My Daughter, Myself: Lessons we teach when we model self-confidence

Why girls should be shown they're smart AND beautiful.

Why girls should be shown they're smart AND beautiful.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

“Mom, you’re so pretty. You don’t even need to wear makeup.”

Those are words you would expect to hear from a 5-year-old, right, when you still hung the moon in your daughter’s eyes? Before they magically get a million times smarter than you are? Before the eye rolling becomes a daily, if not hourly, involuntary reaction to everything you say or do?

But no. Those words were spoken by my 13-year-old girl. She wasn’t even trying to butter me up for a new pair of shoes. We were getting ready to attend a friend’s wedding, and she just blurted those words out.

My first instinct was to say something like, “Oh, are you kidding? Do you not see my wrinkles, my splotchy red cheeks, my flabby neck?” Luckily, I stopped myself. Instead, I replied, “Oh, thank you, baby girl. What a sweet thing to say.”

For about a year now, she has been very concerned about her own looks. Her weight is never right. Her hair never looks good. Her skin is never clear enough. Are these the normal insecurities a teenager goes through, or am I to blame for at least part of them?

It’s difficult for me to take a compliment from my husband, or anyone else. I consciously try not to obsess over my weight because I don’t want my daughter to obsess over her own insecurities. I never use the word “diet,” don’t self-loathe in her presence, and don’t put myself down. She doesn’t need to hear her mother complaining all the time.

But is that enough? Is “not complaining” the same as showing self-confidence? Where is the fine line between showing self-confidence and being shallow and vain?

We tend to teach our girls that they are as smart as boys — that they can hold their own on the playground and in the workplace. We stress that they can do and be anything their dreams desire.

But we may be concentrating so much how they need to be as good as boys and men that we ignore that what makes them special and sets them apart from boys and men is their beauty.

They grow up thinking princesses are pretty, and they wish they could be like them.

Why not encourage them to believe they are smart AND lovely?

That same night at the wedding reception, my daughter took a picture of me. When she showed her dad the image, she commented, “Dad, doesn’t she look like a model?” Again, I was in shock.

I am usually the person running from the camera when it comes out, hiding behind others or refusing to be a part of the Kodak moment. But now, my daughter honestly thinks that I am pretty. She looks up to me.There’s no way I’m going to tell her she’s wrong.

How many times have I told her she looks pretty, only to be told that I am biased or that I am supposed to say that? How many times have I heard her lamenting that she wishes she were as pretty as her friends? If my reaction is the same, what would that teach her?

I decided then and there that “not complaining” just isn’t enough. Teenage girls have so many self-doubts naturally, but they need to have role models who show them how to be happy with how they look.

In the age of selfies and Snapchat, they have embraced the thought of getting their pictures taken and don’t run away from the camera. But when someone compliments them on how they look, do they believe them?

If most girls are anything like my daughter, the answer is a sad “no.” Mothers and other women mentors must pave the way for young girls to be comfortable with their own natural beauty by modeling a true sense of confidence that they are truly lovely … inside and out. Only then will teenage girls grow into confident women.

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