationship with the world and with men. Being beautiful, and our individual relationships to what that means for us, haunts us as women through the decades as we have to once again get comfortable in our skin, our changing bodies simultaneously betraying us and housing what we are at our deepest level, our most vulnerable and raw.
Yesterday I was waiting for take-out with my daughter and a man commented on my daughter’s beauty. It was the first time I found it chilling, not because I am always on guard for predators, but because I know that is always what people will see first. The danger in that is that when women are reduced to their beauty, the power of their minds can sometimes be lost. I don’t want that for her.
It’s as if women have to choose whether they want to be smart or beautiful in order to fit into some kind of pre-ordained schema that allows women to be comfortably categorized according to their value to men – on some kind of quota system where on the conveyor belt of life where you can only be filled up with one thing to the absolute exclusion of the other. Aya is 2.5 years old. And she is so much more than one. Or both. Or either.
I have said myself that her face will always get her whatever she wants. She is glorious and adorable and looks wise beyond her years all at once. She is smart, sassy, brilliant, and bold and she knows her own mind better than I know mine sometimes. When I look at her I lament the times when I feel I was passed over for opportunities and praise as a girl simply because I was girl. I learned that not everyone can see girls as smart. I remember a close friend of mine telling me she couldn’t see me that way when I professed my chosen career of professor. I remember also that my when my law teacher in high school talked to me about the subject like he did any boy in the class, how proud I was to be recognized for all the hard work I put into his course. He actually saw me. And I’ll never forget that.
I know that her beauty will open many doors for her but those are not usually the ones a girl or woman wants to walk through. I’ve watched young family members (because apparently my family is chalk-a-block with beautiful people, eh?) struggle with the choices that are laid like garlands at the feet of young women with dismay because what being beautiful gets women is ultimately very limited. And it comes with a decided expiration date.
I don’t worry about Aya as much as I worry about what the world will tell her – and already tells her – about herself: That to be beautiful is a singular trait that will get you far if you just know how to use it and that that usually has uncomfortable string attached. I don’t want beauty to be the ties that bind her. I want her to feel the freedom that comes with knowing that you can do anything and that you don’t need to prove your intelligence or assure anyone that you are very capable of being taken seriously.
As I myself move toward the decades where women increasingly become invisible in a world that overvalues youth at the expense of everything else, I will watch my daughter navigate the dicey waters of her beauty and I will fret.
Today she held my face in her hands and said she liked it. I will never be able to tell her how much I love her precious face, her warm heart, and all the goodness she brings me.
But I promise that I will rue the day she is reduced to her exterior at the expense of her vast and astonishing interior.
And I will raise her to do the same.