The other day, a friend of mine and I were discussing whether or not we were going to use the term “princess” to address our respective daughters. He does not want his daughter growing up with the label of “princess” because he thinks it causes girls to develop a sense of entitlement and an obsession with the superficial. I disagreed. I use it as a term of endearment, and told him that not only am I raising princesses, but I’m raising princesses who can change a tire, shoot a gun, bait a fish hook, and throw a right cross.
My response got a laugh, but also really got me thinking:
How do I raise two girls to have a healthy body image and be happy with who they are when I’m a Plastic Surgeon?
Regardless of what we, as plastic surgeons, do day in and day out, whether it’s headache surgery, cleft lip repairs, microvascular surgery, or cosmetic surgery, Dr. 90210 has become the stereotype of the plastic surgeon.
We’re nothing but glorified beauticians.
We’ve given up practicing ”real medicine”.
The superficial is all that matters.
This is a stereotype that took my wife and I a long time to get over; it’s a stereotype created and perpetuated, in large part, by the media. Unfortunately, my daughters will have to contend with that public image of what their father does as they grow up and begin to define who they are.
Is it hypocritical for me to tell my little girls to be happy in their own skin and ignore the messages about being “skinny” and “sexy” that they are bombarded with from the mass media when what people think I do day in and day out is perpetuate those messages?
How do I teach them to be self-assured and confident in themselves?
How do I teach them to be unselfish young women?
After some thought, these are the answers I came up with:
- The girls need to know they’re loved unconditionally.
- They need to develop a healthy lifestyle early.
- They need to develop a generous heart.
- They need to learn the value of hard work and a dollar.
- In trying to teach these lessons, my actions need to speak louder than my words.
Knowing they’re loved
The girls need to know that I love them. I’m the first man in their life, and I will always hold a special place in their hearts. I am the barometer against which every other male that comes into their lives will be measured. They need to hear me tell them they’re loved every day, multiple times a day. But more importantly, they need to FEEL it everyday.
They need to feel loved when I come home, put my cell phone on the counter and play with them.
They need to feel loved as we sit around the dinner table and I listen to them talk about their day.
They need to feel loved in the evening when we sit and read books.
They need to feel loved by the fact that I am “present” when we’re doing these things – that I’m not checking my phone, that I’m not thinking about what work needs to be done, or that I’m not arranging my next “to do” list in my head. They need me to be there when I’m there; that says as much or more than my words do.
Also, they need to know that my love does not come with a fee – it doesn’t matter whether they think they look pretty or not, whether their dress is the latest style or a hand-me-down, or whether they got an “A” or a “D” on their test. They need to know that I love them for who they are on the inside, and nothing can change that. And the girls need to know that if anyone “values” or “loves” them for how they dress or look, that it isn’t love and should not be important to them. The only way they will know that is by experiencing that – at home, every day.
Developing a healthy lifestyle
Our kids need to see that living a healthy lifestyle is more important than a dress size or a set of washboard abs. So much of the media’s portrayal of exercise and health is one of deprivation and starvation – frankly, none of it sounds like much fun. That’s why so few people stick with diets and exercise plans. My wife and I strive to live healthy lifestyles, and to make sure the girls are included. We plan meals together, we eat together most nights (when I’m home before dinner time), and we go for family jogs together. Outside playtime is important, and we make sure we make time for that – and that we make running around, getting out of breath, and sweating FUN.
We’re not raw-food vegans or strict Paleo people. We try to eat lots more veggies than anything else, but there’s usually an animal protein on the table at night. We have junk food in our pantry, and enjoy ice cream with the kids, too. The key, in our minds, to a healthy long-term diet is moderation – it’s much easier (and more pleasant) to make moderation a lifestyle than it is to do with deprivation. Also, limiting “screen time” – TV and video games (we don’t own any video games, and don’t plan on it) is important to us, in that it both forces us to “DO” something and limits the reach of so many of the damaging media messages. Those two things, I hope, will pay off in that we will have healthy, active girls who don’t see eating well and daily exercise as a chore, but as a way of life that is all they’ve ever known.
Growing up with a generous heart
We do not want our girls to be self-absorbed children, so we try our best to NOT model being self-absorbed parents. We try and model living a life of service, and hope that by living the message we’re teaching, they will live it, as well. We hope that they will learn that the needs of others come before your own. We hope that they will understand that a life of service isn’t about your job, but is about you as a human being.
My girls are involved in my life as a doctor – they see me leave early, come home late, and leave the house at odd hours to attend to patients in need. They understand that being a doctor is about helping those in need (whether I’m in Knoxville or half-way around the world on a mission trip), even if it ruins plans or is inconvenient for us as a family. A life of service to others is one of the most important lessons they can hear.
Living a life of service is not a lesson that I can teach alone. Our children see my wife volunteering her time at the church or making extra food to give to elderly neighbors over the holidays. She does more to drive the importance of living a life of service home than I ever could. Even though she may be disappointed at the thought of doing bedtime alone, having to take both girls to a party by herself, or being a single parent while I’m off on a mission trip, she never complains about it. She graciously does the work of two parents and tells the girls that “Daddy has to take care of sick patients and will be home soon”. The girls see that a life of service is important, even if it’s inconvenient or hard at times.
Learning the Value of Work
Starting now, while they’re young, we do our best to make sure our children know that the material things they enjoy have come at the expense of hard work and sacrifice. Like most children, mine ask for something new almost every time we leave the house. Instead of giving in, my wife and I try and use that as an opportunity to explain that money doesn’t grow on trees. This can be tough on us – after all, it’s usually a 2 dollar necklace, and sometimes 2 dollars would be a small price to pay for some peace and quiet. To combat this, we’ve started a “chore chart” for our oldest daughter, and the money she earns every week goes equally into three separate boxes – marked “spend”, “save”, and “give”. We hope this will not only teach them to both save and give the money they earn, but will also impart the value of a dollar.
A Word about Cosmetic Surgery
I don’t want you to get the idea that I shun cosmetic surgery. Quite the contrary – I think cosmetic surgery has a place in the world, and despite the sensationalist messages seen in the magazines, it does a lot of good for people. I really enjoy seeing patients back months and years after surgery, smiling and happy with their bodies (some for the first time in their lives). Looking back, though, the happiest patients were ones who loved themselves BEFORE surgery. In essence, those patients wanted their body to match the way they already felt about themselves – they were not trying to change their bodies to win someone’s approval or find love (either from others, or, more importantly, from themselves).
I have no doubt that the cosmetic surgery discussion will happen in my house at some point. I have insights into the topic that few other fathers have, and want to share those with anyone considering cosmetic surgery, my own daughters included. However, what they need to know is the same message anyone considering cosmetic surgery needs to hear:
Cosmetic surgery should not be an outward attempt to create inner beauty – it should only serve to magnify it.
And, just because I know the thought may have crossed your mind, I’ll come out and say it: I will not ever operate on my own daughters.
I’m not naive enough to think that I can control the messages my girls will get from the mass media. However, I will do everything in my power to make sure they grow up knowing that I love them unconditionally. Hopefully, if my girls know they are loved for who they are and not what they wear or how they look, if they grow up living a healthy, active lifestyle, if they are able to put the needs of others ahead of their own, and if they know the value of hard work and the value of a dollar, then the damaging messages from the media will have less of an effect on them as they grow up.
I don’t profess to have all the answers to this question – my wife and I are just doing all that we can to raise healthy girls with a strong sense of themselves and to equip them as best we can to deal with the pressures of the outside world.
All that being said, they’ll always be my princesses.