Monday, September 17, 2007

On Beauty

The following is something that I wrote for Love without Boundaries' Love's Journey 2: The Red Thread book, scheduled to release in November. I can't wait to hold the book in my hands, mainly because the publication also includes a poem Doodle wrote last year, as well as at least one photo of both girls, and hundreds of other photos, essays, and poems about the Chinese adoption experience. To learn more about the book or to preorder a copy (or three, like me), go here. Here is my piece, which is likely a bit shorter in the book:

Seeing Inner Beauty
I stood on my next-door neighbor’s back porch, chatting with an older Chinese couple while watching my then four-year-old daughter play in the backyard. After exchanging pleasantries about how we knew the hosts, the woman turned to me and said, “Your daughter is as beautiful inside as she is outside. She is so joyful, and you can tell that all the other kids want to play with her.” I’ve automatically thanked hundreds, if not thousands, of people for their comments on my daughter’s beauty, but this time my gratitude was genuine, and I beamed. This woman got it. She understood that it’s inner beauty that matters. This conversation occurred four years ago, and I can still replay the scene in my head.

I worry that the thousands of meaningless comments weighed against the rare true compliments will lead my girls to put too much value on outer beauty. I always thank the person giving the meaningless compliment, and usually whisper in the recipient’s ear, “And you’re smart too” or “And you’re musical” or “And you’re athletic.” I may have gone overboard with my younger daughter, adopted a year ago and now four. When her gymnastics teacher recently told her she was beautiful, she laughed and retorted “I not bootiful.” Daughter No. 2, however, has a healthy ego, and will happily tell you that she’s good at soccer or counting or sharing. My older daughter, now 8, accepts her outer beauty as a fact but doesn’t dwell on it or try to use it to her advantage—yet. She knows that her value lies in the joy that comes from how she treats others, her music, and her academics. She may spend too much time brushing her hair in the morning, but she spends far more time thinking about teaching her little sister things and exploring her growing curiosity about the world.

As a parent who has been bombarded with these meaningless comments, I now closely observe the children that I encounter, and ensure that my compliments have meaning. I know that most people who see you in passing are only going to comment on the superficial, but I still wish that more people would take the time to look beneath the surface.

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