Very early in life, girls begin to learn the social importance of beauty. There is no denying it. There is no escaping it. The pressures to do more and be more are real, and they are relentless.
When I was a pre-teen, I found myself watching how all the boys in school swooned over my big sister. She was beautiful, it’s true.
“How can I be that too?”
Like most middle-schoolers, I was pretty insecure. “Was I desirable, beautiful?” I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if I was beautiful, but I was sure that I wanted to be.
In that realization, something in me shifted and so it began— the unyielding pursuit of being looked-for and deemed lovely.
Fast-forward five years, and I somehow managed to obtain the “babe status” I had been dreaming of for so long. I ended up signing multiple modeling contracts from age sixteen and on—working in the industry for nearly a decade. I even managed to win my state’s most prestigious beauty pageant—twice (the teen and the adult division). Surely, I would have made it by now. Surely, I would have proven myself worthy.
But no, the more my successes were rewarded, the more insatiable my desire for them became. I had somehow been convinced that to have the life I thought I wanted, I needed to take matters into my own hands. I needed to keep striving. I needed to be more.
As a result, the achievements and the chasing did not cease, and I ached with an emptiness nothing seemed able to fill. In many ways, I was already living the “dream.” I had received most everything I’d ever wanted. So, why did I still feel less than?
Why wasn’t it enough?
Why wasn’t I… enough?
Was it because I was told my value was in my appearance and that my performance was central to my significance? Or maybe it was a result of being taught that those pursuits would make me happier and more confident.
The truth? It wasn’t. It didn’t. It couldn’t.
In reality, I didn’t have to prove my worth or earn my affirmation. I didn’t have to be right to make a place in the world or be on guard to keep my place. I didn’t have to contribute something so that society would value me.
The truth was I was striving for something I already had: love and acceptance—love and acceptance without having to earn it.
Love and acceptance… just because.
I realized God loved me because… I was me.
When I started to understand this, my life changed forever, and the tendency to grasp and struggle for all the wrong things began to dissipate. I no longer needed beauty and notoriety to define me. What freedom!
Flash-forward a decade, and I have a daughter. And oh, how I long for her to experience this same freedom. How I long for her to realize this truth much earlier than I did. For only in hindsight do I see how much I was lied to every day. Now, as a youth mentor, I see the same legitimacy lies being fed to today’s young women, as well.
Mommas, the world will always reward certain qualities and characteristics. It is a tale as old as time and a reality we cannot ignore. Our little girls will not be immune to the values of society. It will be all too easy for them to live for what the world regards as important.
But the more critical reality is this—we too, have the power and the responsibility to reinforce what we affirm to our children. Those tiny eyes and ears are always watching, listening, and absorbing. They are largely influenced by us—what we teach them, how we care for them, and how we speak to them.
So I ask myself regularly, “How will I manage this responsibility?” “What truths do I wish to instill in my daughter?” “What will I regularly reward with my words?”
“What will I tell her?”
I will tell her she is valued and loved, regardless of her physical attributes, genetic capabilities, or even her good character. I will tell her to resist the lie that she has to “add something” to be treasured. She won’t ever have to earn my love or God’s affection.
I will tell her that while there is no denying her beauty, her heart should not cling and entrust itself to beauty. It should not be her treasure, nor is it a dependable return of life. I will tell her that what she does or where she is in life will never be a reflection of who she is.
I will tell her not to let the world around her be the only perspective on her worth. And whenever the culture shouts in all its persuasiveness, “be attractive” “be admired” “be desired,” … “BE MORE,” I will tell her to listen to the voice that says, “be caring” “be kind” “be courageous,” … you ARE more.
Will I still tell her she is beautiful and radiant and gifted? A resounding YES, because oh my goodness, she is ALL of those things. But, I will certainly not stop there. I will laugh with her when she’s funny, celebrate her when she’s creative, and applaud her when she’s clever.
When she’s patient? I will tell her. When she’s helpful? I will tell her. When she’s forgiving? I will tell her.
While there are a lot of positive attributes to cultivate in her, and plenty of self-affirming words to speak her way, it is most vital of all that she know herself as one deeply, fully, and fiercely loved.
Yes, instilling all of the above is a noble and worthy desire, but none of the above is worthy of defining her. None of these “good things” ought to be what she values most about herself. Ultimately, virtuous is mute if she does not first define herself as loved.
This is her truest identity.
Every other self is an illusion.