I prayed my daughter would be beautiful. I actually asked the universe to give her blonde hair, blue or green eyes, a great smile, and a cute little nose. I used to rub my belly and chant “Charlize Theron.”
Growing up in Northern California surrounded by a sea of golden blondes meant all-American beauties were both my nightmare and best friends. I’m first generation American, born to European mutts from Paris, and I inherited strong, angular features. As a tall, dark-haired girl with broad shoulders, I stuck out in group photos. I was regularly cast as the evil villain in school plays, teased for looking “Jewish,” told I was too ugly to come to school, and barked at in hallways. Teenagers can be cruel, and it didn’t help that to be beautiful in the 1990s you had to be perfect. Everyone on TV was perfect. Models were perfect—perfect button nose, perfectly plump lips, perfect willowy shape, perfect long blonde hair.
After high school, I tried everything to live up to that standard, to boost my self confidence. I dyed my hair blonde and wore loads of pink. I learned how to apply just the right shade of self-tanner, slimmed down to a size 4, and wore what the MAC cosmetics associate described as “porn star gloss.” I pretended the old, ugly version of me never existed. I was well into my mid-20s by the time I began to fully embrace my looks. I learned to see my “flaws” as assets and how to enhance some of what naturally made me beautiful.
I always knew I wanted two children, a girl and a boy, so I was excited when the doctor told us we were having a little girl. I thought I was prepared to be the mom of a little girl, but I was surprised at how hearing the news triggered my insecurities about my appearance. During the car ride home from the appointment, I grabbed my husband’s hand and said, “You’re going to be such a great dad. I hope she is healthy and strong and a total pain in the ass just like you.” He smiled and said, “I hope she is brave and funny, and looks just like you.”
I was shocked at how angry that made me. I snapped back, “No. Not like me. God, please don’t let her look like me.”
At some point, I started to feel guilty for caring so much about how my daughter might look. I called and talked through it with some of my best blondies from back home. One of them confessed she never knew how beautiful she was and actually referred to herself as “the ugly one” among our high school friends. Another told me she always felt pressured to be “perfect in every way,” because people were constantly telling her how perfect she was. She drove herself insane trying not to disappoint anyone. I began to understand that my beautiful friends were just as insecure as I was.
And then I got my wish. My daughter is healthy and smart, funny and kind, and a very strong-willed pain in the ass. She is also lean and petite, with golden blonde hair and the most stunning blue eyes. I love every inch of her. She looks nothing like me.
It’s going to be interesting raising a “pretty girl.” Even though people stop us on the street regularly to tell me how pretty she is, I know that I’m going to have to help her learn to deal with insecurities, self confidence and image, and heartbreak. I believe my daughter is the most beautiful person on the planet, inside and out, and will do my best to help her believe that too. She will most likely think, as I did, that mothers are obligated to say things like that to their daughters. I never believed my mother.
I hope my daughter will see the beauty in others and never feel the need to compare herself. I hope she will speak up when people make comments about her or others based on appearance, because I’ve realized pretty girls don’t need that shit either. I’ve read articles about why it’s important for moms not to focus on their daughters’ looks (which I don’t) and praise them for their intelligence, humor, style and creativity (which I do), but I still tell her she’s beautiful every day. I want her to know and feel it.
After spending so much time and energy wishing for my daughter to be outwardly beautiful, I realize she would have been, even if she looked exactly like me.