I have been given the humble privilege of speaking to high school girls about lies young women believe. With this task, I must go to the locked parts of my heart and open the door to my past – which is complicated. Why bother? I’m on the other side now! I’m married with children, wounds are healed, and life has moved on.
However, there are scores of young women in the generation behind me that are sinking in quicksand of brutal lies and cultural myths. I have been there and deeply know their pain. So, with my proverbial flashlight, muck shoes and a rusty set of keys, I’m going to dig beneath the surface of my current life and venture to lessons learned from my past, in hopes of speaking Truth into young women’s futures.
There are numerous books and articles written by professionals on this subject. I simply want to tell my story. An average, American girl and the positive and negative effects social culture and family dynamics have on a girl’s self-esteem, confidence, and perceived value. I’d like to utilize this venue to think through a few things before speaking to the girls. There will be more than one blog as we tackle different facets of the tumultuous middle and high school years.
(Deep breath) Here we go…
My mom’s second marriage began when I was four years old. Her first marriage ended when I was one, and my birth father gave me up for adoption. As a result, my stepfather adopted me. It’s strange. Even at four, I knew I was merely baggage being brought into their 7-year marriage. I felt left out, unwanted, and more of a burden to my stepfather than anything else. My remedy? Fly under the radar from day one. Be as good of a girl as I could be, and although he might never like me, at least there will be peace in the house. I may not have known those kinds of colloquiums per say, but I certainly understood the feelings associated with them throughout my childhood.
There is a ton of research today on the effects fathers have on daughters. About a year ago, I was driving alone in my van when I heard the radio the program “Focus on the Family.” A psychologist was talking about what happens when a daughter (or stepdaughter) doesn’t receive affirmation and validation from her father (or stepfather) in her formative years. There I was, just driving along, minding my own business. As I listened to the discussion, I burst into tears and nearly threw up on the steering wheel – my reaction was instantaneous and reflexive. Wow. I didn’t see that coming. A flood of emotions overtook me, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Every single point the psychologist made was spot on.
A woman can hear every day from others how beautiful she is, but if she never heard it from her father – there is a chasm inside her psyche that remains void.
To this day, I have never heard from my birth father, stepfather or grandfather (all now deceased) one single word that I was pretty, much less beautiful. If they thought it, they never said it, and I wasn’t given any reason to believe this was the case. I cannot tell you how much damage this did to my self-confidence and feelings of worthlessness.
When I draw my last breath, I will have lived my entire life without ever having heard those words from the influential men in my life.
This sent me spiraling as an adolescent and teenager to try to convince others I was beautiful so I could hear those words from them. I just needed to hear it from someone. That’s my point. If a father (or male influence) doesn’t tell the daughter in his life she is beautiful (both inside & out), she will look for that affirmation elsewhere to fill this innate need in her development. It almost feels like a rite of passage into womanhood, and when it doesn’t happen, the girl never truly feels like she gets to grow into a woman. Rather, she is stuck in a twilight zone of being and looking like a woman, but still seeing her reflection in the mirror as an awkward adolescent.
I remember one time in high school, my friends (a guy and a girl) and I were going out for the evening. I rode in the passenger seat while he drove. My other friend rode in the backseat. When we reached our destination, I pulled the sun visor down to look at myself in the mirror. I frantically checked everything in the minutest detail – hair, jewelry, make up, clothes, my smile – everything. He turned to me and sarcastically said, So…are you going to date that mirror? Ug. His lack of tact, inferring I was staring too long at myself, was more salt rubbed in the wound of a girl who was desperate to hear that she was pretty so she didn’t need to scrutinize herself in the mirror of some guy’s car. To hide my embarrassment, I laughed (with him, I might add) and quickly flipped up the mirror and bolted out of the car.
Fathers (or male authority figures) wield much influence over daughters. This can be done the right way or the wrong way. God forbid the father make fun of or be rudely critical of his daughter. If so, he has set her up to be a candidate of marrying someone that will do the same to her, and the girl – now woman – will find it nearly impossible to realize her full sense of beauty if she’s always told she is the opposite.
Some dads may not be harmful with their words, but may be mute (as such was my case). This defaults to the girl that she, indeed, is not beautiful. Girls are hard enough on ourselves in the middle and high school years. If we are not hearing the opposite of what we are already telling ourselves (I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m a loser. I’ll never measure up.), then the silence from father figures will validate these lies.
But, if a father pours words of affirmation into his daughter, she is validated from an early age. This, in turn, boosts her self-confidence to follow her dreams, take healthy chances in life, and be beautifully independent from needing unhealthy approval. She can approach the world without having to date a mirror to feel accepted. Yes. A father’s influence is that powerful.
Fathers need to own their responsibility with their daughters. They need to make time as often as possible to tell their daughter she is beautiful inside and out. Even if things aren’t perfect between you two (life seldom is), but the relationship is open to communication, find something beautiful about your daughter and say it to her. Preferably face-to-face, but if that’s not possible, text, email, voicemail, Facebook, IM, Skype, Oovoo, written mail, hire a plane to write it in the sky, or however it can be done – just do it. You have the opportunity now to set her up for success for the rest of her life. Take it. As I have found out, life is short and you may miss your chance.
(A note to parents: Sons need to be reared from the beginning to be kind, in word and actions, toward their mothers and sisters. When a boy has grown up finding the good in their mom and sisters, it will be more natural for him to find it in his wife and daughters. Start now teaching sons what true beauty is, and to not miss an opportunity to tell her so. This is one thing I love about my boys. They are tween and teen and tell me on a regular basis how beautiful I am. They notice my haircuts or maybe a rare, new outfit, but more often they tell me how much they like my jokes, admire how hard I work, and that I have, according to my youngest, the “bluebirdiest singing voice.” They are learning to dig beneath the superficial surface of physical appearance and uncover the priceless hidden treasure of inner beauty. How do they know this? They see their dad example it. And, I’m quick to tell them how much it means to me. It’s never too early or late to start.)