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International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inner Beauty and Strength

I am an Iowa transplant, and one of the things that I loved about Iowa when I moved here was its diversity. When my husband and I talked about having children, we agreed that we would teach them about the different cultures, races, and religions of our neighbors and friends in our community. Since having children, I believe we have seen that decision through. This is what works for us, and we feel it gives our children the understanding that all people are equal regardless of the things that make them unique.

We faced a similar decision when we found out that we were going to have daughters. Besides my husband panicking at the cost of future weddings, we didn’t want to draw too much emphasis on gender specifics. In other words, we didn’t want to force them to do things that are only considered to be “girl activities” or dress them in only pink and “girly” clothes. We wanted to raise them to be confident in activities, play with toys, and dress in a way that interested them. If it was considered to be a boy toy or boy activity, then so be it. I also want to raise my girls how my parents raised me: to be a strong, educated woman who pursues her dreams. They encouraged me to be confident and hard working, to never give up, and to have love and respect for others, as well as for myself.

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Fearless Beauty

As I was scrolling through Instagram recently, I came across a sponsored post by Gap Kids. It was their Fearless Beauty campaign for the new “Beauty and The Beast” movie. I will admit, the model caught my attention first due to her skin condition, vitiligo. My daughter has a skin condition similar to vitiligo where she is missing pigment on her left arm. It presents itself in large and small non pigmented blotches stretching from her wrist all the way up to her shoulder and arm pit.

I admired this young model and her courage and strength to show the world her beautiful marks. It is what we encourage our daughter, Zoey, to do when asked why she has “polka dots” on her arm. We encourage her to educate rather than shy away. We stress that they are her beauty marks and are what makes her unique. I showed my daughter the ad because she’s never seen anyone with similar marks. We talked about how happy the girl was and how pretty she felt with her “polka dots”.

It was perfect timing to see this, due to the fact that March 8th is International Women’s Day. It was just the inspiration that I needed, and it made me want to document how other women in the area exemplify beauty and strength themselves and encourage it within their daughters.

Lessons from Daughters

Being a teacher, I try to encourage my female students, just as I do with my daughters, to be proud of who they are and where they come from. It was one of my driving forces to want to start a girls’ club with a co-worker at the high school where I teach. I was able to work with girls from diverse backgrounds and discuss things like being strong female role models in our school and in our community. I’m always amazed by the maturity, strength, and respect that I see with some of these young women.

I have learned so much from strong female role models in my life. Typically these women were teachers, family members, or public figures. What I later came to realize is that many strong female role models that I admire are, in fact, my own students.

“From a young age, my mother never hinged upon the idea that I was supposed to be feminine. While she introduced things to me that were generally considered feminine to try and nurture interest, she was willing to support me when I ultimately decided on video games, action figures, model toys, swords, and comic books. Eventually she would support me again when I finally found a label for liking girls in middle school, decided to cut my hair, and she even got into dyeing it with me from seventh grade and onward. I believe that my mother’s concerns have always been more with teaching me to be a functioning, intelligent young adult with the skills to live and strive for whatever it is I decide to do with myself.”

– Chloe Chartier

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Photograph courtesy of student Hannah Montgomery of Chloe Chartier and Zahra Aalabdulrasul.

“I started wearing the hijab my first day of 6th grade. I remember feeling distinctly different from everyone else to the point of discomfort, which made it that much harder to survive adolescence and discovering who I truly was. I went through a phase of trying to look and act like everyone else because I had the misconception that this was the only way I could fit in and be accepted. Once I got to high school, however, I realized I would never be like everyone else and–most importantly–that I didn’t want to.

I began truly loving myself, to embrace my heritage and my culture, and use it to my advantage. I created my own acceptance–I established myself in my community in such a way that it was impossible for me to be ignored. And then I used this platform to create awareness. Though I still get the occasional lingering stare or hushed comment, I feel that I have at least contributed to the elimination of ignorance in my community. I believe it is so exceptionally important for women to realize what I’ve realized and do what I’ve done. Love yourself, know yourself, and establish yourself. Make it impossible for others to overlook you, regardless of what differences you may have.”

-Zahra Aalabdulrasul

Lessons from Mothers

If there’s one thing these young women and other moms in the Corridor area have in common, it’s seeing the beauty within themselves, embracing differences, and sharing these strengths with our current and future daughters.

“It’s not always easy for my daughter being the oldest, let alone the only girl of three kids. Thankfully every morning I drive her to and from school. This is great because it is one-on-one time. We talk about our day, school, friends, whatever comes up. I feel like she is a very good judge of character. I remind her how we lead by example, and even if we don’t realize it, there is always someone looking up to us, and because of that, we should make every moment count. Be kind, considerate, and treat others the way we want to be treated in return. I am so proud of her. She has really grown up and started pacing her path to self discovery and tries new things even when there is a possibility of failure.”

-Linsey Choun

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Of course, as moms we know that not everything comes easy. We work hard for the benefit of our children, and we want to protect them from the world everyday. We want the best for them and because of that we go the extra mile.

“In a world where diversity isn’t always accepted and being a single parent, I knew from the moment I had my daughter that life wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for either of us. My daughter was constantly looking for places where she ‘fit in’. At times, I think she felt too ‘black’ for her white counterparts, yet too ‘white’ for her black counterparts. I would always try to have heart to heart talks with my daughter, and, at times, I felt successful. No matter what though, I would always tell her, ‘Just be YOU.’

When she was a little girl, my daughter always pointed out the difference of her hair texture. Because of this my sister bought her a book titled, Happy to be Nappy by Chris Raschka. It’s a story about little girls embracing their natural hair. Now, she embraces her hair and even flaunts it. My choice to raise and surround her with diversity allowed her to ‘find’ herself in a confident manner. I’m very proud to be the mother of a hard working, lovable, 18-year-old bi-racial daughter. Even though I may not always know the answers, understand the struggles she experiences, or what it’s like being in her skin,  I will ALWAYS be there for her.”

-Stacie Kauffman

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Resources for Raising Strong Daughters

If you are looking for some outstanding books, blogs, or toys to celebrate inner strength or beauty with your daughters, these are a few of our favorites:

“Beautiful” by Stacy McAnulty

“I Like Myself” by Karen Beaumont

“Rad American Women A-Z” By Kate Schatz

A Mighty Girl 

Goldie Blox and Ruby Rails 

Lottie dolls 

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Whether you are a daughter, have a daughter, or know a daughter, take some time today to celebrate the incredible, influential women in your life!

 

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6 Responses to International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inner Beauty and Strength

  1. Lauri Graham March 8, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    Mary, this is fantastic writing. It made me cry. I took some time to think about how blessed we are to live here; surrounded by such beautiful people. You are an inspiration. I will definitely celebrate my daughter today❤. I will also think about what a wonderful influence you were in her life.

    • mary swanson
      mary swanson March 8, 2017 at 7:53 am #

      awwww…thank you Lauri! That means so much. I just adore your family 🙂

  2. Molly Townsend March 8, 2017 at 8:07 am #

    Thank you for being such a wonderful role model to my daughter (Chloe Chartier) Mary! You are an amazing teacher 🙂

    • Mary swanson
      Mary swanson March 8, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

      Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to teach Chloe! She’s such an incredible individual

  3. Amanda Maurer March 8, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this post Mary. I love how you talked about fearless beauty and how to encourage it in our daughters. The world is in tough times and it’s important to make sure our kids understand this as they grow up. This is also something that we teach at WeHaKee Camp for Girls.

    Thanks again!

  4. Rachel Funk March 10, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing this post! I’m definitely saving it. I was so happy to find out on International Women’s Day that our second baby is another girl 🙂

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