It was when I took my not-yet-five-year-old daughter to see the forensic doctor who would photograph her body and complete what is commonly referred to as a “rape kit” that I began to wonder if she truly believed us when we told her she was beautiful.
Yes, I’m the mom of a child who was sexually assaulted when she was four-and-a-half. And my job of nurturing a positive body image, self confidence and a sense of inner beauty became so much more difficult because of it. I’ve seen the statistics about child sexual abuse survivors. How significant percentages of girl survivors have eating disorders, engage in body mutilation, or feel they are ugly, fat or worthless. I know there are moms out there, like me, thinking they’re alone because no one can connect us because of privacy laws.
When statistics show that 25% of girls under 18 have been sexually assaulted, I know I shouldn’t feel like I’m alone. I know there are other moms out there with the same worries and concerns I have. I’m not just dealing with some dorky tween or teen boy talking smack to my daughter. I’m not only concerned with other girls at school talking about being fat when there’s more fat in my skinny latte than on that little girl’s thighs.
I’m dealing with thoughts that creep in because of something that happened to my daughter when she was too young to know that she was anything but beautiful. I’m dealing with societal beliefs that “girls like her” are broken. I’m dealing with stupid people who can’t let go that maybe, just maybe, she’s OK with still looking like a kid.
She says she believes us when we tell her she is beautiful. Yet, I wonder if that half-hearted smile and “thanks” means my daughter is starting to wonder the same thing many of us thought as young girls – that they’re just saying it because they have to. Or even worse, for me, that those words – “you’re beautiful” – mean something is expected in return. That her beauty is how she’ll be judged, the basis of why people like her, or the first determination of whether she’s worthy.
I’m no different than all the other “mom of girls” out there who wonder if I’m doing this right. But when my daughter tells me her “Number 12” shorts are feeling snug and we need to see if they have “Number 13s” I can’t help but smile a little and say “YES!”. Because, at least for now, she knows size is just a number and it doesn’t mean anything more.
Building our daughters’ self confidence starts early. It can also be broken down early by a society intent on judging our daughters by the same unrealistic standards used to judge women. But my daughter has one thing many young girls don’t have – years of therapy under her belt. Therapy specifically designed to help her feel confident, understand her emotions and communicate with me and her dad about what she’s feeling. Therapy we went to because her innocence was taken. It’s not the holy grail, but it did give her something tangible to use when the world starts hurling words meant to leave permanent marks.
Having spent hundreds of hours in therapy has made my job a little easier. Having a professional help me see that beauty was not taken away gives me hope that my daughter sees the same. That my daughter sees the same beautiful girl I see every time I look at her.