All dressed up as Princess Elsa, my daughter asked me: "Am I beautiful, Mama?". She skipped off merrily when I answered, “Absolutely. You are truly beautiful.” But, knowing this won’t be the last time she asks the question, it raises the more challenging issue of educating my daughter on what the meaning of ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ actually is.
It’s a sad sign of the times that my daughter is impressed with outward, skin-deep beauty, when it’s what inside that really counts. Our children are fed misguided, photoshopped messages about superficial beauty every day through television, social media, movies, video games, chart-topping lyrics and magazine covers. They are growing up in an impressionable world that is so different from the environments of our own childhoods. Surely I’m not the only mother who sees a problem in this?
It’s not as easy as it sounds, though, when the desire to fit in is one of the strongest forces affecting younger generations. Girls seek to ‘belong’ by having what society deems to be the perfect figure, the most flawless skin and the trendiest clothes. I want my daughter to rise above these shallow misconceptions of beauty. How? By teaching her to be confident, kind and courageous – to stay true to herself and her inner beauty.
Most importantly, I can teach her to love herself"
With these traits, she will lead rather than be led, and cherish her individuality rather than feel the disappointment of not being perfect.
This goes hand in hand with having a strong sense of self. I know that her path to adulthood will include heartbreak, rejection and disappointment – it’s a rite of passage – but by listening to her and nurturing her, I can teach her to pick up the pieces when her dreams are shattered, and move on. I will be her mirror, and if she sees me accept and value her as she is then she will accept and value herself.
There are endless things that I love about my daughter and it’s important that I tell her – repeatedly. By verbalising what is good about her (beyond her looks), and sharing my time and emotions with her, she will feel loved, needed and, ultimately, beautiful.
While it’s a natural instinct to protect our children, it’s also important to expose them to people from all walks of life – to listen to their stories, feel their pain, and share their joy. I want her to see that the most beautiful people are the ones that are the most real, and the ones that have the courage to be true to themselves. We learn by example, and I believe this is one of the best lessons in life.
Raising a confident daughter is not just dependent on the mother, though. It’s also crucial to encourage a close relationship between girls and their fathers, as well as uncles and grandfathers, as these relationships will not only serve as a template for her future male relationships, but they are another building block for her self-esteem. It has been proven that women who have a positive relationship with their fathers have more confidence.
I know I have my work cut out for me as my daughter – like yours – will be up against a Goliath of hypersexualised and airbrushed images of beauty throughout
her life. But I know what I have to do. Instead of focusing on looking beautiful,
I will teach her to be beautiful – and there is nothing even Princess Elsa can do to compete with that.
Dr Salhia Afridi is a clinical psychologist and founder of The LightHouse Arabia