She was two years old, and covered in cream cheese. Pink cream cheese smeared across her nose, the corners of her mouth, the tips of her pigtails, and even (somehow) on her stomach. Her stomach was available for decoration because it stuck out, soft and round, peek-a-boo below a too-short shirt that her mother needed to remove from circulation.
She was two years old, and she was beautiful.
Her mother was watching her. Watching the progress of the pink cheese and calculating the inevitable clean-up. Watching the belly bounce and the shirt ride the wave. Watching when someone walked by, outside, on the sidewalk beyond.
The woman outside was not like the mother and daughter inside. She was clean. Her hair was done, her face, stunning. Her clothes were stylish; pressed and curved to her sculpted body. She laughed into her cell phone, stood for a moment, and then moved on.
The watching mother sat as the earth shifted beneath. A wave of sadness hit. She looked at her daughter.
One day you won’t know how beautiful you are.
One day, the mother knew, the self-consciousness would hit. The bar would be raised, raised to a standard as high as the perfectly sculpted woman outside the window. Her daughter would look at herself and compare. She would look at her clothes and complain.
She would wipe the cream cheese off her face.
The mother knew the lying voices too well. Beauty that can be bought, sold and measured. Beauty as a competition. Beauty as an unattainable goal. But this wasn’t beauty. These were lies. And the mother made a vow.
Beautiful. We will tell you that you’re beautiful. Again and again, forever and ever. Beautiful when covered in mud. Beautiful with mismatched clothes. Beautiful when taller than the boys. Beautiful when sleepy, beautiful when poised, beautiful when laughing so hard that milk comes out of your nose.
Beautiful when your eyes are wide… like they are right now.
The mother vowed to reclaim a word that had been stolen from her, and hopefully, over the years, to help her daughter (and help herself) see that there is more beauty in the depth of the eyes and the warmth of a smile than there could ever be in a flat waist or a perfect outfit. Maybe, together, they could see it. Maybe, together, they could hear and speak the truth.
And maybe the beautiful truth would set them free.
*The title of this post is taken from a song that ran through my head as I wrote–“Beautiful For Me” by Nicole Nordman.