Monday, March 29, 2010

Beautiful (by Billy Coffey)


Image courtesy of photobucket.com

A little while ago:

“What are you doing?”

My daughter is standing on her bed and facing the mirror atop her dresser. She’s not looking at herself, not performing the sort of quick once-over females tend to do before going to town. Instead, she’s studying. Closely.

“I’m looking at myself,” she says.

“Why are you standing on the bed?”

“Because if I stand on the floor I can only see half. I want to see the whole thing.”

I offer the sort of nod I often give to females. The sort that says I don’t understand you, but I’m going to act like I do.

“Okay,” I tell her, “but hurry up. We’re ready to leave.”

She continues to scrutinize and then asks, “Daddy, can I ask you something?”

“Can you ask it in the truck?”

“Can you answer it here?”

“Okay, fine.”

She tilts her head to the side and lets her blond hair spill down over her shoulder. My daughter never used to pay attention to mirrors. Now she can’t pass by one without taking a peek to make sure nothing needs tucking or straightening or smoothing.

“Am I pretty?” she asks.

“Very much so,” I say.

She tilts her head to the other side. “Do you think Hannah Montana is pretty?”

“No.”

“Taylor Swift?”

“No.”

“Carrie Underwood?”

“No.”

“Well,” she says, “I think they’re beautiful.”

“Can we go to town now?” I ask her.

She hops off the bed and takes my hand. “What makes them beautiful, Daddy?” she asks.

“Well, since I don’t think they’re beautiful, I can’t really answer that question.”

“I don’t think I’m beautiful,” she says.

“Why’s that?”

“Because there’s a lot wrong with me.”

Now:

We’ve made it to town. My daughter managed to sneak away and into the truck before I could talk to her more. And heading to town with family in tow is not the proper time for such a conversation. So I’m currently left to stew and walk the aisles of the local Target, trying to decide how I’m going to finish the conversation her and I had begun.

At eight, my daughter is on the cusp of that age when appearance begins to matter more than it once did. I don’t think that’s really a bad thing, but it is confusing to her. She thinks everything is beautiful—sunrises, sunsets, and the puffy white seedlings atop dandelions come to mind—but she secretly fears she is not. I can understand. It’s hard to compete with sunrises, sunsets, and dandelions.

And when it comes to things that are beautiful in any obvious way, she still refuses to call them ugly. To her, ugly is just a word people use for things where the beautiful chooses to remain hidden.

That’s the way I want to keep it with her. Because that is nearest to the truth.

This is also the truth—there is a lot wrong with her. Behind that blond hair and those blue eyes is a little girl who has gone through much. Too much, if you ask me.

I see the way she wears long sleeves and pants in the warm weather to hide the bruises that can pop up after her insulin shots. I see the way she talks to friends with her hands in a fist so they won’t see the pock marks left on her fingers from her sugar checks.

It’s bad enough to have a disease, she’s told me. But when you believe that disease makes you ugly, it’s worse.

I don’t blame her for thinking that way. I think there are a lot of people—older, smarter people—who do the same. But what she sees as ugliness I see as a means of becoming beautiful. Her disease has given her a compassion and an understanding I could never have.

I remember recently reading about the Miss Navajo Nation beauty pageant. Held every year. The contestants do the sort of usual things you would find in any pageant anywhere. They dress up and show their talents and talk about what they would do if they held the title.

But there is no swimsuit competition. In its place is a demonstration of some traditional Navajo skill, which can be anything from weaving to butchering a sheep.

I like that.

Because beauty isn’t simply about looking pretty and speaking well. True beauty is useful. It draws attention not to how good you look, but what good you can do.

That’s what I’m going to tell my daughter when we get home.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

***

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

25 comments:

Shark Bait said...

Beautiful

Glynn said...

They will be asking themselves the same question far beyond 8-years-old. And the intensity seems to get worse. The running conversation on thsi very subject I had with my wife over the years ended one day in our late 30s. I told her that every time she criticized her looks, she was actually criticizing me. It stopped her cold. And it's been better since then. Not perfect, mind you, but better.

I don't know what you say to a daughter, since I had only boys. But just reading this makes me want to punch a wall.

Candy said...

Oh boy. Awesome & so powerful. Your daughter is so blessed. I hope she reads this some day.

Joyce said...

I think Dads play a huge role in this conversation with a daughter. Huge.

My youngest has scoliosis-diagnosed on her 12th birthday. She wore a back brace for 23 hours/day until her senior year of highschool. You wouldn't necessarily know it was there but her clothes didn't fit right and she couldn't wear just anything. Had to fit over the brace.

She is a beautiful girl. Outside and in. With a crooked back. And a confidence in herself that I wish I had. And compassionate. And not so critical of other people maybe as some of her peers. Sometimes life deals crummy stuff and it feels less than perfect. But a dad's love and support and belief in a daughter can go a long way.

I could write a book here but your daughter is lucky to have a father who thinks she is beautiful. And tells her so. Even when she doesn't see it herself.

...Hiking with Jesus said...

ah yes... it is not one place mentioned that God's 'virtuous' woman in Proverbs 31 is drop dead gorgeous, he tells all about what she does. "true beauty is useful." I like this one. Thank you for posting it.

Cassandra Frear said...

Gorgeous writing.

This is a holy moment, a holy opportunity you have with your daughter. You can make a difference here for generations.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I have to confess, this is one reason why I am so happy to have boys.

The focus on externals is an impossible challenge for a child. There will always be flaws. It is not always easy for a girl to understand that who she is surpasses how she looks or even what she is capable of doing.

♥ Kathy said...

Beauty comes from the inside not the outside. This was wonderfully written Billy.

Demian Farnworth said...

Billy: I speak for every man when I say thank you for saying this:

"I offer the sort of nod I often give to females. The sort that says I don’t understand you, but I’m going to act like I do."

Elegant, simply and dead on. ;-)

Sandra Heska King said...

And do you find kissy lips on windows and mirrors like I find from my granddaughter?

On the serious side, my daughter wore long pants and sleeves to cover self-inflicted damage from lighters and sharps. We talked once about removing the scars, but she wants to keep them as reminders of where she's been and how she can help others from going there.

She's beautiful

Maureen said...

In a variation on Glynn's comment, my husband once said to me, "What does that say about me?" Of course, I ask him the same question when he self-criticizes.

I know it seems counter-intuitive to say so: boys, too, go through this, as some of my son's friends have commented on their physique in ways that are not the least laudatory. I do think the emphasis on surface remains far stronger among women and girls. One only has to open a magazine to see why.

I ran a post not too long ago about , "Finding Your X Factor in Adversity", about Aime Mullins. I wish she could travel to every city and town in America and talk to girls about what she's gone through and about the meaning of beauty. Hers is real.

Jay said...

Hey Billy,
I tell my 8 yr. old daughter the words of wisdom from my grandmother. Pretty is as pretty does. I didn't understand them and Puddin looks at me like she and her brother are shopping for homes to put me in. But I can say that after an eating disorder and a fight for "beauty" when I look in the mirror now, it's those words that I hear and follow.

Melissa_Rae said...

You just totally freaked me out! My daughter is almost 4 and she's already so concerned about her clothes, hair, shoes, everything. Her self image is very good right now, but I'm already wondering how much that will change in 4 years, 10 years and beyond. As someone who still struggled with self-image problems I wonder how to keep my insecurities from being passed on to her. What you said is beautiful, Billy, and I hope my husband and I are able to handle it as well as you seem to be.

Helen said...

Keep telling her, Billy. Keep telling her. A dad's love does much for helping a girl love herself.

~*Michelle*~ said...

So true.....and beautifully written!

...totally agreeing with Cassandra;

This is a holy moment, a holy opportunity you have with your daughter. You can make a difference here for generations.

Bridget Chumbley said...

My girl goes through phases like this too. Twelve is another awkward age that makes them doubt much about themselves.

Your daughter is blessed to have a wise and loving daddy. You're doing a great job, Billy.

Bonnie Gray said...

As you've let on before, one of your parenting principles is to tell the truth. Like your "monsters" post with your son.

I think your honesty is gonna put cred in the words of encouragement you share with your daughter.

Your daughter has grown up young learning many truths many others haven't had to know. And now, you are taking her by the hand, to teach her that those truths are what brings out her beauty. And that is something no one can take from her.

She is going to grow up knowing her strength and that strength is going to capture the world -- reflecting beauty into hearts of women and ... (cough, sorry Billy.. :)) men in years to come.

L.T. Elliot said...

You're an incredible dad, Billy.

Lisa Jordan said...

Once again you've tugged on my heart and brought tears to my eyes. A sweet sweet post.

Heather Sunseri said...

Yours and your daughter's relationship is beautiful, Billy! No one can explain this difficult concept to a daughter like a dad can. She's lucky to have a dad who will take the time to really think about this with her. I have a 10-yr-old girl, so I can relate to every bit of it. Good luck!

bondChristian said...

Wow... best post I've read today. Best part:

"She thinks everything is beautiful—sunrises, sunsets, and the puffy white seedlings atop dandelions come to mind—but she secretly fears she is not. I can understand. It’s hard to compete with sunrises, sunsets, and dandelions."

Thanks so much for sharing.

-Marshall Jones Jr.

Mary Aalgaard said...

That is so great, Billy. You are doing so much to build up your daughter's self-worth. Our world makes girls feel like they must have physical beauty, defined by movies and magazines, otherwise, they won't be wanted. They won't have any worth. I wish more dads were like you.

JML said...

Your daughter is probably going to grow up into a wonderful young lady. You've got such a good head on your shoulders and care for your kids so much.

Thanks for sharing this with us!

Shark Bait said...

I just referenced this quote in a post I did called beautiful. (I never said I was original)

Its also about beautiful people and sunsets.

Stacey said...

Lovely post, Billy. You two are indeed lucky to have each other. I hope you'll introduce your daughter to the song Beautiful by Bethany Dillon. I think it's got a great message for young girls (and not so young girls).