"Ohh look at those eyes -- she is going to break so many hearts, this one!" the butcher said, as I walked in to buy some meat.
"You are lucky, you know? Your daughter is beautiful; she won't have any trouble finding a man," a neighbor said on a different occasion.
"She definitely has that feminine gaze! Oh look, she's flirting with me!" the doctor rambled while I was in his office.
"My son is a chick magnet!" another mother boasted at a restaurant when she saw my daughter babbling to her son.
My daughter is 15...
Not 15 years old.
Fifteen months old!
The comments I have mentioned are only a few of the ones I have heard over the past year and a half. They have come from people in all walks of life and all levels of education. While I am certain most of them were made innocently in an attempt to complement a cute baby or simply make conversation, I could not help but feel disturbed by them.
Yes, it's nice to see people admiring your child for their cuteness, but I find it so worrying that, even at this innocent young age, my daughter is already being objectified, recognized by her gender and looks, and having her behaviors interpreted a certain way simply because she is a girl.
Admittedly, situations have improved drastically for women today. Yet, even with all the advances and accomplishments women have achieved, many of the issues we encounter because of our gender have not been completely eradicated.
I am confident that the world my daughter is growing up in will be even better to women than the one in which I was raised. But on those occasions where it's not ideal, I hope that my daughter can keep of some these things in mind:
1. It's wonderful to be beautiful, but don't let beauty define you. You are more than your looks. You are your heart and your mind, your education and your ethics, your laughter and your spirit -- those are the things that stay with you through a lifetime, not your looks. So count on yourself and your work, not your beauty and circumstance, in order to succeed in life.
2. Cherish and maintain your beauty, but do it for yourself. Every woman feels great when she is well kempt, dressed well, and looks nice, but do those things so you feel good -- not so someone else can enjoy looking at them. Remember also that you should define what "look nice and beautiful" mean and not let a magazine or television do it for you.
3. Don't be afraid to smile at people or to be kind. Some people may misinterpret your actions as flirting, teasing, or at worst improper, but don't let that turn you into someone who is self-conscious and mean. Continue to be the kind and friendly person you are blossoming into already. Those who matter will appreciate and love you for it, and those who don't understand you are not the ones you want to spend your time on anyway.
4. Never feel inferior because of your gender, but don't use it as a battle sword or scapegoat either. When someone says you can't do something because you are a girl, prove them wrong. But when you are told that you did not do something well, don't automatically assume it is because you are a girl that you were singled out. Gender shouldn't matter; it's the kind of person you are and the behaviors you engage in that should define you -- so look to those things first before you consider gender.
5. Pick your battles; not everything is worth fighting for. There will be times when you want to stand up to someone who has offended you or stand against something you don't believe in, but other times, taking the high road is the better choice. Sometimes the best way to win a battle is simply not to get into it. Try to choose wisely.
6. Be confident but humble. Trust yourself, trust what you know, and believe in yourself and your abilities. When someone compliments you, accept it without being self-deprecating. But remember, there is a difference between being confident and being cocky, between being humble and being insecure.
7. Don't judge people based on their looks or first impressions. Just as you don't want to be siloed and labeled based on gender or looks, you owe others that same respect. Get to know people well before judging them. True beauty -- and people's true nature in general -- often take a while to discover.
8. Be proud of being a woman. Even though you don't want to be objectified and judged based on your gender, you don't need to deny your womanhood to achieve this. Don't feel the need to behave like a man in order to succeed in a man's world. Demand the respect that you deserve not in spite of being a woman, but because of it.
9. When you fall in love, pick a man who will love you just as much at your best as your worst. After you give birth, after a sleepless night, through an illness, through mood swings, through fights, and through life in general, you will not always be at your best. So try to find the one who will love you even when you are at your worst... because that is when you'll actually need it the most.
10. Always be grateful... for everything. We are each dealt a different hand in life and we each win different lotteries. Some win the healthy gene pool, others the beauty. Some win intelligence, others persistence. Some win prosperity, others contentment. Some seem to have it all while others seem to have nothing. The only thing you can be certain of is that you can never truly know what battle each person is fighting. So remember that nothing lasts forever and always be grateful for what you have in any season of life.
Note: If I were to give my daughter advice on life in general, there are many other things I would say before what I have mentioned here. These are very specific to confronting issues related to her gender or looks as she grows up.