Saturday, September 7, 2013

To My Daughter: You Are Beautiful

I've been thinking about something you said recently--something about a friend of yours who's prettier than you. You said it in such a matter-of-fact way that it was disheartening to me, yet I couldn't think of a thing to say, in much the same way that I might not know how to respond to someone telling me that the sun is green. What is there to say to a statement so obviously, wholly untrue that it seems not to bear on reality?

We've spoken about this before, so I suspect that right now you're defending your self-deprecating position by pointing out that men respond to your friend differently than they do to you. To that I have two replies.

First, human perception is flawed, and you're human. You don't see yourself clearly. None of us do. When I look back at myself at your age, I see a young man crippled far more by his perception of himself than by any intrinsic limits. I thought I knew what I was and how people saw me, but now I know that I was just telling stories. I could have been whomever I wanted to be, if I'd just had faith in myself. I see the same aching gulf in you. I doubt you see yourself clearly, let alone how men react to you and your friend.

Second--and I know we've talked about this before, but given the dismal sound of your voice when you talked about your friend, it bears repeating--even if those men do react to her in some way that they don't react to you, so what? Men respond to women for a host of reasons, of which static physical attributes compose a small portion. In a person's motion and behavior there are hundreds of cues you would consciously recognize and thousands that you wouldn't. Men may respond to traits that have nothing to do with your friend's looks--traits which you may or may not want to possess.

Your statement stuck in my head so thoroughly because of that article we spoke about, How to talk to your daughter about her body. Many of the women who commented disagreed with the author because they'd spent their whole lives wanting their fathers to tell them they were pretty, but they never did. I keep thinking back to your childhood, wondering what I said to you, if anything, about your body. Did I tell you that you were pretty, or beautiful, or cute? I don't remember. I tend to think I didn't, because I didn't want to emphasize physical attributes. Did you want me to?

I know I can't reach in and change you. I know my opinion only goes so far. I just want you to know the depth of befuddlement and sadness I feel when I hear you say your friend is prettier than you. She isn't prettier than you. You aren't any less attractive then her. You're beautiful, inside and out. I've always thought so.



No comments: