Saturday, September 28, 2013

Some thoughts on beauty.

My dearest Tenley,
I feel like the easiest platform to communicate my thoughts right now is in a letter intended for you. Of course, you can't read it right now. . . but I hope someday you will. 
When I was in high school, I knew a handful of girls who struggled with eating disorders and had other body image issues. My heart hurt for them as they battled with the defeating thoughts Satan planted in their minds. I, myself, sometimes went through phases when I had obsessive ideas of how to look skinny and pretty (in fact, I still go through those cycles sometimes!) 

When I was in college, I started coursework in recreational therapy and was required to take some psychology classes. I learned more about the mental health framework for eating disorders and gained a better understanding of how one's upbringing and social environment can affect and shape personal beliefs. Then, at the end of my college experience, I had the opportunity to do an internship at a residential treatment center for girls. And BAM! There I was. . . in the thick of trying to understand girls' emotions, learn how to process and unravel feelings, help retrain negative thought patterns, and ultimately remind teenagers how special, powerful,  and capable they were. Ohhhh. . . and it was hard! Girls are stubborn. Girls are strong-willed. Girls are set in their ways sometimes. I worked at that placement for a little over a year. . . and, you better believe, I poured my heart into my work. I loved, taught, cared, played, laughed, cried, struggled, and grew more than I thought I would. But then, I found out you were starting to form and develop inside me, and I decided to transition to a new position and location that would help me provide better for our family. I left with so many unanswered questions about HOW and WHY girls lose sight of their worth. I wanted to figure it out, DANGIT! But it is just so complex and different for everyone.

As you grew in my tummy, so did my fears and reservations about raising you. Oh gosh, a girl! What could I do to raise a resilient, caring, independent, compassionate, confident woman? I thought about it constantly and often found myself clicking over to articles and blog posts on the Internet. I knew from my college training and other experiences that I needed to be a stable, consistent, dependable parent in order to form a loving, safe, connected relationship with you. . .but how could I teach you to find your worth in more meaningful places than your outward appearance?

When you were born, I was amazed by how remarkably beautiful you were. People made (and continue to make) nice comments all the time about your bright blue eyes, rosy lips, long lashes, cute nose, and naturally highlighted, thick, gorgeous hair. You are a lovely little lady, no doubt, and I tell you so often! But over the past several months of your life, I've gotten a little bugged. I'm not bugged because people compliment you on your physical features (I'm always a bit flattered actually because I usually take those compliments as compliments myself. . . you are my daughter after all!) I'm not bugged because I always agree with our friends and neighbors and strangers when they tell you how adorable you are. Mostly, I'm bugged because there is so much more to you than your pretty face! I want people to compliment you on your curiosity, on your playfulness, on your desire to learn about and understand the world around you, on your ability to love and forgive, on your persistence to get up when you fall. You are so little, so I'm not totally sure how much you understand and process the words people say to you, but I do know that I'm building habits now in the way I raise you that will help shape and define who you become. So. . . instead of complimenting you on how beautiful your hair is, I'm trying to compliment you on how patient you are when I brush it and try to style it. Instead of complimenting you on how cute your outfit is, I'm trying to compliment you on how helpful you are when I'm trying to do the laundry (thanks for picking up that sock and handing it to me!) Instead of complimenting you on how brilliantly blue your eyes are, I'm trying to compliment the interest and inquisitiveness I see when you look out at your surroundings. 

It is much more natural and comfortable to compliment the outward, surface-y stuff. I do it all the time, but I am trying to catch myself. Rather than comment to the young girl at the grocery store about how "pretty she looks in her dress," I try to come up with something about her demeanor or personality- "You are being so calm while your Momma shops. I bet you're a really good helper." It's hard and takes a bit more effort, but I think it's worth it. We complain all the time about how "society" puts too much emphasis on physical appearance and beauty, but unless we, as individuals, do things to change the pattern, it seems unlikely that it'll happen.  I can't revolutionize the world, but I can adjust the way I parent.

Tenley girl, I think you are stunning and I want you to believe that about yourself. But more than that, I want you to find meaning in your faith, in your character, in your caring, loving, giving nature. I want to build a home environment that puts more emphasis on who you are than what you look like. I'm trying, baby girl. Be patient with me; it's hard to adjust my thinking sometimes!

I love you so,

1 comment:

Amanda Leigh said...

Summer!! I sure love ya! I've talked to so many people about the conversation we had over the summer on this very topic; it made a big impact on me. You're a spectacular mother and raising a daughter who is gorgeous on so many levels! Thanks for sharing these wonderful thoughts.