“You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important,” said Aibileen Clark as she wiped the little girl’s tears; a girl she looked after as a black maid in Mississippi, United States in the 1920’s. I gulped back tears every time she said those words in the movie, ‘The Help’ (originally a book).
I remember when I finished watching the movie I wanted to tell my daughter the exact same words. My kindergartner is indeed kind, smart and important. And so are all the daughters of every man and woman who ever lived, or will live.
My thoughts take me back to Pakistan in the mid-nineties. I was the pretzel-skinned twelve-year old with hair-in-perpetual-tornado and oversized shirts. Yes, a sight for sore eyes indeed. I wasn’t perturbed at my appearance then. That included my close friends who are still inseparable entities in my life. The cool, disheveled group of kids who felt invincible. Now when I look at my old pictures I try not to have a silent heart attack. But then almost immediately, I feel a spurt of joy and gratitude. For the childhood I had. The lifelong friends I made. And most importantly, for my parents who worked on my heart foremost. Everything came second. My skin. My hands. My hair.
When I had my daughter, I knew she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. Because she was ours. Our flesh and blood. Because she was God’s greatest blessings. People came to congratulate us. They all commented on her looks. The intricacies of her miniature features that even I hadn’t noticed yet. Some were ecstatic that she was fair-skinned and made sure I realized the importance of that detail.
It makes me wonder. The comments never end do they? Not for boys either, but especially not for girls. And most opinions revolving around girls tend to focus on appearance. The outward flesh almost always overpowers the flesh of the heart, the blood of the soul. So yes, looks do matter. It will be a naive denial if I said otherwise. But to what extent?
With each passing year, I see an explosion of vanity. The sickening cliche’s on materialism don’t end. In fact they develop minds of their own and come back to haunt us, ever-more powerful. At almost 35 years of age, I still try to wrestle with these cliche’s. I try to burn them. Forever wary that the ashes don’t smear my children. I have my demons. Little or more. The old times of feeling insecure in my pimple infested skin and trying to please people are gone…mostly. But some morphed heads do appear time and again. I see my children already beginning to care about their clothes. Their hair. Their shoes. They are only 8 and 5. I don’t remember even bothering to look in the mirror at that age. But maybe it’s all the same as when I was a child. Maybe now, everything just started earlier.
This foreboding list is bound to increase. Body issues. Self-esteem issues. Blending in VS standing out. In a world that systematically works to make our children feel ‘not-good-enough’, instilling the core concept of self-preservation is going to be tricky to pull off. But not impossible.
I don’t have a plan. I don’t have any parenting articles mastered. But I do have a hopeful yet frightened heart that calls out to its Creator for help.
Allah says in the Quran (95:4)
“Surely We created man in the best mould.”
Who else has the right to determine our beauty but HIM? Who else tells us we are worthy but HIM? The reason of our existence reaches to horizons that are way beyond the skin.
That’s really it. That’s how I start. By always reminding my children how their hearts will always be most important. And that its purification is the epitome of beaty. That is beauty to aim for. Old cliche’ right?
A cliche’ I’ll happily pass down to my children.