What do you say when one of the girls puts a flower in her hair, leans her head to the side and beams a smile while saying, “Daddy, am I pretty?”
For a moment I think to myself, “What an awful question.” After all, someone only asks questions like that when they have doubts about the answer. I’m sure the questions start innocent enough but someday they will ask it in earnest and they will sincerely not know the answer. On that day I hope they will think for just a minute on what beauty means.
I started exploring this idea with their mother.
Supermom puts on an outfit and asks, “How does this make me look?”
“You would tell me that if I wore a brown paper bag.”
“Because it is true.”
“Ugggh, you are not helping.”
“You aren’t asking a good question. You make things pretty not the other way around.”
I probably spent more time than I should thinking about “pretty” and what makes someone pretty or attractive. But I’m not the first to ponder at length. Leonardo Da Vinci studied beauty by looking at the grotesque. Legend has it that he would find ugly and misshapen people and invite them to supper in exchange for the chance to draw them in detail. He found beauty in proportion and curves. Ugly was created by being out of balance. Most modern studies agree that beauty is perceived when there is symmetry. When eyes line up and noses are even and straight. What about other preferences? Do they affect beauty? Height, weight, skin color, eye color, hair style, personality, interests, attitude.
For me it is becoming a collective idea. There are parts of “pretty” that I can’t exactly describe but I know that my definition is built with the traits from people I love. Children are a great reminder of how that works.
Jane has a love for animals. She currently aspires to be a vet and I see no reason why she shouldn’t. Her love for horses borders insanity and I recognize it from my mother and sister. She has a heart for the underdog and makes friends where others might not try. Those are the friendships that mean something. She has to be recognized as the top performer but has a motherly streak as well. There is a caring and love for life on the move that is definitely beautiful.
Prima is my free spirit child. She doesn’t sit still but instead swirls in currents and waves like a playful river. She looks the most like her mother which in some odd way makes me feel closer to them both. Prima is the closest to showing pure altruism. She is happy when other people are happy and is confident enough with herself to take life on at full steam. Her emotional side is highly developed and I don’t think she meets a stranger. She lives through social interaction with others and can appreciate beauty. I think that is beautiful.
Don Threeto. This spritely blonde gangster is a ball of knees, elbows, and energy. She doesn’t have a low gear. If she is awake, she is running in circles and talking about something. She loves to wrestle and play all day long. For all her rough and tumble behavior she is very affectionate too. Threeto is upbeat and gets excited at a level I wish I could still experience. She is headstrong like several of her relatives before her and that is a beautiful thing.
Lady Bug is the baby of the family and seems like my last chance to enjoy all the nuance of growing up. She smiles a lot while she pushes her wispy bangs out of her eyes and doesn’t say many clear words. Like Jane, Lady Bug enjoys life on the go. If she thinks someone is going somewhere she will find the closest two shoes (doesn’t have to be a matching pair or even hers) and then she stands guard by the front door, determined to not be left. Her favorite thing to do is watch a movie and snuggle in your lap. She has given us highs and lows; from the experience of my wife and I delivering her at home to the panic of dealing with seizures. She smiles so big that her shoulders get involved. That is beautiful.
Beauty is made of the characteristics we learn to appreciate. We learn those characteristics from the people that we love. Our children seek those things out when they look for a partner. The best way to ensure that you are considered beautiful is to accept who you are and know, for someone, you are already pretty.
So when my girls ask me, “Daddy, Am I pretty?” I think of all these things and fight that little lump in my throat. I keep down the anger that the world might convince them otherwise. I want to tell them that they are my baseline. They are the definition and the ruler that I use to measure the rest of the world. My girls are beauty. Asking me is as silly as asking, “Does fire burn?” or “Is water wet?”. My actual response is usually a big hug and a kiss and I tell them, “You couldn’t be not-beautiful if you tried.”
So if you aren’t feeling particularly beautiful just remember that you were born into the world as a ruler and somewhere along the way you have been convinced that you are the thing to be measured. This post is for you. Stop that shit. You’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.