I live in the United States.  I have a 13 year old daughter.  We are in the thick of it.  That delicate transition from childhood to womanhood is challenging…and always has been…but I do admit that it seems even more so with the seemingly continuous technological and media-driven stream of messages incoming about her feminimity, sexuality and worth.

I listen to her and her girlfriends chatter in the backseat of my car…who they like, this boy, that boy, shopping and homework…journeying to find, even at their young age, a peaceful balance between owning and knowing their worth and the external messages they get about where that worth comes from.

I’ve been going through quite a journey myself.  The simplicity of an innocent question asked by an 8 year old girl…as to why I wear makeup, color my hair and go through my daily beauty habits, at the outset seemed like a silly little question.  But as the founder of an organization in the business of helping provide those safe places for girls to explore where their worth comes from…I got the idea that her question wasn’t as simple as it seemed.  She was really asking…why?  Why Molly do you do this? I want to know because I’m right there…right here on the cusp of making these decisions too. i need some guidance here. I need to know how to be a woman.  I felt a keen sense of responsibility to provide her with an honest answer and my honest answer wasn’t one I necessarily liked.

So I embarked on a journey to discover the real answer…why do I participate in these beauty rituals?  Why do I?

The answers surprised me.  I am half way to the other side of the 60 days now of not participating in them and have come to the conclusion that the perception people have of me, hasn’t changed at all.  Not one bit.  I’m still valued in meetings, applauded after speaking engagements, smiled at in the airport, enjoying random conversations with people at the grocery store or on an airplane.  I can still run, practice yoga and hang out with my kids.  Nothing is really all that different…at least from the outside.

But what has changed is the perception of myself.  Once i got past all the negative self-talk, the dialogue within is really quite kind.  I am at peace with me.  I feel more open, more available, more honest, more real.  I feel more engaged, less influenced by the negative opinions of others, more alive, fearless.  i’m laughing more, less inhibited, seeing the beauty around me and unabashedly standing up for what I believe. While I might be aware of a person’s exterior, I really am more focused on the spirit housed within.

I am aware of just how beautiful being at peace with oneself can be…at least for the time being.  :). (We are all works in progress.)

And here is where I get frustrated.

I read the story of the 12 year old girl, from Peoria, Illinois, who for three years has struggled with anorexia nervosa…nothing left to house her spirit other than bones and skin.  Her eyes are wide, intense and uncertain.  She is starving herself to become beautiful, unaware that she already is, bones, skin and spirit; wanting to know that she is loved, that she is worthy.

I read the news and learn of the 12 year old girl in Ethiopia, torn from the inside out while giving birth to her baby, urine and feces from her body stain her clothing, she and her baby dying from malnutrition.  They are starving, cast out from their village, wandering, wishing and seeking the love of just one other, to be valued.

I remember the knock at my door, when I was teaching high school…from a fourteen year old girl, pregnant and afraid, who shared with me that after a few beers with her friends reluctantly had sex with her boyfriend, unintended, but so it goes.  In her mind, she thought he would love her, at least..maybe he would love her.

I read of the fourteen year old girl in Somalia, carrying water with her sisters back to their village, overtaken by a group of boys.  She is brutally raped.  No one wins.  The boys do and know only what they have been shown by the men in their lives. They know not what they are missing, the tender touch of a woman, the love between two…The real and raw of it; the transformation possible.

I find the newspaper article telling the story of an eighteen year old girl who for graduation wants nothing more than breast implants, to be loved, accepted and alive, be one of the pretty girls…popular, attractive and powerful…to be desired by many…seeking love in that mix somehow.

I learn today of the woman-child in Mali Africa, tied down and restrained while her clitoris is removed, cut, mutilated.  Her body disfigured, but her spirit intact; eyes wide, scanning the space for one loving person.

I don’t know what to do with this information.  I am confused, angered and frustrated by it.  To feel this peace within…and yet to know of such pain felt by others.

I’ve experienced pain in my own life…much of it brought on by the choices I made, but each of those choices, was as I look back with self-accpetance and a tender love toward myself, rooted in, so much of what we all want, the simple desire to find my worth…to be loved and to know love.

Maybe my greatest contribution is to continue on my own path toward peace.  To recognize that each time I choose to speak negatively of myself, my age, my body or my character, it matters.

That each time I choose to judge, criticize or condemn another woman (person for that matter) without seeking first to understand, be compassionate, gentle and kind, it matters.

I sit here in my friend’s apartment in New York City and feel both peace and this strong sense of responsibility to do something…bridge the space between here and there, me and you, us and them.  I am confused, frustrated and unsure.  I feel helpless at the same time that I feel personally empowered.

What I do know, with certainty though…for this woman…this one right here writing to you…me and I can only speak for myself… that what I do, what I say and who I choose to be matters…

The world I live in starts with me.