Little girls automatically want to look like their beautiful mother. Life is much simpler if they resemble the lead female in the home than for Girls Who Look Like Daddy. However, if your daughter resembles her handsome dad, it can mess with her self-concept. Well-meaning relatives who pinch her toddler cheeks and say, “Oooh, you look just like your daddy!” don’t understand that it matters to her little girl self to be compared to a man.
Back in the eighties I read an article in some magazine while waiting in some doctor’s office (which, at the time, was the only place I stopped moving long enough to read a magazine). It was by a cosmetic surgeon who wrote about women’s reasons for transforming their looks. The high frequency of requests for straightening straight noses, and raising high cheekbones bemused the surgeon. These attractive women perceived themselves as looking flawed, but why?
To satisfy her curiosity, she started informally polling her patients, and discovered these women, who were already attractive, resembled their fathers. A lifetime of being told they resemble a man was not easily reconciled with their desire to look like their lovely feminine mothers.
Case in point, my blue-eyed blond friend, Clara, remembers her brown-eyed six year old daughter getting angry when a woman from their church snagged her by the chin, and cooed, “You have your daddy’s eyes.” The child wrenched her chin away, planted her fists on her hips, and declared, “I don’t have my daddy’s eyes. These are my eyes! I don’t look like a boy.”
So, what do you do if your beautiful girl looks like her fathers’ side of the family?
One of the ways to circumvent the insecurity this situation produces is to show her how she resembles the pretty women amongst your in-laws.
My favorite tactic is to emphasize the wonderful blend she is between her two parents. “You have daddy’s eyes, and you have my smile.”
Another way is for her daddy to take the time to compliment her. That kind of attention convinces her she must be attractive if he thinks she is, no matter who she takes after.
If her father is absent from her life, a stepfather, uncle or grandfather can make her feel feminine and cherished just as well. If her dad is absent, and you don’t have any male back up, you must take on this responsibility yourself. Don’t leave this hole in her self-esteem unattended. It’s not too late to help your daughter appreciate herself once you understand the problem exists.
If Daddy is absent from her life, whether or not by choice, a typical reaction to abandonment is the expectation it will happen again. If he is absent by choice, don’t be surprised if she has internalized it as her fault, or decided it was due to a flaw in her that she tries to keep hidden from the world. Children live in fear of their secret flaw being discovered. When she feels like that flaw might be exposed, watch out!
You make an innocent suggestion about her hair, and BAM! An explosion comes from out of nowhere. As you pick yourself up off the ground, understand you may have scratched her secret flaw. (Daddy would have stayed if she had been more attractive, or smarter, or kinder, or faster.)
It can be difficult to get her to reveal her secret flaw so you can address it, especially if she feels she has successfully kept it hidden from you all these years (after all, you stayed). How can she possibly take the risk of you finding out? She couldn’t bear that look of disappointment that would cross your face. What if, when you find out, you want to leave, too?
Or, what if you want to leave her, but you don’t because you feel responsible? She’d be sentencing you to years of living with her and her awful flaw.
As much as we’d like to establish that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters; it’s what’s on the inside that counts, the reality to a little girl is her looks do matter. As she gets older, she may be able to put it into perspective better, but the media does its best to make sure we are discontented with the way we look.
So, what can you do?
Don’t: Don’t bad-mouth your Ex. His blood flows through your daughter’s veins. She will believe she has inherited all his flawed characteristics. Additionally, from her point of view, if you aren’t feeling loving toward him anymore, for all she knows you might not feel loving toward her at some point. Insecurity rears its ugly head. It’s better to focus on his positive attributes for her sake.
Do: Tell her about the positive things in her that remind you of his positive things, but for everyone of those similarities, share two characteristics that you and she have in common.
Do: Emphasize the things people like about you so she will believe herself likeable. Share the features people find attractive about you that she has inherited from you (bubbly personality, kindness, high energy, always smiling, healthy hair, clear eyes, long lashes, etc.).
With the properly targeted input, that beautiful girl you are raising will grow to understand and appreciate her self-worth.
Do you have any suggestions that could help parents with this situation? This topic is especially pertinent to racially blended families whose children are a perfect mixture of their characteristics.
Please share with anyone who has a lovely daughter.