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How Can I Tell My Child To Love Her Face When I Don’t Love Mine

Our struggle to love ourselves as women

A beautiful young lady in a long plum colored velvet dress looking at her reflection in a full lenth mirror.
My beautiful daughter, but she can't see it. (Image by author)

She Hates How She Looks She came out of the fitting room, in the long, plum-colored velvet maxi dress. It has thin spaghetti straps, with a long side slit on the left side. Her long black hair draped over her shoulder.

It was the perfect dress for her.

All of a sudden, she looked like she was fourteen going on eighteen. I was stunned by how beautiful she looked, and moved knowing my daughter was growing into young adulthood.

“Let me take a picture,” I said. She looked at the camera with a solemn face. “Smile!” I said, but she shook her head. “No, I don’t look good when I smile. It makes my face seem rounder.” Then she said quietly, “I don’t like my face.”

Looking in the mirror at us, my heart sank like a wet paper boat that had absorbed too much water.

We have the identical face.

“You look beautiful when you smile.” I tried to encourage her. She looked unconvinced. Someone had gently teased her about her face at school, even though they didn’t mean to make fun of her. She revealed, trying to keep her composure. But as her mother I could read her face before her soul spoke. I saw how her eyes moistened and sparkled before the tears came. “I’m sorry that happened. Would you say my face doesn’t look good as well?” I gently prodded. She shook her head. “Your face is not the same as mine.” She looked away.

The next few minutes we engaged in fruitless conversation. I tried to make her see her beauty, but she was resolute in her dissatisfaction with her face. The soaked paper boat finally had enough. It melted and disintegrated into tiny little pieces, consumed by the dark waters.

I Hated How I Looked As I wiped away my makeup that night, I looked into the mirror and saw my reflection looking back at me. My lopsided face, my cheeks drooping because of age. A critical voice said, “Look at your face, your cheeks.” “Your daughter will struggle her whole life to try to be beautiful, just like you.”

The nicknames my friends gave me at school came rushing back: Chipmunk. Tweety Bird. Bread Face. Puffy face. All resurrected and chanting at me. Calling other dark memories I buried ages ago under the murky surface.

A boy wrote in my contact book before we left camp, “You have the oddest face I have ever seen. Not ugly, not beautiful, just strange features. It’s bizarre.” I tried not to burst out crying when I read it. Hiding my shock and my bleeding heart underneath my smile until I got home. Stared in the mirror for a solid half an hour trying to decode the oddities on my face: my face could be slimmer. I would look better if my nose was taller. My mouth is too big, and on and on it went.

Another boy looked at the freckles and many moles on my face and asked, “Can you make a star map or constellations out of these? It’s like a game of connecting dots!”

At work one time a coworker thought I was eating during work time, hiding food inside my cheek. I had to open my mouth to prove I wasn’t.

Some days one side of my cheek would appear larger, so much so that people thought I was having a toothache. One time a concerned acquaintance asked, and I told her it’s my natural face shape. But even after that, she kept asking me, “Are you sure? Have you seen a doctor?”

When I started dating my now husband, some friends made sure I realized he was out of my league because he was handsome, and my outward appearance didn’t match his.

When interviewed for a job, I was passed over for a girl who was a beauty but less qualified than me. During any gathering, men usually glanced over me and their eyes quickly moved on to my friends who were more beautiful than me. Their eyes stayed there for the rest of the night.

I was used to being the invisible visible girl. My existence didn’t matter.

My Heart Is in Dissonance With My Words When my daughters were born, I was determined not to make them think the only thing that matters in their life is their looks. I was careful not to sing the tune of “A Girl’s Only Worth is Her Beauty”.

I learned not to praise a girl based on her looks or how she dresses. Instead, we talk about integrity and effort. I ask about their interests and commend them for their effort or creativity.

We don’t play with Barbies. We don’t watch movies that dumb down a woman’s intelligence or if their roles are simply to showcase their beauty or bodies.

I thought I was doing enough for my daughters. But my actions have been silently proclaiming my true belief.

The way I sweep my hair to cover the larger side of my face. The way I meticulously apply full face makeup before we go to church. The belief that I have to dress sharply and nicely, so people will treat me nicer and not ignore me. The way I make sure they dress nicely so they are more likable to their friends. The money I spent on laser treatments for my freckles and moles. The way I constantly being startled by my reflection and the disappointment on my face that follows seeing it.

You know what they say: the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice? I found that the reverse is true too: the inner voice we have for ourselves becomes how we “talk” to our children. My insecurities become silent words that soak into my children’s skin, penetrate the superficial thin layer of “self-love” I weakly preached, and absorb into their subconscious minds.

It has been poisoning them all along.

How To Dismantle This I don’t have an answer.

How do I teach my children to love themselves when I am struggling to love myself? Should I give up wearing makeup? Give up caring about how I look? Stop chasing and hoping one day I’ll be beautiful and be enough?

Maybe it could start with an honest conversation. “I am also struggling with this.” “One day it will be easier to love yourself. I am not there yet, but I am a lot better than the little girl I was thirty years ago.”

I am hoping I will keep growing as I age. I am hoping every year I will care a little less, give myself more grace, and love myself a whole lot more. I will hold your hand and we will walk this road together.

To all the girls who don’t think they are beautiful enough.


Note: this is a particularly hard piece to write. I’m confronted by my vanity, my insincere self-love talk to my children that has always been laced with fear of them not being enough for the standard of the world underneath it, and I’m spilling my insecurities everywhere.

I’m not trying to fish for pity or the confirmation of my beauty. I realize I have more internal work to do. I would love to hear sincere thoughts about how you are dealing with this if you have walked this road.

(Note: This article was originally published on Medium, where I write often.)


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