I’ve seen several articles about fathering daughters recently, all focused on combating the beauty myth, and they’re all about things dads should SAY to their daughters. This is bullshit. Or, more accurately: It’s less than half of the story.
Most men have only a vague understanding of what it’s like to live as a woman under the constant, unrelenting onslaught of cruelty the beauty and fashion industries deliberately create– an onslaught supported wholeheartedly, and continually reinscribed, by our culture. No matter how much you try to “protect” her from Disney, or the media, or whatever you think sends her the wrong messages, she is getting those messages, all day, every day. That she MUST be unhappy about her body. It’s not lean enough, strong enough, hairless enough, light-skinned enough, shaped properly. That she MUST be unhappy about her face. It’s not pretty enough, “refined” enough, it’s not perfectly even-toned, blemish-free, “flawless.” Unhappiness sells products. Our culture is exceptionally supportive of the idea that women’s bodies are in constant need of some kind of product or procedure to attain acceptability.
It’s inescapable, relentless. It’s so normative that people who speak out about it are slammed for overreacting, or said to be speaking from a position of sour grapes. It starts at birth. You cannot be in public or consume media for more than a few minutes without encountering it. I’ve barely described the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot to be said about the beauty myth, misogyny, and fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters, or mothers and sons, or parents and their gender non-conforming kids. The existence of those important issues, however, does not erase or even diminish the importance of this one. The father-daughter relationship is powerful.
So what is your daughter learning from YOU? She sees what you look at, how you look at it, and what you say, especially when you do not want her to. If you think she isn’t silently comparing herself to the pictures, people, and videos to which you react positively, you’re delusional. Before she experiences the male gaze from any other source, she’s experiencing it from you, and she’s learning ALL OF IT. I’m not saying don’t watch porn, or don’t look at women. I’m not here to Carrie Nation your cock. Just remember that everything you say, do, and consume while she is within earshot of you is making an impact on how she sees herself. (Determine how far away you can hear a whisper and add 20 feet if you want to calculate Child Earshot Value.)
I know you’re not critiquing your daughter’s looks because you’re not a huge jerk. But if you want to have any hope of combating the massive monolith of cultural messaging that tells her that her worth is related primarily to her looks, you have to be deliberate, and relentless. It’s not enough to just tell her she’s beautiful the way she is, or that intelligence or kindness are more important than beauty. She’s watching everything you do and say. If you’re contradicting your platitudes with your behavior every day, she knows which one to believe.
In other words, you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If you tell her that she’s beautiful just the way she is, but she sees you react positively ONLY to pictures of photoshopped skinny young white women, you might as well have never said a word. She sees you define “good” and she is already calculating her distance from it. If you think she’s too young, you’re delusional. Can she walk? She’s old enough to understand your behavior.
The world is a big, messy, unfair place full of contradicting objectives, needs, goals, and desires, and that’s just in one person. Decide which of those you want to privilege in any given moment. The answer doesn’t always have to be the same. All I’m saying is: Don’t tell yourself you’re fighting for your daughter if you don’t understand that she’s watching you ALL the time, not just when you want her to.