By the time I was 7, I had been told I was pretty more than I had been told anything else about myself. By the time I was 15, I had been asked where I was from more than I had been asked what my name was. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I had been compared to Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin at age 11, Pocahontas at age 14, and Mulan at age 17 more times than I dare to give a fuck to remember.
I was met with blank stares when I answered any man that I was from Miami; encouraged to go deeper when I said my mother was born in Nicaragua and my father Cuban; and high fived in a grandiose display of victory when I confirmed that there may have been Egyptian and Spaniard roots in my ancestral genealogy. Why all the fuss?
As a child, I suppose I didn’t mind the attention, since it had not yet formed my identity, but as time went on and the familiar patterns emerged before me, I felt frustrated, defiant, and angry at the mention of my exotic looks and all things superficial about me. I became downright pissed at society and it’s baseless value of women. Could I help my genetic makeup and ancestry? Did I work one shred in their making?
The truth is, I loved being pretty and I love that I am attractive; it’s a blessing and there is no denying that. But I am so many other things that once upon a time nobody seemed to care to discover about me; abilities and traits that I guarded for safekeeping in favor of the outside view of myself. In my twenties the thought of aging was absolutely terrifying; who would I be without the way I looked and without my body? Would my exotic looks transcend spotted freckles and sagging skin? And most importantly why was any of this of any value or importance?
I was screaming inside whenever anyone commented on my physique or told me how pretty I was and yet constantly baiting, digging, practically begging for validation on my looks from any man I found myself in a relationship with. I was constantly looking in the mirror, never satisfied with the way I looked and angrier that I cared so much because my inner truth was yelling, shaking and daring me to confront what I already knew but allowed myself to forget: my being is worth the creation of this entire world. There is nothing I have to do, be, or have to validate my existence. There is nobody that can define me for I am intrinsically unique and therefore never fully known to any one person.
But in those moments of solitude, when the day is waning and the work is done, and I find myself with only my reflection in front of me, unfiltered and unafraid, I look into my eyes and I see the depths of a million oceans, the moods of a thousand songs, the masks of the hundreds of women that have come before me, and the one that is me staring back, only the mask is peeling at the edges and breaking away at the seams revealing a beauty that defies looks. An inner radiance that shines with the brightest lights out there and I love me to my core. I’m reminded over again why it’s so important to me that girls, women, and especially mothers know this: the first thing a baby girl is told at her birth more than anything else is how pretty she is. Stop.
I tell my daughter this: you are a sapling rich and latent with a poetic rhythm you have pre-arranged before your existence; you are the wisest person you know and hold the answers to any question you stumble upon on this quest called life but sometimes you’ll doubt yourself, and that’s ok. But know this, your value is not defined by any comment, person, or recognition.
It is not based on how fast you learn to read or write, crawl, or walk or how well you do in school or by any measure of what society regards as successful. It is most certainly not because of the color of your hair, skin, eyes, or even by the many ways the light falls upon your face.
It is not in your grace nor elegance or anything smart or funny that you may say in your entire lifetime. It is not defined by your politeness nor by you being a good little girl, no it most certainly is not. It is not in the way you carry yourself nor in the way others notice your kindness. It is not in the accolades or diplomas you may or may not receive nor in your intelligence or in anyone else’s approval of you.
Your value is your very existence – because you exist, you have the value of the whole world inside of you. Because you are you. Because I am me, that is all there is to it.
And when she puts on a pretty dress and admires her reflection, I do not gasp in horror; I honor her. For she can look beautiful and think so too, and it doesn’t have to become her.