Beauty. Babies. Bathrooms.

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?”

Radio silence.

“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.


A Conundrum

We just got back from a wonderful March break vacation.  We spent a couple of days in Florida, and then went on a four-night Disney cruise through the Bahamas.  It was as magical as you would imagine it to be; after all, Disney does magic like no other.  This was a vacation more than two years in the planning, and we travelled with dear friends of ours who have a child similar in age to ours.

We had sun and sand and waterslides abound (Travel Tip: when attempting the tube slide at Disney’s private island, be aware that you will shoot out the bottom like a human cannonball and end up choking on Caribbean seawater; fun for the whole family to witness.).  It was a week to remember, and our children, ages seven and four, are the perfect mix of old-enough-to-participate-in-everything and young-enough-to-believe-in-everything.  And that’s where my slight hesitation comes in…..

Let’s not call this a problem.  There are bigger problems in life than Disney cruises.  Let’s not even call it an issue.  Let’s perhaps call it a conundrum.  Yes, let’s call it that, because conundrum is not a word I have ever used in a blog before and likely never will again.  My conundrum is this:

Disney princesses are a big part of a Disney cruise, and perhaps a big part of the whole Disney experience itself.  In fact, you have to line up just to get tickets that allow you to line up to actually meet said princesses.  Now, my four year-old daughter is not what I would call a girly-girl, but she is somewhere between that and a tomboy.  She likes to wear dresses, likes to have her fingernails painted, but also likes to have messy hair and play road hockey.  Perhaps she would also like shoes and jewelry, but having me for a mother, she has not been exposed to much of that.  Sorry ’bout your luck, kid.

unnamed-4But I played along, and we packed her princess dress and her crown, and lined up to get the  meet-the-princess passes.  My inner feminist was screaming “why?”  Why am I encouraging this?  Why am I teaching my daughter that she should strive to be a princess? I believe in independence!  In strength!  In celebrating accomplishment rather than beauty!  Has Disney not read my blog?  Harrumph.

And then I dialled it back and ate a Mickey bar.  And I realized that imagination and wonder and make-believe are all important, incredible things, even if they come to us in the form of a makeup-ed, hair-sprayed princess.  My little girl actually believed that she was meeting Princess Anna and Queen Elsa.  She felt happy and confident and inspired.  And you know what else?  She actually believed that she was a princess too.  So that’s a wonderful thing.



*** Disclaimer:  Now I know some of you Disney fans will be thinking, “but what about so-and-so?  She’s a strong princess that Disney has created!  It’s not all Cinderella and Prince Charming anymore!”  And while perhaps that is true, this post is more about the image of a princess in general.  I recommend that you eat a Mickey bar to see my perspective.


Blizzards and Accomplishments

It was the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show last week.  Not sure if you watched it, but I did, as I do every year, and this was my view:


Yes, those are DQ blizzards.  And yes, I realize the irony of watching women with 2% bodyfat parade around in lingerie while downing 800 calories in a single go.  And that’s why I did it.  Because I am about enjoying the simple things in life, like couches and ice cream with my husband.  Because I will never be a Victoria’s Secret model.  Because my body-image has shifted ever-so-slightly over the years.  Because I love blizzards.

I’ve written about my personal struggles with eating disorders, so this isn’t a surprise to many of you.  But the surprising part to me is how my thinking has shifted away from my own struggles, and onto changing those  future struggles for my daughter.  As a mother, I’ve become much more aware of the images that bombard our young girls.  I can now see the damage that photoshop and magazine covers and yes, Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, can do.  Most of us will never be 6 feet tall.  Most of us will never weigh 110lbs.  And yet, skinny is still lauded and valued and praised.  As is height.  And blond hair.  And blue eyes.  And the thing is, I actually have a few of those qualities.  But I don’t have the skinny.  And so my body-dysmorphic thinking only focuses on that.

But instead, I have the strong.

This is a relatively new world for me.  A world where strong is praised and skinny is secondary.  A world where how much you can lift, how fast you can run, how high you can jump, are more important measurements than your 36-24-36.  A world where you can work hard, reach your goals, and keep striving for more.  Where accomplishments are calculated against your own personal bests rather than against external factors that you cannot control.

My three-year-old daughter proudly dressed herself yesterday morning.  When she was done, she went running to find her big brother.  “Look, look,” she squealed, “Look how beautiful I am!  I got dressed all by myself!”  Can you see why her statement is so magical?

Because she measured her beauty based on her accomplishment.

Brilliant.  She thought she was beautiful not because of how she looked, but because of what she could do.

And I’m going to do everything I can to keep it that way.