Definition of Beauty

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My daughter is a little alien. Or at least she’s a little alien to our family. We can’t really figure out what generations her DNA skipped and how in a Mediterranean family of dark brown eyes, dark brown hair and olive colored skin, a little green eyed, golden haired alien was born. She is a little ray of sunshine obsessed with tigers and dance, a little sunflower who loves to hug and kiss. We named her Sofia which means “Wisdom”, but she’s more energetic than wise.

Ever since our little alien started kindergarten in September, she has gained a certain popularity in school. Her long, thick golden hair, piercing eyes and outgoing personality stand out, especially in a small French country school. There is a boy who tells her that he will marry her when they grow up , another who draws flowers for her, and yet a third one who often wants to hold her hand. Of course this worries us as parents, even if she’s only 5. She often tells us “Everyone thinks I’m beautiful and everyone is jealous of my hair”. We try to tell her that beauty is only skin deep, that being honest and kind is more important than hair and we hope, hope, hope that our words sink in.  But the other day, she told us a story that made me especially sad and worried.

There is another little girl who stands out in school. She is the only black girl in school and in the village as she has been adopted by white parents, she also has some minor psychological problems and has a special aide help her with school work. She is obviously surrounded by love and support, but has some difficulties with social interactions. She can sometimes scream at the other children, or lie about trivial things. Of course, it’s not easy for her. And I understood it all the more when Sofia told me how one day she was playing with this girl (I’ll call her Olivia here) and another little boy from their school. They were drawing pictures for each other and the little boy drew a picture of a heart for Sofia and a picture of a screaming monster for Olivia. When the girls asked him why he did so, he answered “Because Olivia is the ugliest girl in school and Sofia is the most beautiful girl in school”. Olivia remained silent, but for the next few days she would scream at everyone during break that she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

My daughter’s story broke my heart. I told her that this little boy was wrong, that his words were very mean and that there are probably some classmates who think Olivia is more beautiful than Sofia. I said that and at the same time I knew I was probably wrong. Our society puts on a pedestal blond, blue-eyed women: barbies, princesses, super-girls. They all look more like my daughter than Olivia. And children, like sponges, absorb this information into their subconscious mind. The little boy wasn’t mean, or at least he didn’t mean to be mean, the predominant collective consciousness spoke through him, used him as an innocent tool to maintain its stance.  I tried to explain to my daughter that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but I wish her classmates would understand this as well.

A few weeks later my daughter was invited to Olivia’s birthday party. Among various presents someone got her a Rapunzel barbie toy (weirdly the Disney princess that Sofia most identifies with). I noticed that Olivia held the box for a few moments longer than her other presents. She silently examined the long blond hair and the blue eyes before putting it away. At that moment I really wanted to take her hand and whisper to her “Don’t worry, you’re way more beautiful than that toy”, but of course, in front of her parents whom I barely knew, I didn’t.

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