Last October, Kelly Flanagan received a text from a friend who was walking down the makeup aisle at Target to pick something up for his wife: "Expectations on this aisle are oppressive."
"That text was unsettling to me," says Flanagan, husband, dad and clinical psychologist. "I think it was the combination of having a 4-year-old daughter, and a wife who is very conscious of the influence of media on young women that made my radar go up. I knew I couldn't remain silent.
"In my practice I see far too many women, young and old, who believe their worth is wrapped up in the way they look. It is painful to observe what these kinds of messages do to a woman's self-esteem."
So Flanagan made a trip to the same makeup aisle and was blown away by the messaging. Phrases like: "affordably gorgeous," "flawless finish," "go nude," "natural beauty" and "nearly naked." He noticed that, while these were really good words, they were being used to create a standard for women that is unattainable.
The words became the inspiration for a letter to his daughter, which he wrote while sitting in the makeup aisle. The letter clearly resonated with people because it went viral shortly after he posted it on his blog "Untangled." Here is an excerpt from the letter:
"Dear Little One,
As I write this, I'm sitting in the makeup aisle of Target ... When you have a daughter, you start to realize she's just as strong as everyone else in the house -- a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won't see her that way. They'll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they'll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence ..."
"I wrote the letter because I wanted her to know that her worth is not connected to what she does or the way she looks," says Flanagan. "That kind of thinking is a formula for shame -- the experience of believing you are not worthy enough or that success depends on what you do. I wanted my daughter to clearly understand that there was nothing she could do that would make her mom or dad love her more or less."
Research consistently shows that fathers have influence when it comes to their daughters and how they view themselves.
"Father involvement in the life of a daughter will help prepare her to catch the lies that culture teaches about how to be confident and beautiful," says Flanagan. "The unconditional, intentional love of a father teaches his daughter that true beauty is on the inside, in her heart. Knowing this from an early age will help overpower the messages she will receive out in the world."
His letter continued:
"Words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world. Maybe a father's words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakable sense of her own worthiness and beauty ... I pray that three words will remain more important to you ... Where are you the most beautiful? On the inside."
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.