When the Light Dims
It seems as though little girls start with big dreams and aspirations for their lives and then as time moves forward they fade and into the reality of a world where being a woman holds so many complexities it’s hard to know how much to be yourself without being judged while still also not losing your authenticity. Truthfully, the majority of women move into adulthood never thinking about the little girls they left behind in those dreams they once thought could be reality. Unfortunately, it’s not the only reason, but I think one of the biggest contributing factors of that understanding comes from our self worth in the physical attributes of beauty.
I wrote a post about this idea of our light dimming several years ago, Shine Bright Like a Diamond when my daughter was 4 years old. Three years for a kid becomes a lifetime of change for her mother watching. Who she was at 4 is not near the intuitive, inquisitive spark that she now embodies at 7 years of age. She is truthfully one of the coolest 7 year olds I know and I wish I had maintained my spark the way she has over the past few years. However, not all changes are good. In the past few years, she has also been absorbing messages from the world, her peers and the men in her life.
She spends 50% of her time with me and 50% with her father. So in my limited time, I make an intentional effort to instill the wisdom of womanhood, maturity and self love in her mind, heart and soul. This comes from the joy I encourage with our routines of singing and dancing to “K & M’s Morning Playlist” while getting ready, to mantras we recite while spending a moment to center ourselves before heading to the school bus. I am constantly modeling loving myself and being independent and taking care of everyone and everything in my life as a leader in and outside my home. I felt strongly that my daughter knew how valuable she is and had a strong sense of self worth.
Until one day when I walked into my bathroom and saw her step stool by the sink. When I asked her why she brought it in, she was strangely evasive and mumbled her response. That’s a Mama’s cue to change my approach. I stopped what I was doing, I looked her square in the eyes and said “Kaiya, look at Mama and tell me why you brought this into my bathroom.” She lowered her head and said, “I was using your tweezers to take the hair off my face. I don’t like that I have hair between my eyebrows”
And there it was. . .
This was the moment she began to question herself because the idea of external beauty did not align with what she saw. Someone had to call attention to this for her to even care or associate it as a bad thing. But more importantly, despite the mantras of self love, she still felt a desire to change something about herself.
There is a litany of things that can be added to the growing list of things women dislike about their bodies. Each race and ethnicity has some distinct messages they have been given about what is and is not beautiful. The truth is that this is something almost every South Asian girl I know has struggled with. The propensity for body hair is a cultural and gender challenge in our community. If you add lighter toned skin and dark hair then by elementary age, you are reluctant to show your legs or your arms knowing that most of your non-brown friends don’t have the same issues.
This moment came back to me in my own state of healing. I have been pulling back layers of messages and experiences to understand why the absence of love reminds me of being unworthy. In that reflection I have come to realize that little Marya spent a lot of her life trying to earn love from others. Much of which came from not believing I was worthy of love and the disappointment it brought me when it was unrequited or rejected. I always blamed myself for not being enough. That ignited with the narratives of outward beauty and really hit home when I started school as a 5 year old brown girl in a majority White community.
It exacerbated in my twenties and up to my 40’s through the messages I was daily fed by the man I trusted to love me and build a life with. I was never enough and therefore not worthy to be loved, treated with care or protected. Little Marya stayed dimmed and shriveled up in a world that broke her spirit and heart. And I stayed in a dynamic that did not see my value longer than I should have because I believed if I could conform to what he wanted then I would be valuable enough to love. All of this was because I didn’t love myself enough to know I deserve much more and should have been treated with care.
In the case of my daughter, I caught the moment and refocused the conversation. She has not since said anything about wanting to change herself. In fact, these days she touts mantras of self love and strength as a woman to center us both in moments when challenges test us. Two of these gems were just this week.
"Be your own kind of beautiful."
"Connect to your true self."
However, I know that this moment will flow into another where some kid in school, or a stranger points out an aspect of appearance for her to question and I can only hope that she draws on these conversations and doesn’t allow her light to dim. So that she will not have to get to 45 before she finally gives that little girl she was the love she deserves.
We are unwillingly all a part of a cycle of socialization (watch this video for more on that theory if you are interested) that has given us conscious and unconscious messages about our worth and our place in society. But we don’t have to continue the cycle when we expand our minds and heal ourselves in order to know that love is acceptance in the most human aspects of our inner and outer beauty.