Monday, October 08, 2007

Beauty and the BS

To follow up on my earlier post about being highly visible and the praise that constantly gushes over our daughter, let me say again that I do take these comments as compliments (we have yet to receive a negative remark--though I know we will someday). We are and will continue to be as proud as imaginable of our daughter not just for her beauty but for all the other qualities emerging in her as well. I do appreciate the nice things people say.

I'm just not always sure what to say in return.

When someone says, "She's such a beautiful baby!" or "That's the most adorable baby I've ever seen!" what am I supposed to say?

I usually go with a simple "Thank you," although sometimes it feels like taking credit for something we had nothing to do with. We neither made nor chose her.

I've occasionally said something joking like "Yes, no thanks to us," but I don't really want to emphasize that as she grows up.

Sometimes I say, "Yes, we certainly think so." This is true, but does admitting my bias imply I don't think it's true? I mean, sometimes I think people are laying it on a little thick, but I don't mind them agreeing with my assessment that she's the most beautiful baby ever.

Sometimes I think I can see my baby's ego causing her entire head to swell up to the 99th percentile and a belief that beauty matters most rising up to devour the seeds of her preteen self-esteem, so I deflect with a comment about something she's doing rather than how she looks. I want her to hear, and know, and trust, as she grows older, that her beauty is enhanced and made complete by her brains, her heart, her purpose, her character.

She's beautiful, yes. But it's nothing compared to the beauty inside.

That's my answer. If only you, and she, could see how true it is.



Note: This may seem silly at her age and when the comments are compliments, but consider the hair comments which are surely in our future: http://www.antiracistparent.com/2007/09/21/good-hair-and-bad-hair-the-silent-messages-our-children-receive/#more-295

Also recommended:
"A Girl Like Me" at http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/6/index.php?id=2#
http://transracial.adoptionblogs.com/

10 comments:

The guy who loves you most. said...

I'm not going to sound like I'm trying to argue with this, but I will say one thing.

What would you have them say instead? Most people, when they comment on her beauty are simply trying to be encouraging and friendly.

They only comment on the physical because that is all they have experienced with Anna. They don't know how funny she is or how she talks to the kitty or how she eats the wall. They only see the first thing that they see...and she IS beautiful.

Self esteem comes from a strong nurturing environment. Look at all those beautiful kids at school who think they're losers simply because they have no nurturing environment.

Anna will grow to be a beautiful woman because she will know her value is way deeper than peoples' compliments.

Obviously there are cultural and racial issues going on all the time. I don't want to take that away, and I agree with you, but its something we can only fix by being nurturing and wise parents.

wmw said...

My argumentative husband makes good points which we have talked about. I was just too lazy to incorporate them into my post.

It is interesting that people feel the need to comment at all, although I do think they mean well. And of course it is going to be on the physical most of the time. So what if we had another child who was not as stunning and overheard more compliments than she received? Or a white child whose black sibling got all kinds of attention she didn't? Not uncommon situations...telling them that physical differences are always noticed and therefore maybe oh so important...

Ah, we like to ponder and philosophize. Our daughter, it's true, likes to suck the wall.

Matt Walton said...

Sometimes when I worked at the Adobe, I would pick up people's salad plates. Well, the Adobe runs their salad program almost entirely on the "Salad Bar" strategy. Anyway, I would pick their salad plates up and they would go "That was so good!" I always thought it was funny in the way that they made it but they thought it well to tell me how delicious it was. So I totally see where you are coming from. Well, maybe not now that I think about it. I've never had a baby, and... no, I don't think that was a very comparable situation at all. Anna is infinitely more beautiful than a salad. Even if it is on a plate that looks like a fish.

I'm sure it is strange to have everyone say nearly the EXACT SAME THING to you regarding your child, when you know there is so much more. But, like Aaron says, that is really all they know!

You two are so loving and caring. Anna is going to be so totally awesome, I just hope that she doesn't end up a Cubs fan. Because nobody deserves that kind of sports-related sadness. (The Lions are more than enough.)

Anyway, I hope things are going well in the Wetzel household. I'll be home soon, I miss you all greatly! Tell the family I said hello.

Your favorite Matt Walton,

Matt Walton

wmw said...

Waltino! What an honor to receive your comment. Hurry home, the Irish need you, and maybe since the Lions have a bye (buy? someone help my usage) you can teach Anna to love baseball. Football made her cry this week. Of course you had a similar experience, didn't you...sorry, man.

Kendra said...

Wendy,
Of course I don't have the raicial differences to ponder, but in regards to complete strangers always saying the same thing about Rebekah, I know what you mean.
"She has the most beautiful blue eyes!" Since Charlie and I are both hazel, it's not like she got them from one of us. (Well, indirectly, but biology lesson aside...)
What do I say to that?
What do I say when I'm at the grocery store with Rebekah and running really late and her diaper is looking a bit too juicy and if we don't get home soon she won't get lunch on time and then she won't nap because she will be overtired and then I won't get ready for work in time, and, and, and...all this stranger wants to do is spend half the day telling me about my daughter's big blue eyes as if I have not yet realized that yes, indeed, they are blue!?
I usually just say thank you, keep going, and don't pause too long unless I want the awkwardness to begin. Sometimes I respond,"She knows it!" and give a little laugh, then head on my way.
Otherwise people start looking to see if I have blue eyes, too, then ask if my husband does. When I say no, they are from Grandpa, I get these looks like the next question is wether or not the mailman has blue eyes. (Yes, a complete stranger did ask me that once. What do I say to THAT?) Not wanting to warp my child's idea of family, I usually just take the compliments and keep going.
You have a lot more visibility with Anna and so will probably hear more of these comments than I ever will, but just know that you are not alone, other moms have been there and have raised beautiful children because (in spite?) of it all, inside and out.

love and blessings,
Kendra

kendra said...

Wow, that was really long.
-Kendra

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your blog and the story of your daughter. She is indeed beautiful (I will quickly admit my bias to Ethiopian babies--but she even stands out in that adorable crowd :-) But I think you are right--it is also the novelty of her adoption, her ethnicity, her race in your community. My (biracial) daughter hears that comment a lot too. I think a smile and a thank you is a nice response and teaches her a good way to resond to compliments. As she grows up, the comments will get fewer and you probably won't mind the people who make your daughter feel beautiful. Our culture tends to make women, especially minority women, feel LESS beautiful than they truly are, so giving her extra confidence in her appearance is not a bad thing at all. With my kids, I always try to focus on the things they don't hear as much from strangers--whether it is their cleverness, their hard work, or their kind hearts. And, yep, I tell them they are beautiful too--inside and out. (and I'm guilty too--I have said "well, that is about the most beautiful baby I've ever seen" lots of times to babies of every color. And truthfully--each time I say it, I have meant it 100%!)
Congratulations on your beautiful (smart, sweet, happy, and kind) daughter!

Katie V said...

We've been working with my most adorable little sister Kellie about that. She knows she is cute and admired and we have slowly learned how to keep her ego in check.
All this before she turns 4 years old :)

RMMcDowell said...

I'm with Kendra . . . whom I, incidentally, didn't know had had a baby. Congratulations! And what a lovely name! :)

I have two comments here. Not wanting to start an argument, of course, but are you sure that it's because of her race? I'm certain that it makes Anna stick out to people in an initial glance, and it certainly makes her stick out in their memories, but she is just plain adorable. I don't care what color she is; she is one of the sweetest looking children that I have ever seen. It doesn't hurt that her mother knows how to photograph her!

In all honesty, any of us can say, "No thanks to us!" when someone compliments our child's beauty. We neither chose nor created Ellie--or Megan (we've settled on a name)--for it truly is God who has somehow taken our finest features and put them together to make Ellie. Like Kendra, at least once every time I leave the house with Ellie in tow I tend to hear, "Where did she get those eyes!?" I have sassy replies, and they usually get sassier with the creepy stares into my eyes to see if, in fact, my daughter's mother might share those gorgeous eyes. I generally say, "She has her daddy's eyes," at which point 1980s Amy Grant songs flow through my mind. Sometimes I say, "Yeah, those eyes made me fall in love with her father, too." Most times I think, "There's this great mail-order store . . ." Another familiar comment for us is, "Oh, she looks just like her mother!" To that I reply, "But cuter," or "She's just as naughty, too," but that can cause trouble in mixed company . . .

You present the deeper need to encourage our children--especially our daughters--to see their worth through their "Father's Eyes" to state what is flowing through the mind of anyone who listened to 1980s Amy Grant. It's true. We have a huge responsibility raising daughters. While it's cute to hear Ellie stumble through, "I'm pleased you think so," in response to "Aren't YOU the cutest little thing I've ever seen?!" it won't be funny when she is 13 and awkwardly not hearing those things anymore--or worse yet, still hearing those things and even expecting them. At that point, we'll have missed the mark as mothers. I also wonder what will happen if Megan just isn't as sweet or cute or funny or charming or smart as her big sister. Ellie is such a delight that poor, 3-1/2-months-'til-I'm-born Meg has great big shoes to fill. That's scary for me, who is apparently built quite differently from my very petite first born. What if Meg takes after Beau and me? What if she is born with a birthmark on her face and she lives in a world that people have built for her sister where life is measured by looks?

I don't know, Wendy. It truly is the Beauty and the BS. People compliment it because they notice it. But Aaron is right, the internal beauty is our job to cultivate, because we notice it. So maybe the correct response to "Oh, my! That is the most beautiful baby I've ever seen!" is "Thank you; her father and I are also very proud of how beautiful she is on the inside!"

Anna and Ellie are beautiful. So is Megan. I don't doubt that for a minute, because they are all special treasures, created by God who shares Himself with them and with the world through them. For each one of them was, indeed, born at the right time.

Amy said...

I'll try to make mine short(er). I have found Roman received all those comments too, and his beautiful Middle-Eastern big brown eyes tend to still get compliments. However, I decided around the age of 2 to show him how to accept compliments so my smart-aleck replies don't start coming out of him.

"Thank you" works well most the time, although my brain, too, immediately flips through all the things I could say. We still even have family comment on his looks as he grows older and his features "refine" themselves - I take those in stride, telling them matter of factly "his birthfather was from Tajikistan" or "his birthmother had curly hair." Because I also want him to feel comfortable with his birth story and willing to share it when he wants to - or NOT when he wants to. Because someday, he'll be playing on the playground, and kids are going to make a comment about his just-darker-to-be-noticed skin, or he'll be learning Geography and Tajikistan will come up, and who knows what will be said? Hopefully he'll be prepared.