There are books and blog posts and news articles that I comb through in the dark hours while my daughter sleeps. And they say that girls need to hear that they are brave and strong and capable. That their bodies are useful more than they are beautiful.
I don’t doubt that’s true.
But my baby is fast asleep next door wrapped around with the pink and white and wildly frilly tutu she wouldn’t take off before bed.
And I imagine there’s something to that too.
And last year when we were packing up suitcases for our flight home to South Africa and Christmas with the family we hadn’t seen in two years I threw in six princess dresses at the last minute. They were soft hand-me-downs and folded up so small and light and fragile into the nooks and crannies of space between our every day essentials that you’d hardly notice them.
On impulse I packed a blue Cinderella and yellow Belle and pink Barbie. Part of my brain thought it ridiculous.
But I had this other feeling that there may be princesses in need of dresses.
The thing about beauty, is that it’s always there.
It just looks different for each of us.
But it’s always there waiting to be called out.
A grown up friend writes me that, “I want to be told that I’m beautiful too.”
Behind our glasses and insecurities, behind our unruly bangs and business suits or yoga pants, behind our accomplishments and husbands and kids, there is always the little girl who wants to be told she’s beautiful.
I know this because I see her in the mirror.
I ignored her for years. But I’m learning she needs to be taken seriously. Having a daughter is teaching me that.
As seriously as I take her brain and her athleticism and her kindness. As seriously as I take her passions and ideas and hurts.
Even though I’ve spent years pretending she doesn’t exist. This part of me that embarrasses me; embarrasses my self-image that wants no part of Barbies and defines herself by her brain and not her looks – this part of me that longs to be named, “beautiful.”
Because I remember all the ways I did not and was not when I was a young girl. Or when I was a speaker at a conference last week.
She has thin, straggly hair. Her ears stick out.
These are labels I have accepted about myself since I was a teenager because a too-hip-for-his-age hairdresser once whispered them to my mom. As if they were a shameful secret. As if I should apologize for ears that got in the way of his scissors.
I remember how my cheeks burned. How for years afterward I felt embarrassed anytime a hairdresser came to trimming in the vicinity. How I imagined they must be appalled by my big and sticky-out-ears.
He named me un-beautiful and I believed him.
I wonder what would have happened if my mother had voiced a response to the sentences that slipped so careless from a hairdresser all those years ago? I wonder with all of life’s long list of busyness if moments like those even qualify for taking the time to respond?
And then one afternoon decades later in South Africa we have a princess party for our daughters. And I see in each of their wide eyes and longing looks at the mirror that beauty loves to be called out, to be celebrated and cherished and recognized by our mothers.
Our daughters will see themselves as beautiful in our eyes first. If we let them.
And once they’ve seen themselves as beautiful in the eyes of their mother, maybe they’ll be braver dancing through the minefields of what the movies and magazines scream is desirable.
On a whim the moms dress up too.
The only princess dresses that fit us are the ones from our weddings. I haven’t worn mine in 14 years and it won’t zip up all the way in back.
But I step into it anyway and see my own wild hopes echoed in five pairs of eyes.
How beauty is more than dress size and at the same time never less than princess size.
How God looks at our insides but He also made our unique outsides and maybe we need to stop making false divides.
And I feel how I am wired to feel beautiful as four sets of small arms wrap tightly around my neck and the promise that the future holds love stories for each of us.
Daughters lost and found, abandoned, broken and adopted.
And the word might not always fit us. It might feel like it’s too tight or sticking in back like my dress that gaped open with a disgruntled zipper. But it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that I’d outgrown that dress, because you can’t ever outgrow the beauty of being loved.
And when my two year old daughter wrapped herself around with my veil I saw my past, present and future all cupped in that singular moment in the hands of the God who declares us all beautiful.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. ~Ecclesiastes 3:11
That means you and me and our hurts and unhappy endings.
Everything is beautiful when reflected in the eyes of the God who names us so.
Beauty like so much grace, so much hope, so many promises,
in the eye of the faithful, heavenly beholder.
Hear me; hear Him –
you are beloved and wildly beautiful friend. It’s OK to ask.
From your cracked, tired heels to your fingers all wrinkled from dish water and diapers changed in the dark. From your brain bursting with curiosity and creativity to your hair that you wish was curlier, straighter, thicker, thinner.
That mole, that wrinkle, that pair of jeans that doesn’t fit like it used to on that set of hips. Those tired eyes, those strong arms, that crooked grin.
That brave mouth that speaks up for children when they can’t speak for themselves, those feet that run hard after a God who has called you.
Those aching muscles, that broken heart, that doubting faith.
Every laugh line.
Yes even that belly, all soft with the memory of life.
Every inside and every out.
Keep reading about my struggle with beauty and what my daughter has taught me about it in my book, Surprised by Motherhood.
Click here to order your copy.
Click here to read the first three chapters for free.