Once upon a time, there lived a wonderful and most bat-shit crazy Queen. Within her castle were rescued animals galore, four princes, one spirited princess and the strongest coffee maker in all the lands. Aloft the castle’s neutral-colored walls sat two mirrors – both of which came standard with the castle, though they had clearly been upgraded at some point in past history to a more ornate variety…one hanging in each of the two relatively standard bathrooms.
There are no ghosts of mirrors past. There is no evil ill-will lurking within the Queen’s colorfully glittered and cosmically star-dust speckled soul. The only darkness contained within this castle is found in the aromatic ground coffee that wafts through the hallways and rooms at regularly scheduled intervals throughout each day to enable the Queen to keep doing All The Things without ending up on the front page of the Township Tabloid.
As a mother of five, ages varying from 20 through to 9 year old twins, my focus regularly falls to the onslaught of marketing prevalent to each age group and the systemic failing of consumerism to adequately prepare and confirm to our youth the importance not just of self-care, but of self-love. We have all heard the old adage, “Beauty is only skin deep.”
I disagree. Emphatically.
Having a now-tween, 11 year old daughter amidst the overwhelming aggregate of testosterone and Axe body spray (*SO very banned in this castle*), I find myself often in the throes of the less-than-stellar memories of my own self-esteem and body issues and reflect on how I have been carefully crafting an environment within which my daughter will see that beauty, though subject to the perspective of each person’s own circumstances, perceptions and life events, is so very much deeper than the skin commercials try to tell you would look better firmer, wrinkle-less or bronzed. It happened a year and a half ago.
The other young Girl Guides stood just off to the side of me but I could see them staring and whispering in that not-so-quiet naivety that often accompanies youthful commentary. The sneers were first. I could see Hannah eyeing them and I held my breath. Here it comes.
“Huhn. Maybe she has cancer.”
Here we go again. Because, it wasn’t enough at my younger three gingers’ Christmas concert to hear a wafting, “Ewwww…there’s a mom with no hair!” resonating through the church to a crowd of parents, teachers and, of course, my own children. I don’t have cancer. I have Lupus. A chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease that has caused three heart attacks, pleurisy and kidney damage and for which there is no cure. I have taken chemotherapy, but not the kind of treatment used for cancer. I did not “lose my hair,” I had it shorn when my scalp was peeling off in sheets due to a secondary autoimmune condition.
Without missing a beat, Hannah’s smile reached her ears as she approached the young girls.
“My mom has Lupus, not cancer. It’s a disease and she keeps on keeping on no matter what it does to her.”
This, is beauty? Not my shorn head nor my makeup that covers my lupus malar rash nor my tattoos of the story of my life, but the empowerment of a young girl unafraid to educate? To stand up? To speak?
Me: Hannah, you’ve heard my friends call me beautiful, what do you think they mean by it?
Hannah: It’s because you encourage people to keep going. And, they like your smile.
Me: If someone tells you that *you’re* beautiful, what do you think they mean by it?
Hannah: What I look like.
Damn. I thought I was on to something. She has tween angst with self-esteem and body issues. She still compares herself to other young girls, none of whom have even hit the peak in their growth and development. It’s a struggle, at times, to withhold my own commentary with my own childhood-grown body issues, but it’s the very reason there are only two standard mirrors anywhere in this castle. Her gloriously flaming red hair sets her apart from most others. Her freckles. Often, she can be a target of the bullying and snide commentary from children with their own feelings of shortcoming.
While she doesn’t entertain herself with earrings, hair baubles or the desire for makeup, I often wonder why she permits the perceptions of others to modify her perception of her own self?
What? Like, me? *hangs head*
Me: Hannah, who would you say is one of the most beautiful people in the world?
Hannah (without hesitation): Malala [Yousafzai].
*Sweet mother of Snickerdoodles, Batman…a Mac truck right in the feelz*
Me (holding in tears): Why is that?
Hannah: Because she got shot and still stood up for herself and the rights of other girls to be able to go to school.
This is my daughter’s vision of beauty…the empowerment to stand up, to inspire and to be a voice.
As I watch her with our gaggle of rescued pets, Googling the bejeezuz out of animal care, she is beautiful. As we sit amongst the trees using a drop spindle to spin yarn like our many ancestral mothers, she is beautiful. As I see her stand up and voice to other younglings the definition of a disease and its effect on her mother, she is beautiful.
Perhaps, by teaching our daughters about the beauty of life around them will help nurture the seeds of their souls to continue to look and question what it is that makes something beautiful to each of them. To teach our daughters to seek an inner strength to empower themselves to give a voice to the beauty of their passions. Empower them to self-care within those passions in order to be happy, healthy and in a state of self-love.
Self-love reflects in a smile and in the eyes in a way that Photoshop and marketing cannot capture.
There simply is no mirror in any castle that can see the depth of soul within.
Savvy Members: How have you gently guided young ones on this path of 'defining beauty'? What have they taught you? This is a heavy responsiblitiy we carry on our shoulders - as aunts, teachers, grandmothers and mothers. Come on over the Girl Talk Discussion in our online Savvy Cafe and pull up a chair...