Your daughter is beautiful and she has the right to know it!
Today my daughter and son ran up to me, their eyes dancing with excitement.
“Mama!” Mishaal* spluttered
“I found an acorn! Me and Raami* are going to dig the mud and grow an acorn tree with it.”
With every word, her tongue made an ‘ssssssssss’ sound at the end as the air swished out from the gap where her two front teeth used to be.
She gave me a huge toothless smile.
I laughed and hugged her tight and said
“You are so beautiful”
She smiled wider,
“Mama you always think that”, and then bounced out to grow their acorn tree, with Raami in tow.
It’s funny, ever since she has lost her teeth, whenever I see her smile, my heart melts. I have truly not seen a more beautiful smile as one with gaps in it. When she lost her first tooth, she asked me,
“Do you think I look weird?”
I said NO! Why?
“I don’t know, but tell me, do you think I look weird?”
I told her she looked even more beautiful than before, and she believed me with the unflinching faith that only a child has in their mother’s words.
Every single day of her life, even before she understood words, I told her she is beautiful.
Someone once told me, on my visit to Lahore that I should not tell my daughter that. She explained that it would put ideas in her head and that girls should not have any ideas in their heads about how good they are, because God knows what kind of husband and in-laws they will find.
So according to that Auntie, girls should be brought up without self-worth? So that if their future family does not give them respect or praise them they don’t know the difference and therefore live in ignorant bliss?
It is strange but even in this day and age, people are more than happy to call their sons ‘chaand’(the moon) and ‘shehzada’ (a prince) without thinking he will actually start believing he is the moon and therefore superior to humans.
But it is not okay to tell your daughter she is beautiful?
We are still raising daughters with this thought in the back of our heads that they exist to please and praise others; and they don’t deserve the same in return.
I passionately believe we all need to tell our daughters that they are beautiful. Not better than anyone else, but not less than any other either. Just beautiful in their own way, exactly the way they are.
I grew up thinking I am ugly.
I hated my nose, my teeth, the two lumps on the sides of my cheeks which later became cheekbones. As I grew older, I hated my figure, my lips and I even hated my index finger. I think all my life there has been one body part at least which I obsessed over and hated until I found fault with another one. I pretty much spent the years growing up wishing I looked like Cinderella.
Once I realised I would never turn blonde I started to pray, not wish, but pray to Allah, that I would start looking like Belle from the Beauty and the Beast or at least Jasmine from Aladdin. I honestly don’t remember when I eventually gave up on that prayer but thankfully at some point, I accepted what I looked like and made peace with it.
Finally one day, I found out that, apparently all my life, my mother thought I was beautiful, just like all mothers do, but rarely said it, as most Pakistani mothers don’t, lest that praise goes to my head! And, this coming from my mother, who was one of the most progressive and friendly mothers of all the other girls’ moms growing up.
The first time I believed I was beautiful was when I married my husband and that really was a long time coming. I do not want my daughter to wait 20 something years to believe she is beautiful.
My daughter is growing up amongst real life Cinderellas. She is one of four brunettes in a class of 15 girls; the rest of them are all blondes, with blue eyes and white skin. She has asked me a few times why her hair is dark and her arms are brown, but her friends are white and their hair is yellow.
I told her because Allah mian has made her that way and that she is different; and different is beautiful. I told her we all want to be different because if we all looked the same, that would not be fun.
That answer seemed to satisfy her. Being six, she usually believes whatever I tell her. Perhaps at the age of 16 it will not be so easy to placate her. That is why I started early. For I wish I had been told all my life that I was beautiful.
Because I am.
Not because of how I look, but because this is who I am and everyone is beautiful in their own way. Everyone has the right to feel beautiful and to know it.
So go ahead, and tell your daughter that she is the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen. She will believe you. And while you are at it, tell your son that too, I started when mine was a day old.
As I went to see the acorn tree, which had apparently already started to grow tiny branches in the mud where my kids had buried it 20 minutes ago, my son brought a rolly polly to me. His face streaked with mud and his hair sticking up with sweat, the last rays of sun lighting up his excited face, he squealed,
“Wolly polly mama”
“Isn’t Raami the most cutest son you ever had”
“Yes he is jaan…yes he is.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Read more by Tayyaba here.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.