Last night I went to my sister's house for Sunday dinner. As we were about to sit down to eat, I leaned over to my four-year-old niece and told her that she was beautiful.

She stared me, confused, as she replied:

"No. I'm only beautiful when I have a ponytail."

I stared back at her, confused.

It took me longer than it should have to comprehend what she told me, but when I did, the impact of her words hit me like a ton of bricks. I was shocked.

First of all: How could a four-year-old girl already have thoughts like this forming in her head?

Secondly: How could a four-year-old girl already have established limitations and requirements for beauty?

And lastly: How could a four-year-old girl already have the same thoughts that grown women often experience? (As in, we can only be beautiful if we do certain things--makeup, clothing, hair, weight loss, etc.)

I know, I know. I'm probably over-analyzing this--I mean, I'm definitely more sensitive to comments of this nature than other people due to my experiences with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. She could have easily just said it without thinking twice or thinking negatively of herself in the process. She could have easily just been mimicking something that she heard elsewhere.

But even if that's true, even if she's just repeating what others have said, that's another serious problem in and of itself.

I think I was upset by this because I saw myself in her.

I once wrote a post about a time when my friend asked me how early my low body-image began, and while sitting here writing this, I'm realizing that it started around my niece's age.

When I was her age, I didn't just say and listen to comments like this, but I internalized them and as a result, they festered inside of me until they began to rot.

At her age, I would think that I was only beautiful when... or I would only be beautiful if...

It got to the point where I used to wish that I could take my head off of my body and place it on someone else's so that I could finally be beautiful.

I should probably mention that I understand that the thoughts I had at her age were a little more extreme than simply saying that a ponytail is what makes me look beautiful; however, the processes behind those thoughts are the same.

Feelings of inadequacy, requirement, and expectation are powerful.
Additionally, the impact of our words upon children are even more so.

Before I go any further, I want to hurry and establish that I don't think that my sister has ever caused my niece to think negatively about herself. If anything, my niece has more confidence than I do because of how she's being raised and empowered by her mother.

In fact, the same little girl that made the previous comment about herself, looked in a mirror at my parent's house a few weeks earlier with dirt and paint on her face, exclaiming: "I am beautiful!"

Maybe that's why her comment upset me.

I want to know what changed in her over the course of these past weeks to cause her to say something like this. I want to know how a thought like this slipped through the armor of self-confidence that my sister has placed on her.

Then again, I've caught myself doing the same thing on various occasions. One moment I'll love how I look and the next, I'll hate myself.

Even the strongest armor can have a chink in it.
And self-confidence can be fleeting.

It's been a long process, but I'm slowly starting to realize that I'm beautiful
no matter how I look--make up and hair done; or no make-up and hair not done. 

How often do we as women allow our self-esteem and the perception of our intrinsic beauty to be dictated by simple things like "ponytails" (when we reach the perfect weight, have the perfect makeup, have the perfect hair, or have the perfect clothes)? How often do we flip between self-love and self-hate--harming ourselves in the process? Why is it so hard to love ourselves all of the time without strings attached?

We're not always going to have our hair in ponytails (to continue the analogy), so isn't it about time that we stop saying "I'm only beautiful when I have a ponytail" and start saying "I'm beautiful".

Beauty shouldn't be reliant on the when's or if's of life.

Beauty isn't something that changes with how we look.
Beauty isn't something that dwells in our past or only exists in our future.

Beauty is now.

And it has no requirements.

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