My daughter doesn’t look like me. In fact, she doesn’t look like anyone else in the family. While my hair is blond and straight, hers is black and curly. Her eyes are beautifully almond-shaped and dark chocolate brown. Mine are light and crystal blue. And though I can get rather dark in the sun, my skin will never reach the depths of her deep, dark, velvety mocha skin.
When she was placed into my arms, I knew that one day we’d have conversations about race. I also logically knew there would be a time, or times, when she felt out of place because our skin color doesn’t match up. However, I didn’t realize how soon some of these conversations would be.
When she was two we were in Costco buying diapers. She saw a black mother and daughter in line behind us and commented, “Like me.” Already at such a young age, she was very aware that she didn’t look like her family.
Now that she’s nearly eight years old, we’ve had several conversations about our appearances. And most have happened in the past month. These have been heart-wrenching for me because there is this underlying feeling that she believes she is “less than” . . . that because she looks different, she doesn’t belong.
And then, last night, something magical happened. Everything we’ve discussed about family and love seemed to have sunk in. As I was saying good-night and before I turned off the lights, she said aloud, “I wonder what people think of me.” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Like, when they see our family and I look so different, I wonder what they think.”
“Hmm. Well. What do you think they think?”
“I don’t know,” she said, truly trying to figure it out.
“Well honey, if you saw a little girl who looked different from everyone else in her family, what would you think about her?”
“I don’t know.” (Pause) “I would think she’s special.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
“I think people see you and think you are one special little girl too.”
I’m not naïve enough to think that this one moment resolved all her concerns about looking different in our family. But it did make me realize that she listens, she cares, and she will learn and develop her self-worth based on how we treat her and how we explicitly teach her.
Over the past month as she has said things like, “no one looks like me,” and “I wish my skin was like yours,” I have worried. What if these feelings haunt her entire life?! Does she not realize how beautiful she is? How can I help her see what I see in her every day? I have talked to her about how much we love her, instead of just hoping she knows. I’ve had to allow her time to process some of her thoughts. I’ve had to sympathize with something I know nothing about. I’ve had to validate her feelings while clearly and verbally reassuring her that she is a very important member of our family, and that we wouldn’t be the same without her. We would be incomplete. I’ve had to back all this up with how I treat her so I can truly show her how much she is a valued member of our family . . . and part of our life.
Appearances matter. They really do. (And they matter a whole lot—way too much—to some.) If they didn’t, the fitness and beauty industries would no longer exist. But what is even more important, and what matters most, is the love we have for each other. When I see my daughter, I forget that she is so dark. I just see my daughter. I see her eyes, her bright smile, and her spunk. I see her heart. Looking different from the rest of us, and feeling sad/confused/uncomfortable/self-conscious about it . . . this is an internal battle she needs to work through . . . but with all of us surrounding her, luckily she won’t have to do it entirely alone.