I have quite a few friends who share a lot of online articles about body-image, beauty, appreciating your body, etc. I know that this is a struggle for a lot of women, all of the articles are well-intentioned, and most of them are well-written. But I have realized something the last few months: they bore me terribly. I don't need them.
Don't get me wrong, I don't like seeing pictures of myself. I have recently started fresh at trying to get in shape and be more healthy, and its going well, but I am -way- overweight right now, and don't care much for seeing pictures that remind me of that fact. Not because it makes me self-conscious of my appearance or how others perceive me, but because I dislike the reminder of the lack of self-discipline that I have struggled with in so many areas of my life in recent years. The fact is, in most ways, I am the most personally confident I've ever been in my life. I put myself together reasonably well any time I leave the house and try to look my best in every way (hair, makeup, clothes), and then scarcely think about my looks at all. I try hard to be a good, and outwardly focused person. I have a good marriage, to a man who is consistently attracted to me, and who recognizes and appreciates a lot of things about me other than my appearance, as well. Most importantly, I have a solid testimony, and a strong relationship with a loving Father. If I am self-conscious around people, it is nearly always due to my behavior: I shouldn't have said that, I should've said this, I should've been kinder or more patient about that. How I look or the size or shape of my body just isn't that high in the hierarchy of my thoughts--how I treat people and what I'm getting done (or not) consumes most of my focus.
But that wasn't always true for me--there were times when it was far, far different. And remembering that, and seeing a lot of women my age and older still struggling with it, makes me rather conscious of how I raise my daughters, the things I say to them, the things I emphasize. There is a school of thought that you shouldn't tell your girls that they're pretty all the time, lest they begin to think that their value rests primarily in being "pretty". For the vast majority of good and decent parents and daughters, I say "hogwash". I tell my daughters that they are beautiful, pretty and cute, and I do it often. So does my husband. And we mean it every time. Every little girl should have someone in her life who thinks she's beautiful and tells her so. The world will be unkind soon enough and often. We live in a fallen world: I will be unable to prevent others from judging her to some degree on her appearance, and she will likely be judged more kindly if she is confident and takes good care of herself. She is more likely to do those things, but not go overboard in them, if she is told that she is beautiful by someone who sincerely believes it.
But I also compliment my girls on many other things, just as, if not more often. In our house, we are careful to recognize and express appreciation for helpfulness, bravery, creativity, hard work and generosity. There are rewards and praise for good grades at school, hard work at practice, uncomplainingly doing chores, helping or sharing with siblings, and being patient and selfless. We very much try to nurture the individual talents, interests and strengths of each of our children, whether that's a love for writing and drawing, or wrestling and designing, or dancing and building. We enforce unpleasant consequences for self-centeredness, laziness, unkindness and arrogance (and, actually, sometimes we don't have to impose any consequences at all, since those are behaviors that tend to be self-punishing).
Most importantly, we try hard to teach our kids, in a spirit of love and truth, that they are children of God. That they have a loving Father, who watches over them even when mom and dad can't be there, who always, always, always loves them and knows that they are beautiful. We try to help them believe and remember that everyone else is a child of God, too: that everyone else they meet is their brother or sister, that their Heavenly Father expects them to treat their brothers and sisters nicely, even when its hard. He can see the beauty in each of his children, and he wants us to try to see it, too.
Its a lot easier to love and see the beauty in others when you feel loved and know that someone sees the beauty in you. So I will continue to compliment those beautiful blue eyes and praise her for giving her little sister half of the last brownie.