By Amanda Cleary Eastep
“Do you think you’re beautiful?”
My daughter asks me as we stroll past the florists, diners, and shops of Chicago’s Old Town.
Just as I’m contemplating my answer, we walk beneath a sign that encourages: “Live Pretty.”
My daughter has asked me this before or filled in the blank when I didn’t respond confidently enough. “You don’t think you’re beautiful, do you?”
In the past, I learned, at the very least, to not make an ugly face when she’d kindly tell me how pretty I looked. I had realized a couple of things then. . .
. . .not graciously accepting her compliment sent a message that maybe I had low self-esteem, or worse, that I didn’t trust her judgment.
And if we could be so far apart on our assessment of my outward appearance, why should she believe me when I told her how beautiful she was?
I recently wrote an article for Holl & Lane magazine (for April). In it, I discuss how a mother’s body image can affect her daughter’s body image. . .and not just when she’s young.
As I searched this topic online, I found everything from academic research to funny videos like the swimsuit season edition of “I Mom So Hard,” by creators and friends Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley. In this particular episode, which takes a hilarious look at strappy swimsuits that make your body look more like “you’re pressing something against a tennis racket,” Hensley ends the humor with wise and poignant words:
“I want my daughter to love her life and to love herself, and she’s not going to do it because I tell her to do it, she’s going to do it because I teach her to do it.”
I’ve realized that “teaching” doesn’t end when our daughters are grown.
“Ha, look at the sign.” I point overhead as we continue to walk.
We’ve spent the afternoon visiting places she’s discovered near her college campus. She especially wanted me to see the florist with the hidden garden space behind the shop. Sitting on the bench in the slightly untamed terrace, we enjoy each other’s company and the presence of so many green things among concrete.
I don’t reassure her this time with the usual, and sometimes exasperated, “Yes, I think I’m beautiful.” Instead, some new thought springs forth. “I’m just content.” I go on to explain that I simply don’t think much about how I look, but I do consider whether or not my outward appearance reflects who I am on the inside. . .besides incredibly tired. (Thank you dark circles for representing.)
Otherwise, I’m healthy. Most of my wrinkles are laugh lines. I was 50 shades of gray before it was a terrible movie. And except for that creaky, left hip. . .I’m comfortable with myself.
This “you’re beautiful” crusade of hers isn’t a new thing or limited to me. It all started with grocery store cashiers. . .usually the ladies who had been on their feet all day and engaging customers in one of life’s biggest questions: paper or plastic?
“Your earrings are pretty.”
“Your shirt is pretty.”
These declarations began almost as soon as my daughter could string words like pearls.
I still remember the middle-aged cashier at our small town’s grocery store looking down at my little girl in astonishment. Not so much because my five-year-old had spoken to her, but because she had spoken some truth that the woman hadn’t recognized, maybe in a long time. The cashier stopped scanning our groceries, her eyes wide, and simply said, “Oh. . .thank you!” as if she had been handed a gift.
My daughter, now 21, still does this. To cashiers, to women in elevators, to friends and family.
All her life, my daughter has struggled with various health issues, some of which have manifested themselves outwardly and made her self-conscious, especially as a teenager, of how she looked.
I always tried to reassure her of her beauty, whether or not she was in the midst of suffering or was feeling healthy and confident. And she would always respond with a compliment back to me.
“You can just say thank you,” I’d tell her.
Ever since we saw that sign months ago, I’ve contemplated the phrase and realize that this is how my daughter has lived all her life.
How do we Live Pretty?
When we value and validate the people who walk beside us or just scan our canned goods.
When we recognize the skin and scars–ours and others’–are part of our beauty.
When we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
Yesterday, I walked to the store with both my daughters, bundled up against the wet snow that stuck to our fur collars and cheeks. I could sense my youngest looking at me. “You’re beautiful, Mom.”
“Thank you.” I said it confidently. I wanted her to hear that. I wanted her to know that as she watches me grow older before her eyes, that I love and accept myself. But also that
“beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31).
I didn’t return her compliment; I just accepted her gift. And I committed to being better about sharing it with others.
In beauty all day long, may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen, may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful. . .