When I found out I was having a girl, I got scared. Because I remember what it’s like to be a girl, a teenager, a young woman. I remember vividly the insecurity; the deep desire to look like everyone else but myself; the longing to lose weight, to be pretty, to be popular; the roller-coaster of restricting and bingeing; the pain of rejection; the comparisons and the coming up short. I remember vividly second-guessing everything. I remember vividly not trusting myself or my heart. I remember the bad decisions, the bad relationships.
Of course, boys struggle with these issues, too. But to me a little girl would be more likely to inherit my insecurities, my sensitive temperament, my people-pleasing ways, my fears and weaknesses and sinking self-worth.
Would she have the same self-doubts and longings? I wondered throughout my pregnancy. God, I hope not. Please let her be different. Tougher. Stronger. Impervious. Nothing like me.
Which is funny because if I could go back to my little girl self, to the teen, to the young woman, I’d tell her, you’re fine exactly as you are. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Don’t try to change. Your weight. Your looks. Your personality. Your likes and dislikes. Just be. Just do what fulfills you. Focus on that. Trust yourself. Please trust yourself.
And I guess those are all lessons I can teach my daughter.
In the new book Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves, Kate T. Parker, a professional photographer and mom to two daughters, features stunning, empowering images of girls ages 5 to 18. Images that inspire us and capture a vital reminder. As Parker writes in the introduction, “I wanted to show my girls that beauty isn’t about being a certain size, or having your hair done (or even brushed, in their cases), or wearing a fancy outfit.”
Real beauty is being exactly who and how you are. It’s a message I’ll be teaching my daughter. It’s a message I’ll be reminding myself of, too. Because I forget often.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from Strong is the New Pretty, a book I absolutely love. These words serve as powerful reminders and kernels of wisdom for everyone.
“Scars are worn by those who fought to overcome something hard in life and won.” ~ Paige, age 18.
“Cancer stole part of my leg but not my joy. I choose happiness. Being happy is my superpower.” ~ Grace B., age 12.
“I have earned 14 state titles, three district titles, and six world rankings in karate.” ~ Maya, age 9.
“I can do all the same things as my brother. I just think I do them better.” ~ Anna, age 8.
“Golf is a mental game. It challenges me every time I play. In every swing and every putt, I have to trust myself.” ~ Sarah L., age 16.
“I try not to be scared when I learn a new trick; I just keep doing it and doing it until I get it.” ~ Alice, age 7.
“Many girls grew up dreaming of a hero to save them. I grew up dreaming of becoming one.” ~ Lesley, age 18.
“I can do lots of things people think I’m not strong enough to do.” ~ Dillian, age 6.
“We are a band of sisters. Our strength comes through finding our own voices and being brave enough to use them.” ~ Fiona, age 18.
“I love to explore—it’s how I learn new things about the world and myself.” ~ Sophia, age 9.
“I have juvenile arthritis, and I don’t like when I need to use my wheelchair. But when I do, I’m in control and don’t need anyone to push me.” ~ Emme, age 7.
“When I first started to surf, I got made fun of all the time. For years, I was the only girl. Every little thing that I did differently, the boys would laugh. Pretty soon, though, I started to show them up, and after that, they never made fun of me again. I plan to be a champion in two sports—surf and skate—that have always been predominantly ‘guys only’ worlds.” ~ Jordyn, age 17.
“When I was diagnosed with ITP blood disorder, I couldn’t do a lot of the sports that I loved to do before. But it pushed me to find new interests like photography, art, and golf.” ~ Katie, age 10.
So many of us live our younger years yearning to be a different person, someone with a different personality, a different size, a different weight. If you’re a mom, maybe you, too, fear that you’ll pass on your doubts and insecurities. Maybe you, too, fear that your child will inherit your battered body image, your sinking self-worth.
But here’s the good thing: Having been there, in the trenches, means that you can relate. You can understand. And on the days the yearning returns, and you, too, feel lost, you can turn to and share empowering resources—like Parker’s beautiful book. Resources that remind you and your child of your real beauty.