That’s What Makes You Beautiful

The past few months, my 5 year old daughter has spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about her appearance. Worrying about how to style her hair. Painstakingly picking out her outfits, trying to make them look as “girly” and as “dainty” as possible. This usually amounts to huge amounts of pink. Ruffles. It looks like Barbie puked on her when she tries to dress herself. She pushes her limits too, constantly asking to wear lipstick. Or hoping she can get a pair of shoes with heels.

I am not sure where Shaila gets it from. I certainly may have been a fashion plate at one point in my life (briefly. VERY briefly), but now I find myself  dressed in something I can kick around in all day. Yoga pants. Sweats. Comfy hoodies. Working from home has removed the desire to spend a lot of time styling my hair or putting on makeup. I do clean up pretty well when I want to, but it hasn’t been a focus of mine since she was born.

I’m not pretty, mommy,” she will say sometimes.

A few weeks ago, she said it again.

You are beautiful. Inside and out,” I told her, holding her close.

Kneeling on the floor to look her in the eyes, I asked, “Do you know what pretty means?” We have been through this before.

Being beautiful?” she asks. I can see why she might think that. It’s kind of a circular question. It’s one that I think most grown women and men haven’t yet figured out either, including myself. Especially when I question what I see in the mirror.

Pretty comes from inside. It’s how you love and how you open your heart and mind to other people. Pretty is being kind and compassionate. Pretty is about helping people when they are hurting.

She looked at me, not saying anything.

You ARE pretty, baby,” I said, kissing her on her forehead. “Remember those things and you will always be beautiful.

Still, I know the question and the insecurity will come again. I was proud of her when last week, she decided during a routine haircut that she wanted to cut her hair for Locks of Love, an organization that accepts hair (unprocessed) donations of a minimum of ten inches, to make wigs for children who have lost their hair to cancer or other diseases.

I almost hesitated when she said it. Shaila’s hair? Well, it’s the hair I had always wanted growing up. Heck, it’s the hair I wish I had now. She’s got the glossy, shiny locks that shampoo commercials are made of. She looked so certain though.

You sure?” I asked.

Yes, mommy,” she answered, resolutely. “My hair grows fast, mommy. Don’t worry.

I knew a few things that helped make up her mind:

1) Like any girl knows, change is sometimes fun. And necessary. Puts a little pep in your step.

2) I had explained the program to her a few times, asking her if she might want to donate. She never seemed to have the attention span to actually hear me out before running off to do something else, so I never thought she heard me.

I guess she did.

3) At the age of 5, she has already been exposed to cancer. She often still speaks about the little boy on our street, Declan, who died of cancer when he was shy of a year old. We have been to several fundraisers and she has seen children going through chemo and has asked questions about why they are bald.

I don’t remember if I knew what cancer was when I was 5. She does.

4) Last year, two days before the start of 2012, her beautiful cousin and our niece, Amanda, committed suicide. This year was the first anniversary of her death on December 30th.  The days leading up to New Years felt heavy, almost suffocating as I tried to keep a flood of memories of the pain last year at bay. This year, New Year’s was not a time to celebrate. It was a time to cry and remember and to say her name and honor her memory.

I must have spoken about her more than I realized. One thing I had told Shaila was how Amanda had donated her hair to Locks of Love – three separate times. And how she probably would have done it more had we still been blessed to have her.

I know that Shaila still thinks about Declan and Amanda a lot. At night as she says a prayer, she will often stop in the middle and say, “Mommy, can I pray for Declan and Amanda too, in Heaven?”

It makes me proud that she had them in her mind when she made her decision. Perhaps that’s a bit selfish of me, but her actions comforted and soothed a part of me that was aching that day.

Is it weird to say I felt like she knew that?

In the end, when it came to the actual cut, the stylist did a real hack job. I would have been better off cutting it myself. I wish I had stepped in more during the haircut, but I didn’t realize the woman was going to shape my child’s hair in the shape of a giant mushroom. But Shaila hasn’t complained or said anything. There are times where I have seen her look in the mirror and try to settle down her too short layers. But her hands drop away and she says, “That’s ok. My hair grows so fast. Right, mommy?

Yes, Shaila. And so are you.

I feel like we are making strides with explaining what the words “pretty” and “beauty” mean to our daughter. But I know it’s not just what we teach her at home, but the constant messages and images that she will be exposed to through mainstream culture and the things she will hear at school.

With the value our society places on physical beauty, it’s a challenge to help steer your children in the right direction. We all know the pull and the draw of external beauty, but it’s a fleeting and superficial thing. I kind of go back to that famous saying by Audrey Hepburn when I DO need to be inspired on how to explain beauty to Shaila.

For beautiful eyes, look for the goodness in others;

For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness;

And for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.


I hope she continues to be as beautiful as she is proving to be.



21 Comments on That’s What Makes You Beautiful

  1. Denise Foster
    January 11, 2013 at 6:50 am (2 years ago)

    You and your daughter are amazing. I also have a daughter that is 5 (at least by Feb. 1) and I want to ensure that she knows she is beautiful when she looks in the mirror. As an African American Muslim girl, I want her to understand that beauty is what is on the inside. Beauty is what your daughter did – donating her crowning glory for a good cause — praying for friends/family that have passed on. All that we can do as parents is continue to put positive images in front of them of REAL BEAUTY….not just a pretty face and a great body. The media (magazines and TV) are always pushing what THEY THINK IS BEAUTIFUL. I play Bruno Mars – Just the Way You Are — my daughter sings the words with me and changes them to say “I am amazing just the way I am” and I didn’t tell you to do that. I also like the song – Beautiful by Christina Aguilera. Keep up the good work….you should be very proud of your daughter!

  2. thedoseofreality
    January 11, 2013 at 7:49 am (2 years ago)

    Absolutely beautiful post in every way. My daughter also cut off her hair a couple months ago for Locks of Love and like you I had to suppress my desire to stop her. I often found myself with very short hair as a child and had always wished for hair like hers…but in the end, I am so glad I went along with it and encouraged her. The pride that she radiated when she was finished truly touched my heart.
    I have no doubt you saw the same from your sweet girl.
    I am so sorry about your cousin. :( There are simply no words.
    thedoseofreality recently posted…Friday Feasts: Please Pass the BeanoMy Profile

  3. Parita
    January 11, 2013 at 9:08 am (2 years ago)

    I can only imagine how hard it is to raise a little girl today. You are doing a fabulous job! If I have a daughter, I hope to teach her the same things – always remember that true beauty comes from the inside. Such a powerful message!
    Parita recently posted…The Best Ways to ArgueMy Profile

  4. Sarah
    January 11, 2013 at 10:06 am (2 years ago)

    This post really touched my heart. Just from reading it I can tell that she is a genuinely beautiful little girl; how many others her age would agree to have their hair cut for such a fantastic cause? You’re doing such a great job of reassuring her that real beauty comes from inside, not outside.
    Sarah recently posted…Hearty Winter Salad Recipe: Balsamic Roasted Mushroom and Spelt SaladMy Profile

  5. Renée Schuls-Jacobson
    January 11, 2013 at 10:11 am (2 years ago)


    We say the words. We can mean the words as we say them. But until we are faced with a situation where our words are tested — in this case, your attitude toward beauty — we don’t have to really feel the half- truths that burble up behind our truths. What I mean is: All her life you have told your daughter she is pretty inside and out. and you meant it. And now, despite the fact that you are so proud of her choosing to commit to make a donation to Locks of Love, an organization you admire and endorse, it was a little rough to go through the experience with her in reality. Because your daughter HAD beautiful hair. And now she HAS mushroom hair. And, whether we want to admit it or not, in reality, we want our children to be pretty. Or handsome. Or beautiful to the outside world. We know their INNER beauty. But the world sees their OUTSIDES first, and then decides.

    My son was bullied terribly when he was younger. Afterwards, I worried a lot about his external appearance. I wanted him to wear the right clothes, to have the right haircut, to just be right. I didn’t want to open him up to more cruelty. Your daughter sounds strong, but fragile, too. Make her proud of her mind, her thoughts, her ideas so she knows those are her pretty parts, too. Not just the frills and the ruffles. I know you are doing this. I know.

    And her hair will grow back, please G-d.
    Renée Schuls-Jacobson recently posted…Lessons From A New York Vagrant #SoWrongMy Profile

    • masalachica
      January 11, 2013 at 11:55 am (2 years ago)

      You are right. I brought her to a birthday party that same day and looked at all the other little girls her own age with their flowing locks and felt a bit of a pang. But that’s a hang-up I have. And I need to get over that shit. Fast. Talking the talk and making sure I really back up what i say is important.

      “Make her proud of her mind, her thoughts, her ideas so she knows those are her pretty parts, too. Not just the frills and the ruffles.”

      Trying to do that every day. It’s actually not hard. She is amazingly quick witted, she reads a lot and loves words and I think she is going to be a strong athlete like her dad and a musician like me.

      Thank you, Renee. What a lovely thought.

  6. Nelson
    January 11, 2013 at 10:41 am (2 years ago)

    This a magnificent post and I would like to echo some of Renee’s words in her last paragraph. “Make her proud of her mind, her thoughts, her ideas so she knows those are her pretty parts, too.”

    Even if you hadn’t posted pictures of Shaila’s (wonderful name) external beauty, I knew she was a beautiful person inside and out just by her desire to help others. Most youngsters of her age, even with an understanding of the grief that surrounded you, would never have decided to donate their hair even with some gentle suggestions from Mom. ;)

    Let her be “girlie” or pretty in pink if she wants (the “if we look good we feel good” thing), let her be creative with her outfits (within Mom’s definition of acceptable of course and we know how tough that will be as she gets older), continue to subtly point her in the right direction, and most of all continue to give her the positive encouragement, love, and hugs, that you are so obviously able to do.

    Good job MOM!

    Nelson recently posted…Things We Don’t Learn – No Matter How Old We Get…My Profile

  7. Mary
    January 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm (2 years ago)

    She and you are truly beautiful, inside and out. I love this story and the way your daughter chose to embody the meaning of beauty you inspired with your words. The concept of beauty is excruciatingly hard to convey and internalize. I struggle with it myself and as I get older I’m finding I am more vain than I ever realized. I think you’re doing an outstanding job modeling internal and external beauty! And your daughter’s personality comes through even in the mushroom ‘do – she couldn’t be cuter or more expressive!
    Mary recently posted…How To Be A Popular MomMy Profile

  8. Nicole
    January 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm (2 years ago)

    Oh, she is precious! Good for her.

    It’s so hard to walk these lines with our kids. Letting them be who they are and exploring gender and appearance and everything else while not trying to emphasize it too much. It must be so much more challenging with a girl, too, as there’s just so much more influence.
    Nicole recently posted…Dear, sweet AnselMy Profile

  9. Christine
    January 11, 2013 at 9:30 pm (2 years ago)

    This is truly a beautiful post. I love the message you are teaching your daughter and how she embraced it. What an incredible girl. I can’t even imagine raising a girl these days. I’m shocked sometimes at my son’s girl friends and how, at age 5, they are so dialed into the messages around beauty that our society presents. It kind of breaks my heart a bit.
    Christine recently posted…Friday Round-Up: How did I get here?My Profile

  10. Sig
    January 12, 2013 at 3:13 am (2 years ago)

    DArling, Shaila IS beautiful in the most precious way possible. She has compassion and empathy and at 5 can already sense and wants to make things a brighter place.

    I worry too, about how little girls are growing up too fast, but as long as she has you – she will be absolutely fine :)
    Sig recently posted…Pregnancy Diaries – Week 27My Profile

  11. ilene
    January 12, 2013 at 8:46 am (2 years ago)

    I have 2 girls at home, 5 and 8, who worry more about their appearance than I would have liked. Ironically, I grew up in a house where appearane was VERY important – and I have gone out of my way to downplay appearance as much as I can in this house – but who knows what they pick up when they leave this house . All I can do is what you are doing – and reinforce where real beauty comes from – I hope that the right kind of love and attention HERE will lessen the importance of the messages they learn out THERE. Great job, Mamma.

  12. Kim
    January 12, 2013 at 11:00 am (2 years ago)

    Beautiful post and such an important message. How wonderfully thoughtful of her to donate her hair, and with obviously so much in her heart as she did so.
    Kim recently posted…GhostsMy Profile

  13. OneMommy
    January 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm (2 years ago)

    You have a beautiful little girl — inside and out. What a very grown up decision to donate her hair to Locks of Love. It’s amazing what they understand at that age, and she certainly has seen a lot of pain it sounds.

    I have found my own 5 year-old looking in the mirror a lot lately, too. I worry about what society will teach her about beauty, because, after all, you are right, beauty really comes from within.

    Stopping in from SITS

  14. honeywhatscooking
    January 13, 2013 at 12:59 am (2 years ago)

    Wonderful article, so well written. It is hard raising a little girl in this environment when the country as a whole places so much emphasis on beauty. It’s great that you are teaching her that it is important to be pretty from the inside out. I recently lost a young family member to cancer, it never gets easy. It sucks that it is becoming so common these days.
    honeywhatscooking recently posted…Friday’s Favorite Things – 1.11.13My Profile

  15. The Bride
    January 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm (2 years ago)

    I teared up when I read this post. I’m amazed that a five-year-old had that kind of compassion and maturity. Definitely beautiful inside and out!

    I’m a little conflicted on how to handle the beauty topic. For example, I read your exchange with your daughter and I know that as a child it would not have satisfied me. While I would have grasped the concept of “inner beauty”, I would still want to have to “outer beauty” too, hell, I feel the same as an adult. I’ve read accounts of children who were not satisfied with their looks as children, and the “inner beauty” line didn’t satisfy. The fact is that people do want to look attractive to others, and the challenge might be to address this need while keeping it within balance so it doesn’t become an obsession. Maybe praise one or two things in their appearance that they can focus on, like their eyes or their hair? I don’t know, maybe that will encourage vanity, I’m still thinking this through.

  16. MomWithaDot
    January 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm (2 years ago)

    Shaila is beautiful! I love the sparkle in her eyes :)

    My daughter keeps chatting about all her friends at pre-school and goes,” But Jaycee doesn’t play with me because I’m not pretty, I think.” OMG! This, at 4? I was sad. “Of course you ARE pretty, maybe Jaycee just felt like playing by herself….?” I’m not sure I convinced her much because whatever Mom’s say is fine, but it is the ‘friends’ acceptance they are looking for.
    MomWithaDot recently posted…IOUMy Profile


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