Should we ever tell a girl she’s beautiful? When I became a mother, I decided not to use that word. Now I wish I had.
I used many other words to describe and praise my daughters. Loving, smart, loyal, funny, challenging, hard-working, creative, thoughtful, weird, powerful, introverted, silly, honest, extroverted, sensitive, brilliant, intuitive, strong, kind, outspoken, generous, brave, problem solving. They were and are all of these things.
They’re also beautiful. On the outside and the inside. They’re beautiful in what they do and in how they look.
And so am I, even though I still don’t believe it deep down. I have judgmental thoughts about my appearance most days. For one thing, I never fit into the ridiculously narrow standard our culture enforces for beautiful women. As Roxanne Gay says in Bad Feminist:
This tension — the idea that there is a right way to be a woman, a right way to be the most essential woman — is ongoing and pervasive. We see this tension in socially dictated beauty standards — the right way to be a woman is to be thin, to wear makeup, to wear the right kind of clothes (not too slutty, not too prudish — show a little leg, ladies), and so on.
The tension Gay talks about divides us within ourselves. Unintentionally, when I didn’t tell my daughters that they were beautiful, I reinforced for them the internal division I have.
Other girls showed me the problem I’d passed along in the year my daughters turned 19. That was when the Girls Editorial Board hatched the idea of devoting a special issue each year of New Moon Girls magazine to girls being beautiful as themselves.
These girls decided to counteract the self-division created by the popular culture definition of beauty. They were adamant that we needed to use the word beautiful. They didn’t want any euphemisms or substitutes for beautiful.
They said: it’s a problem when girls can’t feel and say that we ourselves are beautiful. It’s one way girls and women learn to think of ourselves and others as “not good enough.”
In their opinion, beautiful is not the problem. It’s society’s use of beautiful that’s the real problem.
They told me that beautiful is the feeling of awesomeness in yourself, even if it’s only there for a minute. The feeling of recognizing your experiences of beautiful in everyday life. It’s the feeling of accepting yourself. The feeling of trusting yourself to do what’s right for you. The feeling of being brave and stepping up to try something that you don’t already know you can ace. The feeling of supporting another person who’s brave. They didn’t want the word beautiful to be allowed to make anyone feel down about herself.
I learned from girls that when we women are brave enough to own our beautiful, and call ourselves and girls beautiful, it supports them in thinking deeply and sharing why and when they are beautiful.
Let’s not let pop culture take the power of beautiful away from us or from our girls.
P. S. Find photos from this year’s Girls Are Beautiful Being Themselves special issue on our Instagram https://www.instagram.com/newmoongirls/ through June 25.