I Will Keep Telling My Daughter She's Beautiful Every Day

03/10/2017 08:39 am ET Updated Mar 13, 2017

On Valentine’s Day, my family visited my 87-year-old grandmother. My five-year-old daughter wanted to dress up. She donned a dress with a sparkly heart top and a tutu skirt. She asked me to do her hair with the curling wand (she saw me using it earlier). Then she took my brush and put on some blush and some red (!) lipgloss. I also let her apply gold shimmer power on her eyelids. When she was all done, she twirled, her arms above her head, like a ballerina, to show daddy how beautiful she looked.

“Daddy, wait until you see me,” her voice in the sugary sweet 5-year-old excited girl octave. She couldn’t stand still for him to look at her, she spun with her fingers holding the bottom edges of the tutu.

“My goodness!” My husband is perfect with reactions to little girls. “You look beautiful ― and wow, look at those red lips. Isn’t that too much blush, mommy?”

She pirouetted around him, bouncing her brown curls and checking her red lips in the mirror. When we got to my grandmother’s house, everyone commented on how pretty she looked.

When I got home, I happened to watch a trending music video, Colbie Caillat’s, Try.

As a response to being over photoshopped, the talented singer created a video featuring a rainbow of pretty women, with faces full of makeup, singing her song. As the song progresses, the women remove their makeup. It’s a slow backwards makeover. Within three minutes, I’m sobbing, smearing my black eyeliner and mascara into a raccoon-eye mess.

“What about the video got you?” my husband asks. He sees this is not my standard reaction to a music video.

The whole day flashed in front of my eyes. “What am I doing to our daughter? What am I teaching her?” I sounded defeated.

Five years as a mother of a daughter, and never before this video did I feel I’ve already set her up for failure. I’ve told her she was gorgeous from day one. I tell her every day. When she was little we would stare at the video monitor while she slept and study her features; she was our living doll. Her porcelain skin, her round expressive eyes, those dark pink lips, that perfect chin. But I know there are articles which espouse other advice. Tell her she’s smart (I do). Tell her she’s kind (that too). Tell her to use her heart, be compassionate (check, check). All of those things make her even more stunning to me; she is my human. I want her to know she’s beautiful so that she doesn’t need to jump into bed with the first guy who tells her so.

But what am I teaching my daughter? Did she need to add products to her hair and colors to her face to make her appealing? Was it going to enhance her natural beauty? Will it boost her self-confidence?

My husband tried to appease me. “She just loves to dress up, she always has. We tell her she’s beautiful all the time. She doesn’t think she needs makeup; it’s just fun for her.”

I shook my head, feigning agreement but hating myself a little bit. As mothers, we do that to ourselves. We let the guilt cut us and then we continue to drip lemon juice on it over and over again.

I made my husband watch the video with headphones. I stood behind him and re-watched it without sound and cried again.

“It’s heavy,” he agreed. “The pressure of being a woman in our society sucks.”

“You don’t want to jump on the ‘live photoshop your face’ bandwagon, but then how can you compete?”

In those words lie a clue to a much bigger problem with our culture. It’s about competition and discord rather than sympathy and harmony. It seems women having an easier time rallying behind one another when they’re down rather than when we’re up. Women are good cheerleaders for the underdogs, but for those of us who may seem strong, attractive, or confident, jealousy lurks where cheerleaders should stand.

I understand the root is ultimately biological. Programmed to reproduce, sustain our species, women have to attract the male and consequently compete with other women. We are no different than birds who flaunt their feathers and do a mating dance to lure a mate.

How do I teach this precious balance of inner beauty, outer appearance, and all-together self-worth to my little girl, whose personality gets solidified by age six? What examples have I exhibited? What behaviors have I reinforced? How can I make it better?

I will keep all those in mind as I continue to tell her she is beautiful every day for the rest of my life.

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