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Lila twirls on the swing, Cinderella gown dragging in the dust at her heels. Her hair face is dirt smudged, her hair haphazardly pinched like falling haystacks between two plastic clips on the top of her head.

Pretty is nice. Princess skirts and beautiful updos, they have their place. In fairy tales, on wedding days, dragging through the dirt of your swing set on a Wednesday morning, just because.

I wasn’t ever a princess girl. I was pirate ships and kickball in the street. I was round cheeked and freckle-faced and unfortunate perms. I was told by my father on a sunny afternoon riding bikes around the lake, that he and I, we’re never going to be models, but we’re okay.

At fourteen, it stung.

At thirty-two, I’m just as he said I would be. I am okay.

Accepting the average, understanding that beauty has so little to do with appearance and everything to do with spirit and soul, well, it was probably not his intent as he peddled off and left me in the wake of his words. But it was the result.

Now, Lila, my five-going-on-sixteen daughter puts on my heels and asks to use my chapstick with the shimmer in it, please. She primps in front of the bathroom mirror and drifts away to dreamland on plumes of sparkle and tulle.

And so it stunned her when I told her that her shouting and scowling in our minivan at the grocery store parking lot was ugly.

Like garlic to a vampire, she shrunk back. Had I dared to suggest that my dear daughter was…ugly?

And so, in a very abridged way, with Asher squirming at my side, grimacing that he has to pee and Evaline begging me to take her out from her car seat, I explained to my little girl that her beauty has absolutely nothing to do with how she sees herself in the mirror or how many boys tell her she’s pretty. It’s a light from within. (And that, Sweetheart, ugly can shine through just as powerfully, so put that scowl away and climb out of the van please. If Asher pees his pants, so help me, you will be doing the laundry for me.)

And then, I unbuckled Evaline and realized, perhaps with a little fear, I have TWO of these creatures, these little beings who crave attention and affection, beauty and love.

Let Vinnie and I love them enough that they’ll never feel the need to find someone else to fill a void we left. And please, let them grow up to know that they are beautiful, but that it has nothing to do with the makeup aisle or teeth whitening or a gym membership.

Be authentic, daughters of mine. Be beautiful. But know that beauty isn’t in the curve of your cheek or the symmetry of your eyes, it’s in the integrity of your heart. It’s in the harsh words that you don’t speak, and in the sweet ones that you do. It’s in the hand that you hold out and the hand that holds you back.

Tonight, I’m praying for my relationship with them as they grow and I’m praying for their future husbands, that they might be as wonderful as mine. Nearly ten years in and he knows my heart. Ten years and he still makes me feel like the only woman in a room – in a country – in the world, makeup or not.

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