An Open Letter to My Daughter

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Dear Cora –

You are only almost a month old. This letter is one I will read you, I imagine, over and over through your life. Our society isn’t nice to little girls, young women, old women. It tells us, frequently and often, that we don’t fit its idea of beauty. Often it tells us without words, but it tells us in its media, over and over again, through images that are airbrushed and photoshopped to show what it considers the ideal beauty type. This is all a lie. I wish I could tell you to ignore it, but it’s hard. So here’s what I will say.

I want you to always remember that you’re beautiful. Even now, you have a wonderfully expressive personality. When you’re nursing, you squeal and coo and grunt. When you’ve gotten the hiccups, as you do almost every night, you yell out after each one, like you’re frustrated with them. You don’t cry, you just yell out. “What the hell is this, mom? Make it stop!” That’s what that little yell sounds like. And each time you yell out, I tell you that I understand – no one likes the hiccups.

My point is that even at three weeks old, you are developing a personality. You have two exceptionally stubborn parents who you may or may not inherit stubbornness from. There is a part of me that hopes you inherit that stubbornness, so you can maybe ignore the barrage of false narratives our media will inevitably find a way to bombard you with. You are beautiful now, and you always will be. I don’t care how many arguments we might have – and I am sure they will happen. I don’t care how badly you screw up, if it happens. You will always be beautiful to me.

What I want you to mostly remember is that you might not fit the standard of physical beauty the world gives you, and that’s okay. Physical beauty is not important. Remember to have a beautiful heart. That doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you – it means giving and receiving love gracefully. It means being faithful to yourself first, respecting yourself first, and then giving it out to the world. Your beauty is in your soul, not in your face.

I need you to know too that I have never been very good at self-confidence. Your father could tell you that. He’s heard me cry and moan over my physical appearance more than once. But I made a promise to you, and to him, before you were born, that I would stop saying these things out loud. I don’t want you to look at me and think, “If my mommy thinks she’s ugly, and I think she’s beautiful, what does that mean I am?” I still think my own mother is the most beautiful woman in the world, but I still hear her speak poorly of herself regularly. I can’t blame her – she struggled with a mother who reminded her often of her flaws. It was a sign of her own self-consciousness, but she took it out on my mom. I don’t want to be either party. I want to remind you often that you are loved, and you are smart, and you are strong, and you are kind, and those traits are forever more important than what you look like on the outside. Remember, a kind heart is the most beautiful thing about a person.

The reality is, we all find things to dislike about our physical appearance. But what is important is to remember that the things we dislike about our physical appearance, others find attractive, or endearing, or beautiful. Ignore those things you dislike, because they don’t matter. If you spend your life worrying about something physical you don’t like about yourself, you’ll miss out on giving and receiving love and kindness. You’ll miss out on seeing the inner beauty of those around you. You’ll miss out on understanding what forgiveness is. I know that I have.

I also want to remind you that we all make mistakes. Don’t let your mistakes define you – they don’t. Look at them as a learning experience.

And I realize that you may not be interested in listening to this advice. This may even make you angry at some point. Maybe as a teenager you’ll tell me to shut up and go away. If you’re anything like me, your stubbornness will manifest as a bad attitude and hopefully will evolve into something more like self-respect. In advance, it’s okay. I’ll try to remember patience and I will likely remind you to please be patient with me. You and I are both learning our way around each other. We always will relearn this maneuver.

I just want you to know, you are beautiful. You are loved. You are smart and strong. I know you will be kind. When you are awake and happy in the morning, I can see that in your eyes. Somewhere in there, you are waiting to grow into a little girl. I don’t want to rush it.  I am going to cherish every damn moment, whether sleepless and frustrating or not, and I am going to love you through all of it.

Cora, you are loved. You always will be – no matter what. 

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