Or perhaps I should ask HOW should feminist parents tell their daughters they are beautiful?
Last week I attended Tamara Winfrey Harris' book reading at Women and Children First. She read from her book, The Sisters Are Alright, which discusses how Black women are viewed in the USA and their reactions to those views. One area that the discussion centered on was that of beauty.
There are many issues that #365FeministSelfie has dealt with and at its core is the concept of beauty. Who gets to say who is beautiful? Why don't more women believe that they are beautiful? During the life of the project, I have heard from many people, especially woman, who confess to never feeling beautiful or losing that sense of beauty. Recently a mom in the project shared a moment from her mom files.
She shared that her three-year-old daughter had just pronounced herself not-beautiful because of her short hair. I'm paraphrasing here..."Help me, #365FeministSelfie-ists! How can I combat this? I tell her she's strong, smart and brave all the time, but I don't always tell her she is beautiful," she asked. A few of us went on to discuss the often held notion to praise girls for what they do not how they look. This should allow them to escape the clutches of our beauty-centric society, right? Wrong.
Unless we are raising our daughters in a media-free bubble in the middle of Big Sky Country, they still learn the rules of beauty.
So I asked Tamara and her fans how to handle this. I was floored.
One woman, whose story is shared in the book, said that when she was growing up all she wanted was her mom to say she was beautiful. Her mom, like many feminist-minded moms, was trying to raise a strong girl who did not need that type of validation. Now this woman did not fit the beauty standard as a young girl and teen, so her mom was trying to get her to see her own beauty inside and out. "Do you think you are beautiful?" was what her mom would say when asked, "Am I beautiful/pretty?" This woman proclaimed to us, "All I wanted was for my mom to say, 'Yes, you are beautiful!'"
Now I tell my daughter she is beautiful all the time. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people tell her that too. But how I tell her is often in a series of other compliments. "You are so strong, smart, beautiful and brave, mija!"
It's a strange thing this beauty thing. On one hand, we do not want to raise our daughters to think that their beauty or how others see them as beautiful defines them. But at the same time, don't we all want to feel beautiful?
And that is kinda what #365FeministSelfie is about...feeling beautiful in our bodies, feeling as beautiful as those who love us see us. Because yes, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but it should also be in our eyes too.
So does not telling our daughters that they are beautiful secretly tell them that they are not? Despite the fact we are trying to teach them that being beautiful is important?
In the end Tamara made a pronouncement that I think is correct. Everyone should be told they are beautiful. Perhaps we should all compliment our kids and each other with, "You are so beautiful, smart, strong and brave."