15 August, 2008

Beauty in Question

A few days ago my daughter asked, out of the blue as are most of her more poignant questions, whether or not she would be beautiful when she gets older. 
Unfortunately, I do not like the way I responded as I was more curious about the question itself rather than answering her - that she will be beautiful at any age and every age.  She is beautiful now, and although her body and her looks will change with age and life, she will remain beautiful in so many different and unique ways. 
I still wonder why she asked the question.  Although we don't focus a lot on looks in my house, I am raising her to be confident in her appearance and in who she is.  At this age, dancing helps as she is completely comfortable with her body and all it can do.  But how long will that last?
There is a point when her looks will become of the upmost importance to her; when she may find herself determining her self worth based upon the thoughts and opinions of others and of society at large.  There is a point when she might not remember that it is the glow from within and happiness with one's self that is beautiful. 
I had several close guy friends in graduate school.  One of which was quite the Southern Charmer.  Straight out of South Carolina, this man could probably charm the pants off any female alive.  Attractive, yes - but mostly it was all personality. 
This guy loves Asian women.  He had a story or two about a blond that had found her way into his heart, but for the most part, he found Asian women to be the ones for him.  Given that I believe men have to be attracted, if only slightly, to a woman to be her friend, I have no idea why this charmer and I connected, as I am not at all Asian, but connect we did, and we became good friends.  Immediately after he obtained his PHD, he moved to Thailand.  Last I heard, he is in Korea trying to go back to Thailand.  He is drawn to Asia in general and to its women in particular!  
I wonder, now that I am a mom of an 8 year old daughter going on 16, how he might have answered her question?  To him, the Asian look is beautiful, but is the more Northern Italian look as well?  And what about the Scandinavian or the African, or the American?  Does he immediately note that a woman is not Asian and overlook all that she is?  Or has the media and society left us with a different notion of beautiful, leaving  us feeling as if we can always do better or have more - focused upon the image over the true beauty of the person? 
The Diva's question reminded me of something that Brandy wrote - And that’s the trouble with beauty- we are so quick to determine if something is beautiful, so quick to judge it, to look at it- that we often forget to really see it. For what it is, regardless of what we what or don’t want it to be. What we do or don’t deem beautiful.
Beauty, I suppose, is genuinely in the eye of the beholder? 
I went to New York with another guy from graduate school where he spent a few days taking in the sites - and by that I mean women.  He didn't have a type, a look he found to be more beautiful or inviting than another.  He found all women to be beautiful - each with something that he could appreciate.  (I have no doubt he will raise his daughter with a healthy attitude about her appearance)
I can recognize classic beauty, but I can recognize other aspects of beauty as well - the beauty that comes with life lived and experienced.  The beauty that is found in laughter and joy.  But does society have this same ability?  Do men allow themselves, as my New York friend does, the time to acknowledge beauty when it doesn't fit their ideal?  
I can not tell my daughter that society, men, or even women will find her physically beautiful throughout her life.  I can tell her though, that she is beautiful and will always be so because she lives life with such passion and joy.  Her compassion, passion, outgoing nature, and vivacious personality shine through making her beautiful.  At some point, my opinion will not matter as much as it does at the moment.  I hope that she will allow her own belief in herself and her confidence to speak more loudly than those who narrowly define beauty based upon an impossible or superficial ideal. 
Kat wrote an interesting post on beauty here!


Mike said...

Ah the life of a parent. It's always hard on answering those tough questions. Is the answer more important than where the question came from. Since it's always changing I never know. Just do the best I can.

T said...

I love this post. My soldier is always telling me to make sure my girls get into sports. He says that athletics (and I'm sure, dance as well) are good for girls because it helps them to define their own self-esteem rather than depend on boys to do it for them. I'd never heard this before but I'm hearing it more and more now. (How a man with no children comes up with this stuff??)

Anyway, I agree with what you're doing so far. One of my favorite quotes, as a mom, is from Naomi Wolf: "A mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem."

You are who she's watching. Even when it seems like she's not.

justrun said...

I cannot even imagine those battles that a parent must face against the world, for their children.
Yesterday I saw so many little girls in bathing suits (at the water park) and so many that were visibly uncomfortable with their bodies. It was so hard for me not to just blurt out right there: "You're perfect." They absolutely were, and it pains me to know that that's not what they see.

You seem to set a great example for her, and that's what will sink in and, someday, be very clear to her.

dadshouse said...

I can be friends with a woman without being totally attracted to her. I tend to go for latinas in dating, but my female friends are varying ethinicities.

As for the female body and aging - as I watch the Olympics, I'm being careful not to criticize any female body types in front of my daughter. Yes, they are all athletes on TV, but some are in better shape, or have more classic looks. I don't want my daughter to think there is only one way for a woman to be beautiful. Every woman is beautiful on her own terms.

The Exception said...

Mike - Sometimes the question is as important as the answer. Who knew parenting could be so complex. I don't recall my parents dealing with these issues so perhaps I think about things too much.

T - Sports definitely help. They build that sense of self above and beyond the group, help with carriage and poise, and well, general physical health is never a bad thing! Your soldier has a mind for working with kids!

Dancing has a different set of issues when it comes to body image and such. Fortunately we have not faced those yet and may not for years. Girls in my daughter's ballet class have though "She needs to stop ice skating as her legs are getting too big" That sort of thing. So many things to keep in mind!

JR - It is sad to see little girls with body image concerns. A child asked me if she was "skinny" at the pool a while back. She was 7. Like you, I wanted to tell her she was perfectly her - which is what I told her. I have never heard the girls talk about one being heavy or one being skinny, but they start comparing themselves to others early... and who knows what they are hearing at home as their parents work with their own body images.

DH - Women are beautiful in so many different ways. The difficulty is getting society to recognize that and take some of the pressure off women, girls especially. Yet, rather than doing so, men and boys are now feeling a similar pressure. Men are amazing creatures in their own right, and yet one doesn't always see that reflected by the world in which we live.

Dave said...

Hey E, Thanks for the link to a couple of posts.

As to what to think about beauty? My opinion, totally uniformed, is the less emphasised the better. Diva knows and will know what you think about the subject without you saying much. Said differently, think about what you do and say outside the question she asked, that's what she'll think about.

cathouse teri said...

When I was young and I asked my mother that, she just broke into singing, "Que Sera, Sera!"

(I'm not kidding.)