Parenting Strategies, Part 2: On Beauty
Continuing my last post’s theme of ‘Strategies for Parenting a Unique Kid’ (see #1-3 here):
I offer you another strategy we used when parenting Addy, in order to help her navigate the world with a big splotch on her face.
As you can tell, opening her eyes to all the beauty around her was a big theme for us…
Parenting Strategy #4: Go Beyond Features
Think of someone who’s drop-dead gorgeous. What do you see in them?
It might be certain features: sharp cheekbones, full lips, great hair, whatever.
But I’m willing to bet that something other than features caught your eye first. Poise. Posture. Carriage. Confidence. The stuff you don’t hear as much about in beauty magazines. That, I think, is what makes a human stand out to us visually.
The ‘beautiful’ that we find so attractive usually isn’t just in a person’s features. It’s in the way they carry themselves, the way they present themselves. Imagine the gorgeous person you thought of above spending three sleepless nights taking care of a kid with the flu. At the end of 3 days they’re slouching, they’re disheveled, they have dark circles under their eyes, their clothes are wrinkled, their hair is matted. If they shuffled into a room in that condition, they probably wouldn’t turn admiring heads, regardless of their otherwise lovely natural features.
I’ve seen girls who are strikingly tall and slender enough to be runway models carry themselves like they don’t matter, like they just want to disappear into the wallpaper – and, unfortunately, they too often succeed, hiding their striking features under an unconfident disguise. And I’ve seen average-featured women with stellar poise and posture walk into a room and turn heads like only movie stars can – because they carry themselves like they matter.
Poise. Posture. Carriage. Confidence. These make all the difference in the way we present ourselves to the world.
This is what your unique-looking child needs to understand. Someday, she’ll be tempted to feel that she’s not beautiful, because her features are not ‘like’ the beautiful people’s (whatever they may be at that moment in time). But if she understands that much of what we see as beautiful isn’t necessarily the features, as awesome and lovely as they may be, but rather the way we present ourselves to the world, then she’ll feel empowered to act and feel beautiful anyway.
Said another way: While we may not be able to control our natural features like height or birthmarks, we don’t have to feel ‘unbeautiful’ because of them. Because beauty is what we craft from the way we carry ourselves.
So: remember how I told you to teach her to spot the beauty in all the humans around her? With all their various features and their diverse physical traits? That’s important – keep doing it. Establish a wide definition of what traits ‘beautiful’ can include.
But don’t stop there – go beyond the physical traits, and start pointing out every instance of lovely poise, posture, carriage, and confidence you see.
Here’s what it might look like:
When you and your daughter are killing time in the dentist’s waiting room, and you’re flipping through a magazine filled with skinny women, and your daughter is looking over your shoulder, and you come across a story on Serena Williams, who clearly looks different from the print models, you point out her beauty like this: “Wow, she is gorgeous. Look at the way she looks straight at the camera. So poised and confident. That is beautiful.”
But then, don’t put down the skinny models! When you flip to a picture of a glamorous fashion model, you spot beauty there, too: “I love the way this model’s hair is swept up away from her face, up to the crown of her head! It makes a visual ‘line’ that draws attention to her cheekbones really well.”
You may be tempted to naysay the whole magazine, telling your child it’s dumb, shallow, and full of unattainable ideals. But that’s not a substantial enough response. It won’t keep her from someday being fascinated by those ideals anyway, and eventually even feeling like she doesn’t measure up to them. So meet that gloss head-on, and point to the beauty that’s there, without putting anyone down.
Here’s what this accomplishes: you’re bringing beauty out of the realm of ‘features you’re born with’ (as fabulous as they may be), and placing it solidly in the realm of ‘I’ve got this’.
Point out the beauty in every instance of lovely poise, posture, carriage, and confidence you see. It might be a bold smile. Bright eyes. Fabulous hair. An elegant gait. Even artfully-applied makeup or well-chosen clothing. Any intentional choice that enhances natural beauty is fair game. Point it out. Compliment it.
Because we can control the confidence we stand with, the way we look at a camera, the way we sweep up our hair. Our natural features, which we can’t control, don’t have to ‘make or break’ our beauty.
This will empower your child. Someday, when she’s tempted to quick-fix a single feature in a panic, like cover up a birthmark or crash-diet to skinny, she’ll already know that her whole beauty does not rely on a single feature. Rather, it is a constellation of so many things all at once, much of it beyond her physical traits, and solidly within her confident control.
Empower your child to understand this; point out the beauty you see. Help her spot it in the world around her. Don’t assume she’ll pick this up on her own. Poise. Eye contact. Posture. Relaxed shoulders. Carriage. Chin up. Confidence. Smile. All of these are within grasp.
Addy’s port wine stain will never ‘make or break’ her beauty. Because no feature can. Her beauty isn’t a hapless accident of physical traits. It’s something so much bigger. She’s got this.