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Is This the Answer to Raising Strong Girls?

Photograph by Twenty20

This past September, a video called “Morning Motivation” went viral. In it, a father holds his three-year-old daughter in front of a mirror. “Look at yourself,” he tells her lovingly. "Look in your eyes. You gotta see it. You gotta feel it.” Then, in her high child’s voice, she repeats after him:

“I am strong. I am smart. I work hard. I am beautiful. I am respectful. I’m not better than anyone. Nobody’s better than me. I am amazing...”

The father, Ron Alston, posted the video on Facebook, explaining that these affirmations are a daily ritual he uses to build his daughter’s confidence and self-esteem.

The response to the video was explosive.

Within two weeks, it had been viewed over 13 million times and generated thousands of comments from parents who wanted to start similar traditions with their daughters. “If only all dads would do this with their children,” one person wrote, “They could change the world.” Others expressed regret that their own fathers had never taught them these lessons about resilience and positive thinking.

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Like many of the commenters, I needed a few tissues after watching Alston’s video. I, too, am raising a little girl who is about to turn three. I, too, believe that my job as a parent is to build foundations of character, strength, and kindness, to teach my daughter that she is beautiful, powerful, entirely loved. More than anything, I want her to look in the mirror and believe that she is amazing. So, how do we do this? Practically. In our daily lives. What actually works?

Because wanting my daughter to feel strong and smart and beautiful is one thing. Believing those things about myself is something else.

Like so many parents, I've watched the changes in our political and social climate with horror and dread. I’m full of fear that my daughter will grow up watching sexism and violence against women become even more normalized in our culture. Every day, there are messages all around her that say her body is a commodity, her dignity ends in the locker room, her health is unimportant, and her work will never have value equal to a man’s. How do I counter them? Or, how do I make the message of her worth and beauty even louder?

Should I try to block out the negatives? I know a few parents who do this. No TV. No Disney princesses. No gendered toys. I understand this approach. But I don’t believe it works long term.

Then do we follow Ron Alston’s example? I’m pretty sure that my husband has never recited an affirmation in the mirror, and neither have I, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Or, do we try to lead by example, modeling the courage and self-esteem that we want our daughter to achieve? This one is possibly the hardest of all. Because wanting my daughter to feel strong and smart and beautiful is one thing. Believing those things about myself is something else.

When I was pregnant, I stumbled onto an incredible essay entitled, “I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.” The author, Amanda King, explains that it’s easy to tell your children how beautiful they are. But what about later? What happens when little girls become women and they remember how their mother judged her own adult flaws and hated her aging body?

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“They have never doubted my beauty," she writes. "How confusing it must have been to have me say to them, ‘You think I am beautiful, but you are wrong. You are small and you love me, so you're not smart enough to know how unattractive I am.’”

Instead, King’s goal was to model “impossible beauty” for her daughters—the beauty of women who are tired, scarred, sagging, sexless or lost. “Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don’t know what to make of ourselves.”

In the face of our current scary world, that is my goal too. I can’t tell my daughter in the mirror without telling myself: I am amazing. I will do that for her and hope that my voice is the one she remembers.

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