I will never forget letting go of my then-toddler daughter’s chubby hand to pick up a gorgeous Barbie doll at a toy store. With brown skin and cascading black hair, she looked radiant and regal in her cardboard home. But my daughter shook her head, excitedly and defiantly pointed at another doll. It happened to be white with blond hair.
“Oh no!” I thought—and said. Holding out my brown arm next to my original choice, I explained: “See, her skin is just like Mommy’s.”
She left the toy store with a board game. No doll. I left the store determined to only buy books and dolls that had faces, hair and skin color that reflected that of my four African-American daughters.
My thought process did not emerge from a negative worldview of other ethnic groups. It came from the realization that my daughters’ self-concept and sense of inner-beauty would be impacted by many factors—some under my control but many not.
That being said, I consciously avoided self-critical remarks about my own physical flaws and theirs. I was very fortunate because my four daughters were jocks who were certainly attuned to and influenced by popular culture but also had healthy body images of girls and women.
Flash forward to last week when I picked up a recent issue of People magazine. I saw it featured the “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” and I had the same sinking feeling that I did in that toy store years ago. It wasn’t anything personal against the choice, but once again reminded me of the importance of our daughters having a strong self-image and being aware of the significance of their own inner beauty. (Especially given the amount of criticism the cover subject received).
As the mother of young women now, I am just as conscious of zingers in the world that may damage their self-esteem as I was in their formative years. The necessity of balancing media, peer and family influences on their sense of self will always be present.
In an ideal world, beauty would not be measured by external characteristics but internal character. Until that happens, maybe the Most Beautiful Person in the World wouldn’t be an actual picture of a person but simply a mirrored pane that reflects the image of the viewer.