She stands in front of me, hands clasped behind her back, dressed in pink from head to toe. Socks included.
"I picked out my clothes by myself," she said. "Do I look pretty?"
I gaze at her. Tiny pink person with Rapunzel hair.
She is beautiful. From the tip of her little turned-up nose to the ends of her toenails. Also painted pink. Blue eyes, arched brows, wide mouth with a perfect tear-shaped hollow above her upper lip. Cleft chin, which she received from her daddy, and tiny square shoulders. A wispy girl, made of light and energy—waiting to be released. Her name has two meanings: Fairy Child and One Planted With Strength. The first seems accurate, the second prophetic.
Pretty? No. Pretty doesn't cut it. It never would.
"You look beautiful," I say, cupping her face in my hands and kissing her on the nose.
And then I was serious. "But not just here—" I drew a circle around her face with my finger. "Here too." I laid my hand over her heart. "And you are smart, and brave, and kind, and fierce, and strong, and exactly the girl God is growing you to be. And I am so blessed to be your mommy." She smiles. Wide and totally confident that I am telling her the truth. And off she goes. Happy and certain I know what I'm talking about.
But as I watch her go I want to call her back. I want to tell her she doesn't have to be.
She is beautiful. But she doesn't have to be.
Being a girl doesn't automatically require her to fill a space labeled 'beautiful,' thereby justifying her presence in the world.
I glance in the bathroom mirror and sigh.
Because even though I can wrap words around these things and convince myself of their truth, I am still standing here applying mascara. And what to do, then, with my daughter's question:
"Why are you putting that stuff on your eyes, Mommy?"
And what about later?
"What are calories, Mommy?"
"Am I the right size, Mommy?"
"How much do I weigh, Mommy?"
"Am I too tall, Mommy?"
"Am I pretty?"
I didn't know, when I asked my Mom those questions, how much they must have hurt her. How much she must have longed to wrap me up and seal out the world. How much she must have wanted to whisper "Yes" and only that, over and over to me until I heard nothing else.
And as I think about this now, and prepare my own "yes," for my daughter, I wrestle with what I want to say. With how I want to say it. And not only then—when she asks—but everyday until then as she watches me answer those questions for myself.
You are pretty. I will tell her. It's a given. The sun shines. Water is wet. The night is dark. You are pretty. But more than that, I want her to know that she doesn't have to be. It's not her job.
She can be smart, and brave, and kind, and thoughtful, and giving, and honest, and funny, and sad. She can be angry and dirty, lost, lonely, curious, excited, and introspective. She can be outgoing or shy. Fierce or quiet. Afraid or nervous. All of them. None of them. A million combinations of a these and a million others, and she will be worth infinitely more.
She will be enough.
So, on the off chance you should find yourself in her company, or in the company of any small human—a Fairy Child Planted With Strength (as indeed every child is)—would you do me a favor? Would you reassure her, or him? Would you tell that small one "Yes?" But that they don't have to be? And then, would find a new word? Something else besides Pretty, or Beautiful, or handsome? Because the names we hear spoken over us, are most often the names we learn to reach for. They are the names and words we either expand or diminish ourselves, to fill.
Let's find better words. Bigger, braver, stronger, more lovely words. And by the time the questions come . . . by the time our tiny humans are asking the questions, they will have heard the right answers too often enough to doubt their truth.