Our society puts a lot of pressure and worth on physical appearance. How attractive we are to others can affect our success in life – our place among friends, all levels of schooling, mate selection, even our jobs. There is no getting around this societal norm – it has to be faced one way or the other, particularly for women and girls in my opinion. It’s likely something we have all encountered before, and for me it drives home in a major way when I think about my child and how physical appearance already affects her young life.
I have always been comfortable in my own bare skin even before I became a mom. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going glam for special occasions or nights out. In fact, I’m actually pretty good at the craft; I’ve even been asked over the years to do makeup for many brides and for various formal occasions or photo shoots. My point is I’m not anti-makeup nor do I judge you if you wear it daily or sport the smoky eye to hit up CVS at 10am, but I do feel a twinge of sadness for women who feel as if they cannot leave their house without full makeup or hair or whatever physical enhancement they feel is needed in order to be an acceptable member of society. There seems to be so little freedom in that, at least from my t-shirt wearing, fell asleep before I could take a bath last night point-of-view. So where do these feelings come from? Why am I comfortable and confident without a stitch of makeup, and why do other women think I am nuts for parading around in such a way? It’s not because I’m any great beauty, rather, I think it’s because of who my mother is and what she taught me.
And now I am a mother of a 2-year-old little girl. She is curious and inquisitive about everything, as most toddlers are. Like I said, I rarely wear makeup but when I do, she watches me intently. She desperately wants to do what I am doing. She thinks I hung the moon for goodness sake. She will climb up onto the countertop, grab a makeup brush and rub it all over her face while watching herself in the mirror.
“What’s the harm in playing in mom’s makeup?” some of you may be asking. I don’t think there is harm, at least for the time being. But I do know that there will be a time in the not-so-distant future (as in a year or less I predict) where she will verbalize that she wants to wear makeup like mommy. And I will quickly say something to the effect of, “Baby you don’t need makeup, you are beautiful just the way you are.” This will be true. And when she considers this and responds thoughtfully (because I know how darn smart she is), “But Mommy, why aren’t you beautiful just the way YOU are?” I need to be prepared.
I certainly struggle with vanity at times and even bouts of low self-esteem. But those are my issues, and I want something better for my daughter, as every mama does. And so I envision my response to my 3- or 4-year-old to be something like, “Mommy IS beautiful just the way she is. She does not need to or have to wear makeup. Ever. But sometimes she feels like getting a little fancy. And this is something you can do too if you want to, when you’re older. Much older. But it’s never anything you have to do. Ok?” She’ll have probably run off to some other toy or project during my monologue, but I hope she will hear the gist of what I am telling her. Because it’s so, so important. And I know that conversations like this will only get more complex and gritty as she gets older, and I have to be ready and available to have those conversations, as well as lead by example.
Too many of my friends who have older daughters are dealing with body image woes and low self-esteem. I’m talking 7- and 8-year-olds. Too young. This hurts me deeply, and makes me yearn for time to stand still in my little girl’s life. But this is reality, and I have to face it.