Friday, July 20, 2012

Beautiful Girl

I've been mulling over this topic for a while, and had the chance to "talk it out" with my big sister, but I'm left wanting more discussion. So, please please, dear reader(s?), bear with me as I sort some things out...

I read an article that made me sick yesterday. The title was something like "Two Thirds of Six Year Old Girls Aspire to be Sexy." I wanted to vomit, and most of all, I wanted to shelter, protect and cocoon my girl from ever - EVER - aspiring to be sexy. As a parent, I have a very strict "no sexy" policy, and you may laugh at this, because my daughter is only 14 months old, but sexy clothing starts very, very young.

For example: newborn size onesies reading "This Is My Little Black Dress", onesies with an outline of a voluptuous female body, even bathing suits for babies with gatherings to emphasize their "bust." String bikinis on a baby? On a child? I can promise you, my child will never wear a string bikini until she's out of the house.  I digress though.

I am so troubled at the emphasis on looks and beauty when it comes to raising daughters. Even things meant to be light hearted and playful - painting your baby daughter's toes, for example, teeter on the edge of pushing our daughters to value beauty, and do so at an early age. When I was expecting, and would explain to people that we didn't know the gender of our unborn, I'd get the same question almost every time - "how will you decorate the nursery then?" Cue: dead stare. Um, in color? With great, inspirational posters and art on the walls, and books in the bookshelf? (For the record, Ellie's sheets are blue and green, her crib skirt is red, she has a framed picture that says "HOPE" on the wall, an embroidery her great grandmother made me of the ABC's, and a painting of the United States. Lots of books, and a white dresser with clutter. She shares her room with her dad's office). My point: the genderification (what's the word I'm looking for here?) of our children starts young - pre birth for most babies - and the inherent value we, as a society, place on our girl's beauty starts well before they start play pretending with their mama's makeup.

This morning on my walk, I started a list of characteristics I value and would want to teach my daughter to embody. As I walked and thought about this, I realized that the list is exactly identical to what I'd value in a son. Here's a sample of what I wrote down: Compassionate. Nurturing. Joyful. Curious. Honest & Forthright.  Determined. Confident. I'm hoping this is a list I keep and add to as I think more about it.

(Okay - thanks for bearing with me as I ramble through these thoughts... I'm getting to my main point - slowly, and via a meandering way...) :)

With this list, I realized that it is on ME as her mother, her main female role model and primary caretaker, to embody these characteristics and model them for her. Yes, it's on her father as well, but it's a different responsibility he carries. I take the responsibility of raising this child seriously, and in mulling this over, I realized that I need to challenge myself to daily, and in everything I do, ask myself what I am modeling for my daughter with my behavior and actions. What am I teaching her with my actions? Does every action exemplify a characteristic I want my daughter to someday develop?

Obviously, this is quite a challenge, and obviously I will stumble and fall short. I am not always kind, I am not always confident and sometimes I am a raging, lazy, hormonal wife. But, I think this is a good starting place. A challenge to myself to lead by example.

And - here's where I really struggled, and what I'd like to ask for some help with. I struggle with vanity. I do my makeup and style my hair. I pick out outfits based on what I think looks good, feels good and compliments my body. What does this behavior teach my daughter about valuing our looks? Am I, with these beauty related rituals and despite my resistance, teaching my daughter these things are important? I don't want to be a part of the messaging that she's going to be, and already is, inundated with just by being a member of society. Is there something wrong with valuing 'pretty'? How can we teach our girls that we are more than what we look like, when we ourselves have spent time and money getting ourselves to look "better" by some external standard? 

If I consciously resist things that teach my daughter that what she looks like and how "pretty" she is matter in any way whatsoever, am I erasing this effort? Honestly - I'm not sure I can quit the makeup and hair, quit wearing clothes I think look nice, and only wear practical clothing which suits the purpose in which I wear it.



  1. So so good Jules. I actually brought this up with the (beautiful and sparkilfied) checker at the organic grocery store. Her response, there's a line, but it's okay to want to look pretty and feel good about yourself in that way.

    Well, I don't know if she's an expert, but there's another "outside" opinion, since you already know mine =) Keep writing sister, you are on a role!

  2. Hi Julia! Very interesting post. I think that there is a line and a difference between taking pride in ourselves and wanting to present ourselves as our best possible self and becoming overly wrapped up in appearance and defining ourselves by our looks. Like it or not people see us first, we are judged to some degree by everyone based on how we look. Would it be better if this wasn't true, perhaps, but that just isn't how our world works, so we have to find a way to make it positive. I think we should teach our children to present themselves with pride. Part of this may mean wearing makeup, styling our hair or choosing clothes we like as a part of how we show who we are. No, of course we are not how we look and these things shouldn't define us, but they certainly are a part of who we are. These things can be used as an expression of who we are, and wouldn't it be great if we could use these things as a way to empower our children to show who they are. Rather than putting pressure on looking right or perfect, being the right weight or being sexy, we should use these things (hair, makeup, clothing, etc) as a way to embrace ourselves and our amazing attributes, to show that we have pride and confidence in ourselves. Just because we take pride in how we look doesn't mean that we are obsessing over looking sexy or pushing ideas of dieting on our kids. Above all we need to teach our kids that while the way we look on the outside certainly exists and can even be a fun way to express ourselves it absolutely is not even close to the most important characteristic we have, it is not defining. We all need to work more on complimenting our kids on their values, their kind actions, their abilities and talents more than on what they look like or what they are wearing. Kids should be learning that kindness and important morals and values are much more important and valuable in life than how we look.