Originally posted 2013
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.
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:
- I started to feel ugly. That was my choice. No one allowed this happen but me. But I did.
- 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,
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.