Not coincidentally, most of the blog posts that I write that really resonate with readers are the very same posts that really resonate with me. The posts that make me laugh or cry, make me introspective and reflective, make me transparent and emotional. This is one of those posts.
My five-year-old daughter wasn’t feeling well yesterday, so I kept her home from school. She wasn’t really sick, just not quite herself, and a full day of rest for her seemed like a better choice than sticking her into the first-day-after-March-break Kindergarten chaos. Her tired little body needed to stay in pyjamas, to watch movies, and to re-energize. Mondays are an 11:00-7:00 day for me at the clinic, and my husband was unable to take the day off, so my in-laws stepped in and agreed to play nursemaid. But before I took her to their place, we stopped into one of my happy places to sneak in a workout. I saw my 9am crew, completed week four of the five-week Crossfit Open competition, and set her up with an iPad, crackers, and water.
It was after the workout that she threw me for a loop. She was sitting on the vanity in the women’s changeroom as I applied my makeup, getting ready for work. “Why do you need that mommy?” she asked, pointing to my eyeshadow. “What does it do?”
“Well, it makes my eyes look brighter,” I said. And as she asked about each subsequent piece of makeup, I explained away concealer and powder and eyeliner and mascara as “it makes my skin smoother” or “it makes my eyelashes darker,” stumbling to find words to minimize the aesthetic component of cosmetics. As I spoke, I cringed inside, realizing that this is where it starts. This is where she starts to learn about society’s rules of beauty. This is where she starts to learn about her beauty. Her worth. Her value. Am I being too dramatic? If you think so, then I will boldly tell you that you’re wrong.
Now, I don’t wear much makeup as it is, and you can often find my face completely bare, but nonetheless I swayed her views, however unintentional, to believe that having smooth skin, bright eyes, and dark eyelashes are desirable. I fuelled the machine that believes that young skin, blonde hair, and a thin body defines beauty. I contributed to the belief that natural looks are not good enough and I influenced my own daughter towards an ideal that I don’t even believe in myself, yet have somehow bought into. My history of disordered eating is no secret, and I’ve written about it a few times; I still feel emotionally stripped down and exposed when I read those posts. But with adulthood and hindsight and years of self-reflection under my belt, I’m sure that disordered eating also falls into the realm of beauty and self-worth too. And it starts young.
So what should I have done? What should I have said? The truth is, I don’t know. But I do know that I find parenting my daughter much trickier than parenting my son, because of social issues like this. Beauty. Value. Self-esteem. Uuugh, it’s just all so damn hard.
I’m trying to raise my little girl to value her brain. And her abilities. And her kindness. Even if the world at large values hair extensions and self-tanner more. It starts young and it starts with us. And maybe, just maybe, it starts on a bathroom vanity at the gym.