My little Bernadette is quite a pretty little girl. I hope that doesn’t come off as proud, but even I can’t help but marvel at her beauty. And I’m not the only one. People are constantly remarking on it. At the grocery store, the park, the library, the car wash, everywhere. “Well, aren’t you pretty,” they say. They grin at me and say, “Look at those dimples on that sweet girl!” And I find myself looking with them.
You see, Bernadette’s got 2 dimples, one in the center of each cheek and when she gives you that grin, no matter what crime she was just part of, it’s over. Even my hardened mother’s heart can’t stay mad.
So she’s a pretty little girl. The only problem is that she is starting to be aware of it. Now when she hears strangers remark on her looks she throws them a sideways grin, or struts away with this impossible 2 and a half year old attitude as if to say, Yeah, I know I’m pretty. So what.
It’s beginning to worry me.
This past weekend it got even worse.
On Sunday Bernadette had the honor of being a flower girl in a relative’s wedding. She wore a pretty little dress, my mother-in-law curled her hair, she carried a cute little basket and all day long we kept telling her just how pretty she was. And each time I told her she was pretty she got sassier and sassier.
I’ve started to wonder what all of this talk of “pretty” was doing to my little 2 year old. She’s always been girly and interested in dresses and jewelry and babies but I was starting to see something I little bit different in her, something other than the innocence of girly interests.
This was beginning to look like vanity.
My children are still young so I struggle with how to begin teaching them about the more complicated moral truths. They understand that lying and hitting are wrong, but how do I being to talk about vanity and chastity? I want to raise my daughter, and any future daughters I might have, to be confident women proud of who they are, inside and out. But where is the line between healthy self-love and self absorption?
I struggle with questions like this in my own life. How in the world am I going to handle these topics with a 2 year old? Is it even possible?
I tell myself to just relax. She’s only 2 and a half! Sure, she’s sassy and spunky but she will grow out of these things. She hasn’t even formed ideas about things like body image and beauty yet. At least I’m pretty sure she hasn’t.
And then we went to the library this morning and I got a glimpse into the mind of this little girl.
We have a gigantic library of books at home (and I’m terrible of getting books back in time) so we don’t check out library books very often. Usually we just go and read and play a little and read a little more and leave with our hands in or pockets. But, I was feeling wild today, so I told the kids they could each pick out a few books to check out. Gus quickly gathered up about 20 that he wanted/needed. Bernadette wandered around, pulling a few books off the shelf and then sitting on the floor to paging through them.
Dominic was on some sort of a mission to rip that place apart so our library time ended abruptly and as the books were being piled up I looked for the first time at the books Bernadette had found.
She had 2 early reader Barbie books, complete with strange magic driven story lines, mid-drift bearing characters and way too much cleavage. Yucky yuck. I tried to negotiated with her. Not only do I not want books like that in my house, I don’t want to read those vapid stories endlessly for the next 2 weeks.
I found a cute little book about a kitty and offered it to her but she hollered, “No, the pretty girl book!”
Yeah, that’s what she said, the pretty girl book.
My stomach sank. I looked at my innocent 2 year old girl and then at the book she was clutching. On the cover was a Barbie Mermaid Thing, in a bikini, impossibly thin waist, flowing yellow hair down to her hips and glitter dripping from somewhere. Is this what she thought was pretty? Really? And suddenly I’m looking into the future and see I Bernadette begging to wear revealing clothes and too much makeup and I watch her feeling that deep ugliness of “not good/thin/pretty enough” that comes with all of this. Things I felt then. Things we all feel when cornered in with impossible standards.
For the first time I saw the tiniest crack in my daughter’s innocence and suddenly those desperate junior high and high school years didn’t feel so far away.
And I knew what I was in for–what she was in for–and it scared me.
I wanted to talk to her about this, to get into what real beauty is…but Dominic was screaming, and I was getting the stank eye from a librarian. Plus, like I said, Bernadette is 2 and what she wants she wants especially when someone is trying to take it from her.
So we checked out the horrible Barbie books and I hid them as soon as we walked into the house.
But what to do now? She is a beautiful girl and I’m not going to chop her hair or dress her in a burlap sack to make her believe otherwise. But she could really use a healthy dose of humility–you know, the good type of humility that is grounded in truth and fear of the Lord.
For now, all I know is that the kids will not be browsing for library books independently again, at least not any time soon. And I am going to cool it on the “pretty girl” comments.
If you are the mother of little girls, or girls that were once little, and you faced issues like this I would LOVE for you to share your wisdom. I’m a little stuck on what to do that is both loving and healthy. Comment, email (firstname.lastname@example.org), whatever.
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