I can’t seem to find the right words…
to convince her of her perfection.
And each time I fail, the pain in my chest grows stronger.
I should have the words for her. It’s the very least I should have. After all, she’s my little girl.
My three-year old daughter has wild, magnificent, big and beautiful curly hair.
It’s hair that makes a statement. Hair that draws attention. Hair that you either own up to and rock, or you pull back and cover up.
It’s the hair of a unique, magical, multi-racial little girl.
And at such a vulnerable age, she’s already fallen prey to comparison. Already wishing her hair looked like her friends. Already trying to change who she is to fit in. Already doubting her innate perfection.
I’m amazed at all the complicated feelings she’s processing, at such a young age.
And so I search for the words. Words of praise, words of encouragement, words of love. I give it everything I’ve got, but my messages seem half heard. Through the play and words of a three-year old, her desire for something that will never be hers remains evident.
And I wonder, if I can’t convince her of her qualities now, when my role in her life is the most influential, how will I ever convince her?
But I keep trying, because giving up is not an option.
The Insecurities That Haunt Our Lives…
As a child and young adult, I struggled with so many things I wanted to change. They haunted me. And so my insecurities directed my life, far more than my strengths.
We all face struggles like this at some point. We all have things we wish we could change. Our weight, our facial features, our choices and mistakes.
We long for someone else’s beauty, charisma or success. We try desperately to hide our perceived flaws. We take the shame and hurtful comments others have placed on us and inflict them on ourselves, over and over and over again.
Learning how to navigate these feelings is part of life, for better or for worse. But we can, and we must, work through these feelings so they don’t get the best of us…
Decide Who You’ll Believe
As we stood in our building’s elevator a few weeks ago, an older woman came on. As so many do, she commented on my daughter’s hair.
“Wow, what curly hair you have.”
I wish that statement had been enough, but she continued…
“Man, you’re gonna hate that hair when you’re older!”
I quickly covered my daughter’s ears and asked the woman to please not say things like that. But it was too late, her message was heard. And I wondered why someone would feel the need to direct words like that to a young, delicate and impressionable mind. Her intentions weren’t bad, but knowing that didn’t stop my heart from aching.
I wanted to scoop my girl up and erase the words from her mind. I wanted to replace them with all the love and admiration I felt for her in that moment.
But instead, I felt paralyzed. I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t know the right response. I placed my hands on my daughter’s shoulders and waited for the woman to get off the elevator.
When she left, I knelt down and looked into my daughter’s eyes. I told her that her hair was so beautiful, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
I left it at that, as I worried about drawing too much attention to the negativity. I’ll never know whose words held more weight, mine or this stranger’s. I could only pray they were mine.
But as the weeks continued on, her concerns over her hair showed up more and more. She wished it was “long and straight mama, just like Audrey’s” (her friend at school).
Appreciate Doubt and Shame
For every negative comment uttered to my daughter about her hair, there are ten times as many positive ones, at the very least. People stop us in the street to remark on how beautiful her precious locks are. But I know well enough, it’s the negative comments that sink in the most.
As I watch my little girl, so perfect in her mama’s eyes, I want nothing more than to shield her from life’s painful messages and feelings. If I could grant her a lifetime without doubt, shame or insecurity, I would. But it’s not possible. And the truth is, I’d be doing her a disservice.
Learning how to handle hurtful words and painful feelings is part of our journey. Part of what helps us learn the value of compassion and empathy. Part of our climb towards resiliency. And for my little girl to grow strong, it will need to be part of hers.
Find Your Heroes
My daughter is blessed with the most amazing, loving and nurturing teachers at her school. I knew I needed more help with this issue, so I confided in them. They were so happy I told them, and said they’d do something to help.
When I picked my daughter up later that day, her teacher whispered to me that they did a special lesson on how we’re all different and beautiful in our own unique ways. And when I dropped her off at school the next morning, her other teacher, of mixed descent, who always straightens her hair, wore it out curly for the first time. She told my daughter she made her hair curly to try and make it look as beautiful as hers.
I wanted to hug this wonderful woman and tell her what an amazing teacher she is for caring so much and for going the extra mile. I wanted to tell her how much gratitude I felt for her kindness. But to remain discreet in my daughter’s presence, I simply placed my hand on my heart and mouthed “thank you.”
Thank you to all the wonderful teachers in this world, who spread messages of positivity and acceptance. Thank you to all the kind souls who search for words of encouragement, instead of words of shame. Thank you to all the everyday heroes who take small, often unnoticed, actions to protect and nurture the vulnerable hearts and minds placed in our care.
Broaden Your Perspective
We are influenced by so many people and things in our world. It’s up to us to choose who we allow to influence us the most.
In my daughter’s world, I’ve decided to replace some of the fairytale books we read at night with books written for children of mixed descent. Books about different kinds of hair, and what it means to embrace our differences.
As we were reading the other night, she told me that she loved one of the character’s curly hair. I told her that the character’s hair looked just like hers, to which she replied:
“Yeah,” sounding a bit surprised. “Mama? Maybe Audrey wishes she had curly hair just like mine.”
“Maybe, baby. Maybe.”
Embrace Your Inner Child
We all face our own set of demons; our own insecurities that take a hold of our lives and steal away way too much of our attention.
As we battle those insecurities, it helps to think of the inner child within us. The innocent, vulnerable and impressionable child that deserves nothing but positivity, encouragement and acceptance. The inner child that deserves our unconditional love and healing embrace.
As I’ve watched things unfold for my daughter, I’ve felt a softer spot for my own perceived imperfections. A knowing that I too am deserving of the kind of love I give to my daughters everyday.
I may not always be able to find the perfect words, but I can try to give my little girl the right tools. The tools to respond to all that life will throw her way.
So when given a choice, she’ll choose to focus on the words that nurture her strengths, instead of the ones that dim her light.
She’ll chose the role models that teach love and acceptance, instead of ridicule and shame.
She’ll choose to believe in all that she is, instead of all that she isn’t.
And she’ll rock her big, wild, beautiful curly hair, like only she can.
For all those who struggle with loving their own inner child,
I leave you with these final words:
You cannot choose the words others say to you,
but you can choose the weight you give to those words.
You cannot choose the physical characteristics you were born with,
but you can choose to rock what you’ve got.
You cannot choose to erase your past choices or mistakes,
but you can choose to learn from them and move forward.
You can choose to love your inner child unconditionally,
instead of letting that love be determined by your worst critic.
You can choose to focus on your growing resiliency,
instead of your shame and regret.
You can choose to let your life be directed by all that you are,
instead of all that you are not.
And always know that there is someone out there,
who thinks your soul is so beautiful… the most beautiful they’ve ever seen.
If you know anyone who struggles with self-acceptance, please share this message with them.
What has helped you to soothe your insecurities?
Overcoming Cruel Words Cheat Sheet
Never allow cruel, belittling or condescending words to steal your self-esteem again. Use this cheat sheet to quickly heal and turn those words into something empowering.