Momma, I’m not Beautiful

By March 7, 2014My Thoughts

On Wednesday afternoon, I took my four-year-old daughter to the “big city” for her dance pictures. Her dance teacher has studios in multiple locations, and the pictures were held in the studio that had the best dressing room space available.

As a first time “dance mom,” I had no idea what to expect. I had both costumes and all the bows and accessories (along with myriad hair clips, bands, brushes, and safety pins). I clutched the letter from her dance instructor nervously, as though it was the instruction guide my life was depending upon.

I held my daughter’s hand as we walked through the slushy parking lot, my free hand overflowing with bags and my over-sized “mom purse.” We walked into the main entrance and followed some other girls and their moms to the dressing area. There were several rooms available, and as the first group scheduled for pictures that day, we had our pick of where to hang costumes and start getting ready.

Other girls in my daughter’s dance class started arriving. Many of them had their hair already done up, and several of them were already donning their make-up. I had brought light make-up, mostly because I was a rookie and had no idea what to expect, but also because my daughter is four-years-old and really doesn’t have any blemishes to hide. I saw the other girls ready and sparkling, and realized we were under-prepared. I was under-prepared. I nervously flipped through the letter from the dance teacher. “A little make-up would be good.” I misinterpreted what “a little” meant.

I got my daughter into her first costume – a sweet little ballet dress with a pink and black skirt. She looked darling. I patted on some very light powder foundation, put on some soft blush, and used a little pink, sparkly lip gloss. I stared and admired my sweet girl. So strong. Such poise. She had learned and grown so much through this year of dance. And then she brought me back to earth with a crushing blow.

She pointed to the other girls. “Momma, look. I’m not beautiful.”

Wait. What? I have tried so intentionally since the day my children were born to keep my internal critic to myself. I don’t comment negatively on my own appearance in front of the kids. I make sure to let them take unflattering pictures of me with their kiddie cameras. I build them up for things other than how they look.

My daughter is smart. She is funny. She is creative. She is strong. She has more self-determination and independence at four-years-old than I have had in my thirty-two years of life combined. She doesn’t succumb to pressure from kids who do things differently. And, she’s beautiful. Beautiful on the inside, and beautiful on the outside.

But she looked at the other girls, and told me she didn’t think she measured up. Somehow, at four-years-old my child has already learned the ability to put herself down. She has looked into the eyes of girls her own age and seen competition rather than friends. She has already placed far more importance on looking a certain way than I ever thought possible for a preschooler.

But why? Was it something I communicated – even non-verbally – as I dressed myself each morning? Was it something she saw on television, or something she overheard at school?

What happened to my little girl that set in motion the never-ending quest for physical perfection so early that her childhood seemed to be skipped over?

I don’t read fashion magazines. I wear almost no make-up. I was always a sporty tomboy growing up. It wasn’t until I started having an interest in boys that I started to worry about how I looked. I was closer to ten or eleven years old before it even occurred to me that how I looked might matter to someone.

And my heart breaks that my daughter has already started the negative self-talk. I’m thankful she said it out loud, because then we could talk about it. I praised her for who she is: for her kind heart, for her selfless love, for her generosity to others. I told her that she’s beautiful inside and out, and that she doesn’t need make-up because her little face is precious the way it is. She voiced her insecurity out loud, but how many don’t? How many are only thinking it?

Oh, sweet girl of mine, you are so beautiful. You are beautiful in all the ways that matter – in the way you love others, the way you never give up even when you don’t get something right the first time, the way you imagine possibilities and solutions I had never thought of, the way you ask just the right questions when they need to be asked. Whether you are wearing lots of make-up or none at all, that beautiful heart of yours shines through. You are captivating. You are inspiring. You are beautiful. Never, ever forget that.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

  • What your blog doesn’t tell us – and perhaps it cannot tell us – what this statement means to her as a 4 year old, as a human being….as a girl. Its dangerous to fill in the blanks with our own assumptions. Could it be that she was looking for your reaction to the statement? Children so often speak in metaphor although the world – professional and popular – look at them being so concrete. The truth of the matter is that all of us regardless of age compare ourselves to one another…I’m sure this happens between J and M. I worshiped in an Episcopal Church with my mom recently and in knee-jerk reaction listened to the lections, heard the pastor/priest and wondered – would I say that? would I say it that way? Who is the better pastor – him or me? Indeed I think our classis meetings can be one big ego contest – who is the best pastor….who has the best ministry…who is reaching the most people….who has the biggest worship attendance and we gauge our success in ministry by such observations. Comparison is a poor excuse for eval…but it seems universal. So how do we turn this from a negative (I don’t measure up) to a positive (you spurred me forward)? Here’s the rub….as a mom/parent….as a clergy person….as a human being made in the image of God. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…your perception of others and yourself…of your world….of your God.’

    • I love this, Bill! “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and so it is. As you said, it’s impossible to know what spurred her question. I just see her face hanging low, and hear her dejected voice. This coming from my rough and tumble girl who has never seemed to care one iota what other people around her are doing. Suddenly…comparison begins…and looking to mom for consolation that she does indeed fit in. I was glad we had chosen a dressing room apart from the other girls so that I had a chance to talk with her more privately. She seemed to spring back quickly…but I can’t stop thinking about it.

  • This is heartbreaking and beautiful.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Mary Beth. I can’t stop thinking about this interaction with my daughter. She bounced back quickly…me, not so much. Haha!