There’s nothing like listening to your kids talk when they think you aren’t listening. I like to think it’s one of those little gifts that God gives us to repay us for all the times we have to scoop brown “boats” out of the tub and wipe vomit out of our cleavage. Sometimes the conversations kids have are hilarious – like the time my older son told his little brother that the reason snow gets brown on top is because the sun is toasting it, like a marshmallow. Other times it’s humiliating – like the time my other son told his whole kindergarten class at sharing time that his mom “poses for men’s magazines”. (I had a head shot taken to accompany an article I’d written for a reputable men’s fitness magazine! All clothes stayed on!) But sometimes it’s pure wonder. Take this recent exchange:
Jelly Bean (3): Why is my hair not long like Rapunzel’s?
Son #1 (11): Because real girls aren’t supposed to look like dolls. Real girls are beautiful but not like in a plastic-y way. Barbies are fake pretty.
Jelly Bean: Am I beautiful?
You are beauty personified, baby girl! (I really need to practice saying that to myself too…)
My heart kind of seized up. How did my baby not know she was beautiful? Had I failed to instill that in her? But before I could run to her and tell her how wonderful she is, my son beat me to it.
Son #1: Yep!
Jelly Bean seemed satisfied but I know that this will not be the last time the question of beauty – which at its core really means “Am I worthwhile? Do you value me?” – comes up with my kids. And I have to admit that I’m glad my son handled it this time because, at least for me, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than trying to teach a daughter to love herself when you’ve spent most of your life hating yourself.
Do remember yours is a body that has lived, worked, given birth, brought up a child and run a household. Bodies change as we age and it is a fiction that they could ever look like the ‘perfected’ images in the media. – Dove Girls Unstoppable Project
Thankfully I have the opportunity to be the youth leader of an amazing group of girls, ages 8-12, at my church. Oops, did I say leader? I should have said learner. Because in all my years of working with different groups of girls I have to say that every time I’ve learned more from them than I think I’ve ever taught them. (Okay well there was that time I taught them all to do the Cotton-Eyed Joe line dance to “It’s Raining Men”. Truth: If you ever don’t know what to do on a dance floor, bust out Cotton-Eyed Joe. It works for everything. Even dubstep.)
So when Dove asked me if I’d do a self-esteem building activity with my girls as part of their campaign to help girls embrace their unique beauty, I was all over it. I will take any opportunity I can to help my girls not only see but feel the beauty inherent in each of them – because I know that years down the road they likely won’t remember what we did together but they (hopefully) will remember how they felt. (Okay maybe they’ll remember the activity where we made chocolate-covered cookie dough balls. That was a big hit.) Anyhow, I ended up picking two activities from Dove’s site to do together: “All about me“, which focuses on asking girls questions about themselves and what they feel confident in, and “Girls in the lead“, which has the girls flip roles and become the teachers.
The kit from Dove started us out with some sample questions but the girls quickly came up with their own and I just went with it. We covered everything from how many people secretly love broccoli to where everyone was born to their favorite talent. The best part of it for me was how quickly it became apparent that true beauty has nothing to do with the package you’re wrapped in and everything to do with the gift you are inside.
(Side note: The Dove kit included a lot of interesting, educational and helpful ideas but when I got to this one, targeted to moms: “Help her enjoy the changes her body is going through. If she hasn’t started to develop yet, anticipate her body changes with pleasure in such phrases as “I wonder whether you are going to have my breasts, or Grandma Flo’s or Aunt Sophie’s! We just don’t know. It’ll be exciting to see!” Just… no. I’m sorry, Dove. Can’t do that one with a straight face.)
After that we talked about the power of teaching (you learn something so much better when you have to teach it to someone else!) Later, I let them loose in the park to teach me a few skillz. Now, I thought that I had mad playground swagger but they taught me a lot of things I hadn’t expected:
1. It doesn’t matter how you got down, there will always be a way back up. And, even better, there will be someone at the top to help you. (Or: If you’re at the top, don’t forget to look down to see who needs a helping hand up!)
2. Don’t let the work of the climb make you forget the beauty of the view.
3. Hold tight until you get comfortable but when you’re ready, let go just a little bit to feel what it’s like to fly. (P.S. Yes that’s a boy in there. Son #3 loves coming to my “Girls Activity Days”! And hey, boys need to know they’re beautiful too!)
4. You know you’ve found a good friend when you can just sit quietly together and it’s not weird.
5. It’s okay to be your own best friend and to sit quietly by yourself. That’s not weird either!
6. It’s wonderful to be the one on top but that only works if everyone takes a turn being the hands that spin. (Pretty sure that’s not how this toy is meant to be used but, like I said, I was learning, not teaching!)
7. Shoes are a great way to show your personality!
8. Be proud when you accomplish something! And don’t be afraid to tell other people about it! It’s not bragging, it’s inspiring.
9. Always take time for the little people. (Jelly Bean adores these girls!)
10. Be a good role model. You never know who’s watching you. (Or maybe you do.)
It’s THE TONGUE!! Like mother, like daughter…
A few days after I overheard my daughter asking if she was beautiful, this conversation happened.
Son #3: Are you my pwetty wittle pwincess? (He’s 6. He still has a lisp. I think it’s adorable. I should probably get him speech therapy. I kinda don’t want to.)
Jelly Bean: I not you princess!
Son #3: What are you then?
Jelly Bean: I’m smart and strong and brave!
That’s my girl.
What suggestions do you have for teaching my girls (and boys!) how to feel beautiful in a world that will repeatedly tell them they’re less than? Was there anything in particular that has helped you learn this lesson?