PARENTS

Why I Want My Girls To Grow Up Believing They Are Beautiful

14/08/2014 17:00 | Updated 20 May 2015

Baby girl (18-24 months) looking in mirror, hands pressed on glass

As my two-year-old daughter Clem shows off her new outfit in the mirror and, for the twentieth time this morning, says, "Mummy, Daddy, I look BEAUTIFUL," we roll our eyes at each other and wonder what we have let ourselves in for.

You see, my daughter has massively high self-esteem. I know, she's only two and a half and I am sure she will tire of admiring herself in the mirror but, if I am honest, I'm not sure I actually want her to.

She's picked it up from me. I tell her she's gorgeous constantly. I compliment her on her hair, her face, her clothes. It goes against all my feminist instincts to ensure she feels that brains, kindness and compassion are more important than how she looks but, as her mother I cannot bear to have her or her one-year-old sister Gilda grow up with the dysmorphic self-image I had myself.

Until about 15 years ago, I could barely look in a mirror at myself without grimacing - and it was all thanks to my mother's own poor self-esteem.

My mum, for whatever reason, always described herself as ugly. She never got dressed up or wore makeup, not because she didn't like it but more because (as she later admitted) she believed there was no point.

I didn't realise it at the time but her lack of pride in her appearance was rubbing off on me too. She even referred us both as ugly one fateful morning when I was about 12 and we were looking in the mirror together.

It stayed with me until, well, it's still with me obviously. A compliment on one's appearance was rare growing up. In fact it was positively frowned upon or replaced with a sarcastic remark. Clothes didn't matter, makeup was 'muck' and as for shopping, I spent so little time in clothes shops that even now I feel slightly sick (albeit now in a good way) when faced with rows and rows of clothes.

In fact, I didn't realise the impact of my mother's low self-esteem until my first university boyfriend (now my long-term partner) sat me down and asked what my problem with my appearance actually was.

After some subtle unpicking, he taught me to look at myself properly, to parade in front of the mirror, to take a compliment, to choose clothes that flattered me instead of drowning me out, to realise that I was a perfectly attractive woman. It took a while and he deserves a medal for persevering but eventually it sunk in.

i

And that's why I can't bear the idea of my girls looking at themselves with anything other than complete pride and enjoyment. Of course I don't think any of us is a supermodel but I want them to smile when they see their own face not pull an embarrassed gurn or look away in distaste, I want them to believe in themselves and their place in the world.

i

We know we have made a rod for our own back now the first thing Clem wants to do is look in the mirror when she gets out of the bath. But I'm only a teeny bit ashamed when I see her checking herself out from all angles draped in a bath towel. I am only slightly embarrassed that her sister has taken to copying her.

Of course, I also constantly tell my daughters they are clever and funny and kind too and I try and stress that these things are much more important. I really don't want them to grow up obsessed with how they look.

But in the grand scheme of things I would much rather be saddled with two self-regarding, mirror-obsessed and happy egotists than miserable girls who can't see how beautiful they are until it's too late.

Do you tell your children they are beautiful? Or do you think it's more important to cherish kindness and thoughtfulness than looks? Tell us what you think...

Suggest a correction