As I sit down to write this blog, my five-year-old daughter is beginning her gymnastics class at our local rec center. I watch them warm up and I can’t help but wonder if she’s in the right class. Most of the girls are much taller and older than her. But she’s hangin’ with the big dogs, so I relax. Then I notice another difference: most of the girls in her class are white. There’s one black girl, and then there’s Naya, my daughter. Naya is half my husband (handsome black man) and half me (OK-looking white girl).
General consensus seems to be that mixed children are beautiful, and I agree – though I may be biased. That’s part of why I was so heartbroken one morning when Naya painted herself as white with blonde hair and blue eyes – saying, “I want to be beautiful.”
Suffice to say, my cleaning came to a halt and the teachable moment began. Of course we spend time on a regular basis talking about where true beauty comes from – but so many people have told Naya she’s gorgeous from day one, I actually worried about the message that sends (and all the baggage associated with worth being attached to looks). It never occurred to me she might not consider herself beautiful – that she might only see herself as different… and not like it.
We all ache when our loved ones feel uncomfortable in their own skin. As a Ballroom and Salsa instructor, one of the things I try to impart to my students is comfort in their own bodies; owning your own space is the first step to filling it beautifully. Naturally, I want this for my children as well, so my next parental step was to try to show her examples of wonderful, strong, beautiful women that look like her. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many examples as I’d have hoped. We went to see Moana (which I highly recommend!) and we reread our children’s books “Mixed Me” and “Mixed Like Me” about biracial families. These books talk about how it’s OK for families to be different colors – a message which, while necessary, highlights the difference. Since my daughter was struggling with this side of things, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
When Naya was four and her older brother was five, they started to have bad dreams. I told them a bedtime story that took the scary things and made them silly. They slept like logs that night. The next night, we tackled other bad dreams. By the third night, they’d made a game of it – and in the two years since, have only woken me with bad dreams one time. Thank God for sleep!
Since the bedtime story worked so well, I decided to turn it into a children’s book. The illustrator drew our family in the pages, and the kids love seeing characters based on them in the book. Our mix of colors is present, but never mentioned. Since then, I’ve told other bedtime stories to fix the problem of the week and soon those, too, will be books – all showcasing a mixed race family.
These books may never hit the bestseller list, but I’m happy to have any part in normalizing diversity. My husband noticed an interracial couple in a commercial recently and was happily surprised. He said, “Maybe one day an interracial couple on TV won’t be a surprise”. My hope is that one day (soon!) my daughter won’t see herself as an outsider – or as any less beautiful because she’s different. As adults, we learn beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Now it’s our job to show that to all of our children with what we put on our screens, our shelves, and in our hearts.
Allison is the author of Braving Bedtime, available on Amazon and Kindle, and at the Boulder Bookstore. She just launched the app Love Laugh Read Children’s Books for iPhones and iPads. For more information, go to lovelaughread.com.