A few days ago, I was talking to my sister, Monica, on the phone about our bringing up and how thankful we were for the many things our parents did right. The context for this discussion was a memory I had. A girl I heard of who had grown up in a loving, well-intentioned home where the father, thinking he must prepare his daughter for what her life would inevitably amount to, told her that she would probably never get married because she was not pretty. Just thinking about that makes my gut sink to the floor. He meant well, but it was such a damaging thing to say. I also mentioned an article that I’d read by a woman whose husband, contrary to all her protestations, told her she was beautiful every morning before they got out of bed. She went on to describe in humorous terms what she usually looked like every morning—messy hair, sweatpants, stretch marks from carrying three children, extra girth around the waist…you get the picture. Yet to her husband, she was a beautiful, beautiful woman. I scrolled down through the comments, and most of them were lovely. But there were also a few that smacked of the “spirit of the age.” “Seriously, there’s no reason to let yourself go like that. Your husband would probably like it if you lost some weight. He’s just too nice to tell you.” Most heartbreaking to me was the woman who wished her husband would act towards her like the husband in the article. Her own husband was distant and had lost interest in being close to her emotionally or physically. He was, in fact, saving up his money so she could get a tummy tuck.
Backtrack with me about seventeen years. Thirteen-year-old Amanda stands in front of the mirror. Staring back at her is a huge pair of thick glasses, a smattering of pimples over whatever face isn’t covered by the glasses, a smile that reveals some crooked teeth, clothes that stick out in every awkward direction because she’s too skinny for most of them to drape nicely, a flat chest, and…oh, those glasses. Just like Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries, she finally sighs and mutters, “Well, as usual, that’s about as good as it’s going to get.”
She walks out into the kitchen where her family is gathered for breakfast. Her Dad looks up, smiles, and says something along these lines, “You’re so pretty, Amanda.”
Incredulously, she shakes her head, sits down at the table and begins to eat.
Talking to my sister on the phone the other day, we remembered how similar events played themselves out over and over. In spite of our protests, Dad told us over and over again how pretty we were. Often, he upped the ante and told us we were beautiful. Monica said, “Of course, I never believed him.” Neither did I. Why? Who knows. We silly females focus on one or two features we don’t like and forget everything else, I guess. We want, so desperately, to believe that we are lovely, but will contradict anyone who tells us we are. It’s a way of curbing disappointment before it happens, I think. Still, I could see the sincerity in my dad’s face whenever he told me I was beautiful. And even while I shook my head, I still thought to myself, “Well, Dad thinks I’m pretty, so maybe I really am.” Sometimes a little glimmer of hope is all you need.
Now that I’ve been out of my “awkward stage” for quite a few years, I’ve just realized how important my dad’s words of praise were and how they protected me. Those words enabled me to reject the desire to seduce that I believe every girl is born with and every girl, physically plain or beautiful, is capable of. When I am loved and found beautiful, there is no need to seek out the attention of short-sighted men with alluring glances and clothes designed to draw their eyes where they don’t belong. Later on, those words kept me immune to the men who make a practice of flattering in exchange for favors. I can tell the difference between sincerity and lust.
Dads should always tell their little girls that they are pretty. Even if the physical symmetry is not there, a good dad knows a secret—the image of God makes everyone beautiful and love can see that beauty. A human being is so much more than the sum total of his brains and body parts—it’s a soul, and that’s where its beauty resides. I would suggest to you husbands who cannot see the beauty in your wife’s tired body that the fault is not in your wife but in your ability to love. I would suggest to you wives who are secretly pining for a six-pack and gigantic biceps that the problem is not in your husband’s limited muscle tone. The problem is in the quality of your love. The good news is that while we may have a very hard time staying in shape, there is no limit to the ways our love can grow. And you may be very surprised to find how little buds can bloom when love is strong.