Linking up with Rachel.
I'm raising two daughters (and would love it if God sent more our way!) and the topic of nurturing girls is near and dear to my heart. I was blessed with parents that did a good job of nurturing the girls they were blessed with. Some of you may not have been blessed with that. Even those of us who were so blessed, still probably struggled with the inevitable insecurities that girls today feel. I've been blessed with some wonderful female friends who have struggled so deeply in this very way. So here are the five things that I would tell you if you were my daughter.
You are beautiful.
I feel as if our generation has been told time and time again that we shouldn't compliment a girl on her looks, because that means that all we are noticing are her looks. But what has that bred? A generation of girls who are terribly insecure about their looks.
A woman (even a woman in the making) needs to hear, from the people that she loves the most, that she is beautiful. She doesn't need to hear it to the exclusion of any other compliments, but she needs to hear that she is beautiful!
I think it is especially powerful (speaking from firsthand experience) to hear this message from your father. Dads, tell your daughters that they are beautiful!
So, if no one has told you that yet, let me be the one to tell you - you are beautiful.
To be a woman is to naturally possess a particular kind of power.
For all the efforts of feminism, I fear that we have lost sight of one thing - a woman's dignity lies not in what she can or cannot do, but in who she is. A significant part of who she is is one who brings life. For some women that may be physical motherhood, but for all women it is spiritual motherhood. The beauty of our faith is that we acknowledge that woman's dignity lies in her gift of motherhood, but that that does not necessarily mean physical motherhood. In fact, even those of us who are physical mothers would be lousy mothers if we didn't also practice spiritual motherhood with our children.
A woman is one capable of nurturing in a way that a man cannot. It is built into who we are as females. That may mean nurturing children, but it also means the way in which you can bring life and love to all your relationships - friendships, family relationships, mentoring relationships, etc. Woman have been gifted with a tremendous power to bring life into the world, and often that life is brought about through openness to others and by being attune to their needs.
You are fearfully and wonderful made.
Althought I only have an almost 2 year old and a 4 year old, already I'm laying the foundations for talks about their sexuality. Already I tell them that God has made their bodies beautifully, and that we need to take care of our bodies. Already I tell them that there are parts of themselves that are private, and not for others to touch or see.
But the conversations I'm already beginning to have with them are not ones of shame - they are ones in which I am trying to instill in them a sense of awe and respect for the gift of their bodies. Sexuality is not just about sex - it is about how we are in relationship with one another. Our bodies are not our enemies; they can be used to be Christ's hands and feet. Already I see this in the gentle hugs that Therese gives her friends and her sister (especially when they're hurt or sad) and the gentle way Maria strokes someone's face if they're sad. They are learning that their physicality is a very, very good thing, and that it can be used as a power for good. As they get older, we'll continue to talk about what that means, but for now I want them to know that God made them good. In particular, their bodies are a good thing that they should be proud to care for. That leads me to the next point...
Focus on being healthy, not on being a certain size or weight.
We have a lot of "thin" genes in our family, but that doesn't mean that everyone is an ideal weight. In the months before becoming pregnant with Maria, I had a sudden, inexplicable weight gain (to the point that I weighed almost as much as I did when I was pregnant with Therese). It ended up that the weight gain was a result of my PCOS, but that wasn't something that I knew at the time. Up until that point in my life, I had always been skinny without trying. I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and it didn't affect my weight. But suddenly, my body was reacting to what I was eating in a way it hadn't before. (There are some theories about why women struggle with weight gain with PCOS, but one thought is that their bodies aren't processing insulin correctly, which affects how they digest their food and also affects their fertility.) Now, three years later, I've found ways to keep my body healthy (especially avoiding or minimizing certain foods from my diet and excercising), but more so than my weight, I've tried to put the focus on my health.
Back when I was struggling so much with weight and body image, Andrew reminded me that I needed to be mindful of how I talked about my weight because I had a daughter. I didn't want my daughter to look in the mirror and be unhappy with her appearance! I didn't want her to look to see if she was "fat" and to see only imperfections.
So, I worked so hard to be mindful of how I talked about my body. I don't use the word "fat" (even on days when I feel that way) but instead say things like, "Oh, this shirt fits me". Or, "Oh, this doesn't fit well. I should find something that will fit well so I can be comfortable!" And when I feel good in something, I say (right in front of Therese), "Oh! That looks so nice! I look great!" Clothing is logical - I want it to be pretty, but I also want it to fit my body! If that means buying a bigger size, that's totally fine.
Not talking disparagingly of my body also means that if Therese points out that my tummy is bigger than hers, I proudly say, "Yes it is! That's because I grew two beautiful babies in there. It's a mommy-sized tummy!" When she asks why I'm putting on make-up, I tell her, "To enhance my natural beauty! I want to show off my natural beauty, and make-up shows off how beautiful I am!" (I promise it doesn't sound conceited when you're talking to a four year old.) I tell her this, even when I don't feel that way. And do you know what? Sometimes just saying it makes me feel better. I see myself through my daughter's eyes!
And when I chose to eat or not eat something, I don't say that I'm not eating it to avoid getting fat, I put it in the context of eating what makes our bodies healthy and strong!
You are so loved.
All children need to be told that they're loved, but I think girls especially need this. If a girl knows she is loved, knows that she will be loved no matter what (I remember my parents telling me that when I was growing up!) it gives her confidence to face the world.
Girls are often teased, or bullied, or excluded from groups of friends. They worry about whether or not boys like them. You can't protect them from those experiences, and you can't make them better. But you can try your best to bolster them by constantly reminding them that they're loved by you.
You can never tell your daughter too many times that you love her. And if you were my daughter, I would be sure you knew just how loved you are. :-)