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Our Inner Cinderelly

A couple of weeks ago, my child was looking admiringly at the cover of a princess coloring book. She’s had it for half her life, but until now, she’d always been more interested in the scenes overall than in the individual princesses. This time, however, she matter-of-factly announced, “Mommy, this girl is the most beautiful girl in the world. I’m not that beautiful.”

I paused, with a sinking feeling in my gut, to absorb the news that the inevitable had happened. My child was comparing her looks to others’ and finding hers inferior. Her tone was one of factual observation more than one of self deprecation. However, I knew it was the precursor to what women everywhere are up against: the pressure, internal or external, to look whatever way society thinks is beautiful—people who don’t even know us, much less love us.

I took a breath before responding, doing my best to summon everything I’ve studied about respectful parenting as it relates to body image. Finally, I neutrally responded, “Baby girl, that’s interesting. Tell me more.”

She proceeded to tell me everything she found lovely about the image before her. When she finished, I acknowledged her closing statement with “Yes, I like the color of her dress, too. And do you know what I really like, that you can’t see in any picture? In fact, I think it’s what makes someone truly beautiful, more than anything else could.”

“What is that, Mommy?”

“Kindness. Although some people say it’s nice to look a certain way on the outside, kindness is the greatest kind of beauty. It has nothing to do with what someone looks like. Unlike appearance, which changes over time, kindness can last someone’s entire life.”

“Oh.”

I could tell she was processing thoughtfully.  We lingered on the topic for only a few moments more, and I was careful to avoid giving the topic too much attention, lest it become a priority in her mind. After that, weeks passed without another mention of beauty. Yesterday, however, she approached me holding the Cinderelly brooch of a dress-up gown (my Grandma Kiddy always called the most famous princess Cinderelly). I wondered what was coming.

“Mommy, do you know what? This girl looks a lot like me! I wonder if she’s kind, like I am.”    Right there, my heart swelled with joy. Indeed, physical beauty will be on my daughter’s radar if she’s anything like most of the women in generations before her. And she may or may not grow up looking anything like a princess, but that’s not important to me. Rather than negating her observation about the initial princess, however, I knew the importance of acknowledging what she perceived and adding to her understanding, rather than undoing her observation or turning the focus to her own exterior beauty, had made an impression on her value system.

We really can influence children’s thought processes respectfully while still supporting their inner princesses—or superheroes—whoever they may be. We can help them absorb what really matters.

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