I want my daughter to be beautiful, like me. There, I said it. I want my daughter to be beautiful, like me. There, I said it twice.

It took a long time for me to say those words out loud. Not the ones about my daughter—I knew she was beautiful from the first moment I laid eyes on her over 24 years ago. To declare so boldly that I am beautiful, well, that has taken me a lifetime to say. It feels vain and self-serving. But I do not think of myself as “beautiful” in ways you might be thinking of; that outside appearance that can so easily disguise a rotten core. I am, or perhaps I should say, I feel beautiful under the surface, in the same place I want my own daughter’s beauty to be revealed.

When I look in the mirror, all I see are the tracks that time has left behind on my face—lines that may tell of a life well-lived, but lines nonetheless. No magic serum in the world can erase those, or the life experiences that created them. They are like a permanent tattoo on my face, the kind of tattoo that announces to the world that I am no longer young. You can call them “smile lines” if it makes you feel better, but they are age lines all the same. Age lines that will ultimately distract from any physical beauty that might have once been there. Though I try to embrace them, I still shake my fists at the heavens, cursing them and scorning Father Time for the thief that he is.

As I have grown older, I have made peace with those lines and have learned to look beyond them to scrutinize my soul more deeply. I am searching now for a different kind of beauty.

I know when my daughter looks at herself in the mirror, she may not see “age lines” or “smile lines” but I also know she doesn’t see the beauty in herself that I see. She sees flaws and imperfections—that renegade pimple, those narrow lips, those full cheeks, that sharp nose, those too thin or too thick brows. She sees herself through the lens that our selfie-obsessed world uses to define “beauty” and consequently, she always falls short.

The beauty I see is what radiates from within her—not in spite of her visible imperfections but because of them. The beauty I see comes from the kindnesses she has extended to others—the tender mercies the universe returns to us tenfold for our acts of kindness toward others. The beauty that doesn’t come from being the best-looking girl in her clique of friends or the best dressed employee in the office; it is what comes from inner confidence and self-acceptance that is borne of prevailing through hardships and defeats and adversity—the refiner’s fire that forges artwork from a lifeless rod of iron. The quiet self-possession that comes from success that often only she knows about and that doesn’t require praise, or a promotion, or validation from anyone else. The kind of beauty that comes from being a “whole person” despite the noises around her that tell her she is less than someone else because she doesn’t meet some arbitrary standards of worldly beauty.

You aren’t beautiful enough, the world says—but you are. You are beautiful because of who you are behind the face in the mirror. Because of the selfless parts of you which lift others around you, even if it sometimes places them ahead of you. Because of the part of you that doesn’t have to prove yourself or sacrifice your goodness for someone else’s expectation of “greatness”.

Age has taught me a lot about beauty. Yes, it may give you an advantage in a job interview. Yes, it may be the first thing that others judge you by, for better or for worse. Yes, it may turn the heads of some unwanted admirers; it may even cause people to woefully underestimate you. But real beauty is truly not what looks back at you from a mirror, or a pane of glass you pass by on a city street, or a reflecting pool in a secret garden.

REAL beauty is radiance that comes from within when you serve others; when you give more than you have; when you feel loved; when you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles even when you are bruised and broken; when you know no popular trend in thought or societal pressure can dissuade you from eternal truths that transcend time and place.

Yes, I want my daughter to be beautiful, but not in the ways you might think and not in the ways the world expects. I don’t care about the way the world views beauty or who it rewards for its ever-changing standards of beauty.

I want her to be beautiful in the ways that matter most and in a place that is not diminished by time or prolonged by some bottle of wrinkle-minimizing cream.

That place, you ask? Well, under her skin, and in her heart. Of course.

Jennifer Coates

Jennifer Coates is a freelance writer and former special educator who lives with her husband of 34 years in Warwick, Rhode Island. She is the mother of three adult children and grandmother to a newly-born grandson who are the objects of her total affection. She is active in her church community, has been in an all-women's debate club for over 30 years, and has a deep, unrequited love for chocolate.