The moment I found out I was having a girl I put my hands over my mouth in disbelief. I was happy yet horrified. Hear me out. I struggled with eating disorders for over two-decades. Not that boys can’t get eating disorders, too, but the pressures out there on a woman’s physical appearance is daunting.

My biggest fear is that my daughters will struggle because they have the eating disorder gene. I know how horrible and all-consuming this illness can be, how much time I wasted, how many experiences I missed, so it is a pretty horrifying reality. This does not mean that I have to curl up on the edge of my seat, waiting for signs of an eating disorder because it is going to happen no matter what.

When it comes to eating disorders, Lynn Grefe, the former president of NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association), describes it perfectly: “You’re born with the gun, and society—your cultural and environmental circumstances—pulls the trigger.” This just means that I have to be vigilant about my choice of words and actions around my daughters—and I will be.

I have been slowly coming up with ways to do this as my girls are getting older. My oldest is now two-and-a-half and she is very into anything stereotypically girly—princesses, tutus, nail polish. She started describing these things as “pretty”.  This is what I decided to do in my household to differentiate between what is considered pretty and what is considered beautiful so my daughters will always strive to be beautiful in the ways that matter.

Pretty is surface.

My daughter puts on a dress and twirls around in circles. “So pretty,” she spits out. And she does look pretty as she gracefully twirls, her Slinky-like curls bobbing along with her blue dress.

We are browsing the toy section during a Target run. My toddler sees Disney Princess dolls like Ariel, Moana, Belle, and Snow White lined up. She picks up the Snow White doll, and the first thing she utters is “So pretty.”

“Yes baby, she does look pretty.” I nod in agreement.

She sees four-year-old girls or so-called “big kids” in ballerina costumes, a sea of tutus flooding both of our visions, before a ballet class. “So pretty mama,” she muses, pointing to them. I do a double take.

“Yes, baby they do look pretty,” I say. Because they do.

But beautiful. I only use beautiful on select occasions.

Beauty is deep.

Beauty is beyond the physical. You can have a pretty face, but it is your soul, your passions, and what you do to make others and yourself better that makes you beautiful.

When my daughter finishes a painting in the basement and shows it to me, her face beaming with pride: “So beautiful,” I say. I look at the red, green, blue, and purple spotted masterpiece she created on a blank sheet of paper.

Creativity is beautiful.

When my daughter shares a toy with her little sister, handing her a Rubber Ducky to play with: “So beautiful. Sharing is beautiful,” I say. Because it is.

Being kind is beautiful.

When my toddler comforts her little sister when she hears her cry, placing her little hand on the small of her back and handing her a pacifier: “So beautiful, you are such a good big sister,” I say.

Empathy is beautiful.

When my daughter kisses me and says “I love you so much.” “I love you so much too, baby,” I say back and add “showing love is beautiful.”

Showing and giving love is beautiful.

When she performs a made-up dance while belting a made-up tune: “That song is so beautiful,” I say.

Being authentically you, an original, is beautiful.

This definition of beautiful is what I will teach my daughters daily. I hope others will do the same.

Originally published on the author’s page

Dani Sherman-Lazar

Dani Sherman-Lazar is an eating disorder advocate recently hitting the five-year landmark of being in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. She is also Vice President of a transportation company and a mother to two daughters - a six-month-old and a two-year-old. Follow her on her blog Living a Full Life After ED and like it on Facebook.