A letter to my beautiful, beautiful, beautiful daughter

letter to my daughter from my heart

Originally posted 2013

Dear Helena,

One day when you were a baby, Aunt Tina and I were smooching all over you. After all, what’s better than kissing a baby – all that smooth, perfect skin, those rolls of fat, all that love that just oozes out of them? Kisses and kisses and kisses. “We’re giving her extra kisses now so she can store them for times in her life when she might not have as many kisses,” Tina said. That was exactly right.

Now you are nearly 5 and you rarely let me kiss you like that anymore. But, as you know, I like to tell you every single day that you are beautiful – for much of the same reason. Helena, I hope you read this when you are 14, and 24, and 44 and 84. I need you to know that you are beautiful. Because you are.

I was involved once with a man who let me know that he did not find me beautiful. When we first met he told me how it bothered his ex-wife that in the decades they were together, he never once told her she was beautiful. “She just wasn’t to me,” he said with a shrug. “Sure, she was cute. But not beautiful.”

How strange, I thought. How absolutely cruel.

From then on I was acutely aware of his miserly use of that word. On the one hand, he used it freely when describing past lovers or starlets. Yet every single compliment about my appearance from this man became an insult. There were an abundance of words of admiration, yet every, “You’re pretty today,” and, “You look summery in that dress,” became nasty, digging reminders that I was not, indeed, beautiful.

I see now that he was mistaken.

letter to my daughter

Helena, here is what I need you to know:

To this day I carry a shame with me for two things related to that chapter:

  1. I started to feel ugly. That was my choice. No one allowed this happen but me. But I did.
  2. I stayed.

Helena, in your life you will meet many men, and some of them will not find you pretty at all. And maybe you aren’t to them – and that is totally fine! Who cares if they don’t like your appearance? Such things are but a matter of taste. But let me tell you something – you are so, so beautiful. It is not your big, curious brown eyes, those incredible eyes framed with magnificent brows and impossible lashes. You are not beautiful because of your dashing smile, the poreless olive skin or that elegant, mysterious triangle of small beauty marks that spot your face.

No, you are beautiful because of that thing – that perfect thing inside of you. It is that same thing that is in your brother, and in snowflakes, and when you and your friends laugh on the playground, or when the morning is quiet for a moment and we see the pink and blue clouds above the city. It is inside of me, too. And it is something bigger than you and me. God? Love? The Universe? All of those things – and other things. Things that do not have words.

And when some man lets you know that, no, sorry, you’re really great and all, but you are not beautiful, you need to know that has nothing at all to do with you. Not one thing. It has something to do with that man because he cannot see. And because you are beautiful you will be kind to him – because in all your beauty you will have that kindness and love to share.

And then you will go.

And you will find someone else, or you will be alone. But no matter what, I hope you know always – effortlessly and unconsciously – that you are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

All my beautiful love and more,

Mommy

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Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

35 thoughts on “A letter to my beautiful, beautiful, beautiful daughter

      1. That is a powerful piece and I feel exactly that way about my 4-year-old daughter, who lights up my life daily, and for whom I wish life’s very best. We watch an empowering video for girls (Google “I am a Princess”) that gives me goosebumps when we watch it. Check that out.

        I read the part on your blog about your marriage being affected by a brain injury, and I wrote a lengthy magazine piece in 2012 about just that—in this instance the effects of cumulative head trauma sustained from a long football career. You may find it interesting or validating in some way: http://www.richmondmagazine.com/?articleID=bee5adc129cac76ece125379ada26744

        I think what you’re doing with your blog is really neat…

          1. hi Emma,

            the link to the brain trauma piece I wrote is currently operational, so to speak. I just clicked on it and it took me directly to the article.

            cheers…

  1. I received this note from someone I went out with a few weeks ago. Thought I’d share:

    Just thought I’d write and say hey. I have looked in on your blog a few times. (Not to make sure I’ve escaped mention.) Don’t think I’m your demographic, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read. Especially the recent letter to your daughter. I have been writing occasional letters to my daughter over the past several years — on birthdays and other times – putting them in envelopes and tucking them away in a folder. I hope they will mean something to her some day. Anyway, I really did like yours. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re way better than “summery.’ Had fun meeting you, although I am considering retiring my John Travolta imitation. Best, Mark

  2. Such a beautiful letter, Emma. You make me prouder each day. You are so much more mature than I every will be. I wish I had told you more how much I love you, how beautiful you are insideand out, and how much I admire you, and how proud I am.

    You are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, . . . ! ! !

  3. What lovely sentiment. Just want to point out that you make an assumption that Helena is heterosexual and that she will have a male partner. That might not be the case!!!!

  4. “Beautiful, Beautiful, but Not if You’re Fat.”

    I loved this letter. How ironic that the hatred which surrounds “fat” and obesity in this country never benefits from such positive expressions of acceptance. Fat hatred which is often couched in “…but it’s for your own good” has ballooned to such proportions that many are called fat even when they aren’t, as the highest form of insult.

    A positive body image isn’t necessary for just some. It’s a necessity to affect any lasting change in one’s own body, whether it is to lose weight or to tolerate an “imperfection.” Everyone’s entitled to disapprove of course, but wouldn’t it be great if people recognized more readily, that people come in all shapes and sizes and forcing them to fit into proscribed dimensions is really not their business?

  5. Dear Emma,

    I thank God (feel free to submit your name for the energy that created this universe) for women like you; who become aware of something and not only change it in themselves. Your letter to Helena is beautiful and your willingness to be vulnerable shows your amazing strength.

    A link to your blog was posted on LinkedIn’s largest parenting group: Parenting 2.0. As many as 2,500 additional people have seen it.

    Please accept my gratitude. You, indeed, are very, very beautiful and I’m delighted that you know it AND are raising Helena to know it.

    Best regards,
    Melissa Pazen

    Inspired Coaching, Melissa Pazen
    http://www.melissapazen.net

    Live inspired: pray continually; think boldly; act deliberately; behave kindly, humbly, mercifully; love unconditionally; forgive easily.

  6. Emma, I’m a father of two girls (three and five.) I’ve read this letter again and again since last year and continue to come back as you capture so eloquently what I’ve tried to put into words for my girls. Thank you for sharing this tidbit of your life, of your love and how you see people. It’s gripping and wonderful. I wish both you and Helena laughter, courage, warmth and an openness to the beauty in all. Be well.

    1. Alden – thank you so much for these kind and authentic words. Your daughters are fortunate to have such a thoughtful father. All the best to the three of you.

  7. Dear Emma,
    What a beautiful letter! Your daughter is blessed – My hope for every little girl in the world is that she is told over and over, day after day, that she is beautiful, so that she will feel it in the core of her being and never doubt it. WIth that kind of strength, she can take on whatever life brings her way and be strong in knowing who she is, so that she can recognize those other souls who see her beauty shining through.

    I am really enjoying your great financial advice, and refreshing perspectives. I am divorced, but childless. From one up-by- the-bootstraps woman to another, thank you!

    Kathleen

  8. Hi! Wow, I’m loving your letter. I also have a daughter and I’m a single mother im just inspired! Our little girls need to know that they are worth so much more than compliments from men…

  9. Dearest Emma,
    I was drawn to your website and love your letter to your beautiful daughter. I remind myself everyday that once WE realize we are beautiful within as each of us are connected to the one essence, we let everybody off the hook. I find myself less and less dependent on other’s love or no love for me, like you said, really has nothing to do with me, but with their own disconnectedness within themselves. Realizing that allows utter freedom and understanding of others in their own lives. But more importantly, the contrast that helped clarify more of what you want propels you to choose a happier and happier life. It only gets better and better from there. Thank you again Emma. You’re awesome!

  10. I love this! My first husband never once told me I was beautiful in almost 17 years. When I finally began to realize that I am beautiful & do have value whether he saw it or not, I was able to take my 3 beautiful daughters & start a new life without him. It was the best decision I have ever made. I am now less than 2 weeks away from my wedding to the most wonderful man I have ever known. He tells me almost daily that I am beautiful, regardless of my appearance. I am careful to remind my girls often that they are beautiful & loved & have immeasurable value just because they exist.

  11. When I read this, I immediately thought that two of the things that makes us most beautiful are empathy and kindness. If you don’t have those things, you are ugly, ugly, ugly. The problem wasn’t necessarily that he didn’t see you as physically beautiful. The problem was that he didn’t seem to care about how his words or lack thereof could wound those he claimed to care about.

  12. This is wonderful. Thank you Emma. I often think about how to say this to my daughter and i will definitely use this as inspiration (for her and myself).

  13. Yes! I tell my son daily how much he is loved and how handsome and beautiful he is. I think a child that feels their parent’s deep love and adoration for them, helps them grow up to be more secure and confident adults. You’re instilling self-worth and that’s so crucial to future relationships.

    And I agree, it does affect your self-confidence if you’re with a man who you don’t believe finds you beautiful! It certainly does damage your self-esteem!

    Thanks for sharing your letter… it’s beautiful <3 :)

  14. Loved this, Emma. Made me think of two things: 1) the first man I dated post-divorce told me, “You’re beautiful,” and then somewhat snidely, “But you already know that.” No…I don’t know that. I think he called me that one other time in three years, as if it were something to parse out sparingly.

    I met a man recently who told me he cheated on his wife of 20 years because he was never attracted to her. Really? In 20 years? First of all, total bullsh** rewriting of history to justify his awful actions, and two, I wonder if he ever told her she was beautiful. How disrespectful and degrading.

  15. Wow, this made me cry. So beautifully written Emma and So true! Your little one will be so fortunate to one day read those words and I feel fortunate for having read them. Thank you for that great reminder. And you are indeed beautiful and a goddess { } Thank you Thank you Thank you {{ }}

  16. Just when I was about to give up on this writer since her latest topics seem to only be about dating. But this letter shows me that no matter what she holds so much love for her children and wish to share the knowledge she gained. This letter is beautifully written and heartfelt. It speaks to not just our daughters but the girls inside us that needs to be told we were and will always be beautiful

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