Is Beauty Only Skin Deep?

Beauty. It’s an industry, it’s a description, it’s sought after, frowned upon, criticized, glorified, it’s a lot of things. What do we teach our kids about it. It may be different for boys and girls, but they both need lessons on it. Raising a daughter, this has come to my mind a lot. I’ve put in more thought and care to this topic than I did about what major I chose in college.

I believe beauty is, like everything, relative. It changes continually based on culture, fashion, fads, society, and personal preference. Just because it’s relative doesn’t make it any less a part of our world. And a very real part that we should be prepared to teach to our children. I like to think, what you don’t teach them they will learn from someone else. In this case, I don’t want the beauty industry teaching my daughter about her value, worth, or beauty.

With all the things going on today what do we teach our kids? Is it enough to just tell them, “You’re beautiful no matter what anyone thinks” or “You’re beautiful on the inside and outside”? It may have been before the age of the internet and social media where now from a very young age they are blasted with all kinds of standards that they’ll try to hold themselves to, but never can. Brushing it off as unimportant or frivolous or not what really matters in life isn’t any good either. At one point they will face the world and the world will tell them differently. Maybe they will not care what people say, but we all tend to care what people say and think about us. I think it’s our childhood foundations that help us to overcome these challenges or we yield to them.

Just because we see a beautiful woman it doesn’t mean she thinks or feels that she is beautiful. I had the good fortune of being raised in a family of gorgeous women. My grandmother, my mother, my many aunts, my sisters, they’re all exceptionally attractive women. Not only are they beautiful, but many of them are in the beauty industry and are positive examples of empowering women. I grew up being told that I could “wear a burlap sack and the boys would still come.” In spite of all this, when Luka and I were married it took two years before I could be in front of him without makeup and not feel shame. Growing up I had awful skin. Dry skin, acne, blemishes, and breakouts constantly from the time I was 12. When I was a teenager I was the only one of my sisters and of my girl friends who has bad skin. It haunted me. I loved, but dreaded Summer because going swimming meant all my makeup would come off. I truly felt that if I wasn’t wearing makeup to cover my skin I was ugly. Not just my skin was ugly, but I was ugly. It didn’t matter who told me otherwise. That’s how I felt. The funny thing is I never looked at other girls with bad skin and thought, “They’re so ugly.” I just thought, “I feel ya.”

It took years to heal my mind. First, I had a change of lifestyle that miraculously cleared my skin for the first time since I was a child. Even then, it took years for me to get over the mindset that without makeup I’m not a beautiful women. I have Luka to thank for a lot of that. In the beginning of our relationship he would tell me, “You look so beautiful!” when I wasn’t wearing makeup. At this point, with horrible skin, I scoffed. It made me angry. Was he making fun of me? Was he joking? It isn’t funny. It literally put me in a bad mood. But he didn’t stop and after a while I began to think that maybe the “natural look” isn’t so bad. Now, if all it took a woman to feel beautiful was a man telling her that the world would be a different place. Luka alone wasn’t enough. I had to work on myself. I had to get up the courage to go out in public without makeup, which was a very painful experience for me in the beginning. I had to work on my mind. I read a lot of books, I did a lot of personal development. Even now, I know that when I do my hair and makeup I can make myself into a very beautiful picture of a woman, by society’s standards. Even so, when I don’t wear makeup my confidence diminishes and I know I still have work to do.

From the beginning, my belief with my daughter was this: I want her to feel and know that she is beautiful so that she will never need someone to tell her that later in life. And the best way she will learn that is not from me telling her that she’s beautiful, but that she sees me feeling that I myself am beautiful and that Luka sees that we are beautiful. My reasoning was that if she knows she is beautiful she will not go looking for fulfillment from someone else telling her she’s beautiful (and those sources are never good).

A little while ago Olivia started telling me and Luka, “Kako si lepa!” which translates into, “You’re so pretty!” She, of course, hears this multiple times from us so when she began repeating it I wasn’t surprised. I was extremely pleased nonetheless. Yes, mami is pretty. Yes, ati (daddy) is pretty. Yes, Olivia is pretty. It was even better when she started telling people outside our home that they were pretty too. Whenever I do my makeup and she wants to use it, I let her. I let her put on my lipstick and then say, “Wow! You really did a great job, would you like to see yourself?” and then I tell her she’s lovely. It’s almost more important to me that I tell her she’s lovely and beautiful at other times of the day too. Not just because she’s done her makeup like mami.

I make a point every day to tell her good things about herself: it’s so wonderful that she is a kind and sensitive person; that I think she has the most beautiful heart because she cares about others and their feelings; that she’s strong and courageous; that she’s brave and laughs. Intentionally, I never criticize my own looks or my own appearances out loud. I don’t even say “Now I’m pretty!” after doing my hair and makeup. I never say what I don’t like about my body. I compliment Luka on his appearance as he does mine. We also make an effort to never criticize others on their appearances. We do our best to find something we can genuinely compliment them on. These aren’t normally the things we would do, but we really discussed how we want her to feel confident about herself and love others too and how we can facilitate that.

Then the other day Olivia comes out of nowhere and says to me, “Mami, I’m sooooo beautiful!” Her arms were outstretched. She wasn’t wearing anything special. Her hair was a frizzy halo around her face. I was in my pajamas. We weren’t going anywhere or doing anything. She just needed to tell me that. I knelt in front of her, held her hands, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Yes, Olivia. Yes, you are beautiful. The most beautiful person I know.” Then she was off and playing again. It hasn’t happened again since, but I loved that moment. I loved that she felt and knew she was beautiful and then it didn’t matter anymore. It’s not all about beauty and looks, but the world would have us think it is and that’s why I think it’s important for her to feel valued at home. So that when social media tries to tell her she isn’t good enough, her feeling of being valued is strong enough to combat those feelings. Of course, I don’t want her value to be only in beauty, but for today that’s the topic.

We tend to parent and make decisions based on our own experiences. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it could be better. However, being intentional in our words and thoughts may be the greatest gift we give our children. Sometimes I feel like I just want to do something huge and change the world then I think if we teach our children to love themselves and others we are changing the world.