My daughter is obsessed with a leopard-print satin scarf. She drapes is around her neck and tosses one end over her shoulder. She presses its softness against her cheek and holds it between her tiny fingertips.
She has preferences now.
The other day, Bettie Anne picked out red sparkly shoes, a pink floral-print sundress and, of course, the leopard-print scarf to wear to the park. The combo was risky, yet fashionably brilliant.
I wanted to say (while clapping and jumping), "Oh my goodness! Look at you, you adorable little nugget!"
Instead, I said something like, "Wow, Bettie. The choices you made display adventurous creativity, as well as respectable practicality; the scarf is an intelligent choice because, in addition to boasting a visually stimulating pattern, it will help protect your neck from UV rays. And well done on using multiple facets of your brain to achieve this level of self-expression. You are an intelligent and capable woman who is worthy of respect and so much greater than your physical beauty -- which is undeniable, yet only a fraction of your identity and value."
In response, she yelled "Hi!" and then ran off to pull the dog's hair.
Trying to raise a healthy daughter is like putting together a puzzle blind, with no hands, on the Mind Eraser roller coaster while the pieces keep falling away. Summed up in three words, it feels like: "Expert. Moron. Repeat."
According to ABC News, nearly half of 3- to 6-year-old girls worry about being fat. A recent column in The Huffington Post revealed that 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything," wrote author Lisa Bloom in the article. "It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23."
Interesting theory. But it's not as simple as calling every little girl smart instead of cute.
I happen to think that beauty is not an evil or shallow thing. After all, wouldn't strong confidence in your individual beauty from day one help counteract society's confusing messages about dieting and plastic surgery?
The problem is our definition of "beauty" -- and calling a child beautiful if you think that beauty means conforming and disrespecting your body is sending the wrong message.
But if your baby girl knows that beauty is in the unpredictable way the clouds morph around a full moon, and in the way that the red canyon rocks reach toward the sun, and in the way her nose crinkles when she laughs -- in addition to the rituals of taking care of your skin and loving your body by filling it with healthy food that will fuel the day's adventures -- then damn straight, she is the most beautiful thing in the world. And damn straight, I'm going to tell her.
Little girls worry about being fat because their moms worry that they look fat. Not because anyone called a girl an adorable little nugget instead of handing her a dictionary.
I think of the book, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge. About women, the book asserts: "We desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil."
Strength in her own unique beauty. That is what I wish for my daughter. And that does not minimize or objectify her any more than it diminishes the ocean to admire its surging waves.
The next time Bettie picks out that satin scarf, I want to let her know, unapologetically, how beautiful it looks. Because Mama's Little Girl will always know that beauty is as deep as you let it be.
Although I'm not going to lie: I'll still probably slip in a little promotion for its UV protection factor. And maybe the word "facet," just to keep her vocabulary challenged. To prepare her for her Nobel Peace Prize speech some day.
This article originally appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera.
Read more articles from the weirdest city in America, Boulder, Colorado, here: Only In Boulder.
Photo by Nicole Hart Photography.