You already know she's amazing. Make sure she does too.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, my biggest fears about having a daughter were two-fold. My first fear was that if I had a girl, how could I identify with her in a healthy way? My second was that if I have difficulty loving myself, I how could I model self-love well enough for her?
Deciding to carry her to term was no small decision. When I was a child, I was told it would be difficult for me to have children, if I could ever get pregnant at all. Three complex pregnancies, a near fatal episode with preeclampsia, and three premature children later, my health didn't allow for a tubal litigation to keep me from getting pregnant a fourth time. Just when my health improved, I found out I was expecting my fourth child. Although I knew abortion was an option, I figured that if this child made it through my birth control methods — she deserved to be here.
Despite my body's apparent desire to self-terminate her from my womb, she came into the world anyway. When I held her for the first time, I noticed a tiny little bump — an embryonic cyst — above her eye. Yes, babies are typically born unattractive, but my daughter had a serious uphill battle to climb in the looks department. She was born with hardly any hair, and she looked like she'd been hit on the side of her head with a block.
The mass cried out for attention — and, what's worse, it grew. The doctors told me it would have to be removed when she was older.
Part of being a woman is having a heightened sense of body awareness. I don't know if I've ever met another female who doesn't go to war at times with her own self-image. A woman's self-confidence is connected to her identification with beauty. From having a beautiful mind to a gorgeous inner spirit, a woman radiates what she feels inside.
For most of my life, I didn't grow up with that kind of confidence. I grew up with parents from a generation that believed negative feedback would compel me to work harder so I could prove them wrong. Because of that, I grew up feeling insecure and as if I always had to prove myself worthy of whatever I received. I wanted to change that tide within my own mother-daughter relationship. I believed that if I had experienced unconditional love that was communicated to me daily, focused on my body with words, then maybe I would have believed it.
I wanted my daughter to hear she was beautiful from her mother.
I wanted the inner voice in her spirit to celebrate all her of oddities every time she looked in the mirror. If children in the womb can be motivated by their mother to move, I believed that a child out of the womb could be motivated to confidence and solid self-esteem.
I decided that every night when I rocked her to sleep, I would tell her she was beautiful — inside and out. It became a ritual. I would give her a bath. Put her in her pj's and rock her to sleep. I'd point to her nose and say, "This is beautiful." Then, to the bump on her head, "This is beautiful." Then, to her feet, "This is beautiful." Everything that a girl grows up feeling insecure about her body, I told her was beautiful. Her nostrils, her toenails, the knobs of her knuckles — beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
By the time she was able to identify things like her fingers, toes, and shoulders, I would ask her, "What's beautiful?" And then she would tell me. I could see in her eyes that she believed she was beautiful. I honestly felt she had internalized a confidence I never had.
Until the day she came home from daycare and over macaroni and cheese told me, "Ms. V called me ugly."
My daughter pointed to her eye bump, she said, "She said this was ugly." For the next few days, I watched my little girl go from happy to an insecure hot mess. She was me. How in the world did one person's opinion steal her joy? How could anyone have greater power over her heart than me? I decided to get help from every person I knew that loved her. I called my mother, her older brothers, cousins, and friends. I told them what happened and asked, "Could you just tell her you love her and that she's beautiful every time you see her?"
At first, it sounded ridiculous. Wouldn't telling her she's beautiful every day make her shallow or self-absorbed? We were about to find out.
What I learned is that it takes a long time to rebuild a female's confidence after it's lost.
It took another four years for her to regain her self-confidence. After the first year, she still didn't feel beautiful. She didn't reject the notion, but she didn't respond. The second year, she started to nod when told and smiled. The third year, if you called her ugly, she would look at you and fearlessly ask you if something was wrong. The first time I witnessed her go into a situation where she walked away from being called ugly on a playground confidently with a smile, I realized the mantra worked.
A few days later, I witnessed a mother walk into a store with a bouncing little girl who radiated joy. Without even looking at her daughter, the mother criticized her appearance. Her daughter was embarrassed. Without meaning to, the mother just erased whatever confidence-building she may have tried with her daughter in the past, and she made me an accomplice. I decided to compliment the girl and her mother. The little girl smiled again and went back to being joyful. I learned a valuable lesson.
My daughter wasn't unique. All girls need this. Emotionally wounded girls grow up to be emotionally wounded women. An emotionally wounded girl can become a super confident woman when she is restored back to self-love with words that build her up. If you have a daughter, you can build her self-esteem with your unconditional love and kind words.
Here are 9 things to say to your daughter on a daily basis that will build her spirit and confidence starting now.
'You are amazing every day in every way."
"You were born to do amazing things."
"Your mind is awesome."
"You are brave."
"You are the most beautiful girl in the world just because of who you are."
"Your ideas matter."
"I love how you learn and grow from experience."
"You make the world a better place."
"My life changed in the best way ever the moment you arrived."