How I Talk About Beauty to My Young Daughter as a Hair & Makeup Artist
There's one thing I've known was going to be really important to get right since finding out I'd be raising a little girl. Well, there were a lot of things - but the one I'm writing about today is beauty. As a whole, as a concept, as an industry, as a self perception. It's no secret that how we speak about beauty as mothers will go on to effect our daughters. What we say to them, about them, about ourselves, our own self esteem and projections of self esteem make a huge impact. And I happen to be part of an industry that creates artistic beauty for a living. (See how I phrased that? More on that in a bit.) I knew from the start that I had an even heavier responsibility with her little eyes on all of those things plus my career.
As late-GenX and Millenial mothers, I feel like we are making awesome strides with these things. We're recognising the above more and more, and we're demanding change in ourselves and in our world when it comes to how we portray beauty. Every day we see more models and images that are relatable and representative of more and more diverse displays of beauty. We're lifting eachother up more, we're calling out the differences between natural beauty and filters, procedures, and photoshop, and we're preaching body positivity. But this is still new and uncharted territory for us. Our mothers and the elder generations of women in our lives didn't grow up un this revolution. Our childhood wasn't this way either. We're simultaneously trying to create a brighter future, while being the first break in the cycle of women who were brought up by women who for centuries have grown up in a society full of unfair, patriarchal, capitalistic standards of beauty.
Words of Affirmation
The first concious decision I made was choosing my words of affirmation wisely. Think about the things we say and how we speak to little boys and little girls. "Hey buddy" vs "Hey pretty girl." The frequency in which we say "you're so cute, pretty, beautiful" to little girls vs how often we tell little boys they are handsome. If youre guilty of this I get it - it's a cultural norm most don't even think twice about. Kids are visually cute. But we're kind of programmed that comments on appearance are better recieved by females vs males, so it's more common that our mind shifts away from making an appearance comment to a little boy to find something else to say vs with little girls. So I've always tried to make a conscious effort to minimize my appearance based affirmations, and maximize character affirmations like, "You are so smart," "You are so creative" "You have such a kind heart" "Your smile makes me so happy." We want to teach kids their value comes from so many more things than the way they look. It can be hard not to comment on how beautiful your kid is, and I'm definitely not saying you never should or that I never have. I do want my daughter to grow up feeling beautiful too. It's just balancing that scale, and making sure the confidence we're trying to instill comes mostly from within.
Makeup does not make you beautiful
The next thing I've always been careful with how I speak about it is the art of beauty. I think it's awesome that as feminine beings, we do have this widely accepted art form we can practive every day if we choose to of using makeup and hair design to create a certain look. It is my job after all. It can be really fun, and it can help quiet our self consciousness. (I do get salty sometimes that these things have become somewhat of an expectation that's an extreme double standard for females vs males, but that is a whole other blog post I won't get into here lol). But one thing that breaks my heart to see, and one thing I don't want my daughter to experience, is feeling the NEED to have makeup on, or your hair done, and feeling any less-than without it. When confidence comes from hair and makeup alone, that's a problem. Makeup doesn't "make you" pretty or beautiful - you already are! So even from day one of my daughter playing with makeup and playing dress up, when she shows me the look she's created with pride and excitedly awaits my response, I say, "You look so fancy!" instead of, "You look so pretty!" Do I mess this up often? Yup! So I just try and come in with a follow up. "Beautiful! - Well, you always look beautiful, but you're looking extra fancy right now!" I've had to come in with the follow up so often, that my daughter will confidently follow up herself. "Well yeah, I'm beautiful before the makeup, but I'm lookin' pretty fancy right now, huh?" Mission accomplished.
While the connection to my career ends once we drop below the neck, this is such a deep topic for me, and I've admittedly had to go back and edit down this section A LOT because there's just so much I could say about it. Body image hits deep for a lot of us, and my hope is that we can shift the perspective of what a beautiful body "should" look like for the next generation. I aim to teach my daughter that body type, size, and shape varies from person to person and there is no right or wrong ideal. When it comes to body composition, I've tried to explain calories in vs calories out in a non-judgmental and factual way. Food is fuel. "Extra," (as my daughter adorably called it for a while after this conversation) is unused fuel your body has saved for times that you don't give your body enough fuel. How people decide to use their fuel is a non-moral personal choice that is nobody's business but theirs. This blog post is about beauty, not health, so I'll try not to go too far down that rabbit hole - but I've really tried to emphasize that smaller is no more beautiful than larger, and vice versa. Making anyone's appearance a negative thing in any way is not okay. That goes for others as well as ourselves. Our bodies do amazing things for us. To have the strength, energy, and ability to do the things we need and want to do each day - THAT is the ideal.
What makes someone or something beautiful? Yes, there's the whole "beauty comes from within" sentiment - which is a great and I do believe this to be true. BUT we really can't deny that beauty is visual. If you do, your bluff will for sure be called. But how can we speak about beauty - to our children and to ourselves - in a way that does not deny aesthetics but also encourages self-esteem for all? Our answer is: beauty is something you see that makes you feel happy. Different characteristics of different people and things make them beautiful. Smiles are always beautiful. Interesting eyes, cute dimples. Witnessing a kind act or a loving moment. The sunset on the beach. A killer makeup look. A bare face of someone you are happy to see. Beauty is for everyone. It is not a specific standard. It is not something you can purchase or apply. It's a visually positive experience. And its definition is fluid and up for interpretation.
My hope is that raising a child who holds this definition of beauty will create a person that looks for and sees beauty in herself, in others, and in her world, without judgement of what is and what isn't. Beauty is all about perspective, and I hope we can remove the negativity and exclusivity that's creeped it's way into "beauty standards" as we raise this next generation. There's so much beauty to behold when you love and accept yourself and those around you.