The other morning at school drop-off I realized I simply had to take a picture of my daughter. She had picked out her outfit for the day and it was so snazzy and adorable that I had to memorialize it. I asked her to pose and her face lit up – she’s so full of vitality and excitement. When I finished taking the picture she ran to my arms and I squeezed her tight and whispered, as I so often do, “You’re so beautiful.”
Immediately I felt the guilt. We all read that article a few years ago about why we should stop calling little girls cute and pretty and, yes, beautiful. We should focus on their smarts, their efforts, their interests, their virtues. I believe it: I don’t want her to think that being physically attractive is all that matters or that I’ll somehow love her less if she’s not beautiful.
Even as I felt the guilt wash over me, though, my heart rebelled. “You’re beautiful” is the most perfect way I know to say what I mean and I don’t want to stop saying it.
I suppose I do, in a way, mean that she’s physically attractive. I happen to think she’s adorable and that her blue eyes are the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. But I don’t mean it in some superlative way. I don’t think she’s any more beautiful than every single child is. I don’t think she’s destined to break hearts or be a supermodel. I don’t mean that she’s just another pretty face.
I mean SO MUCH more than that.
I mean that her smile is so bright that it shines out from her face, suffusing everything around her with an aura of light and happiness that’s contagious.
I mean that her energy is so radiantly positive that I can’t help but feel lighter when I’m with her. That even when she’s in the throes of a tantrum I sometimes smile because I just love her so god damn much.
I mean that she’s empathetic – always giving me a hug or a pat when I’m hurt or upset and always sharing her snacks or toys with other kids – and that empathy is so pure and innocent that I know the world would be a better place if we could all harness something even remotely close to it.
I mean that I feel in the deepest recesses of my being that her soul is good and wonderful and that she will grow up to be an amazing person, filling the world with grace.
I mean that when I look in her eyes I feel so overcome with love that I feel it boiling up inside of me and I can’t possibly keep it all locked up – I have to let it pour out of me, releasing it in a hug, a kiss, a whispered word, or else just giving it up to the universe, letting it lift me up and spread me out and cleanse me.
I mean that just the thought of the amazing miracle of her existence is enough to bring me to tears.
A friend of mine frequently says that we need to reclaim “Beautiful”. I think this is what she means and I’m joining the movement.
I’m on board with the need to stop calling girls pretty and cute – words that contain little more than a judgment about their physical appearance. But I refuse to give up beautiful. I think we should all call our daughters beautiful and we should mean it deeply and fully. And while we’re at it, we should call our sons beautiful, too.