My daughter sat on the floor watching me get dressed. She was wearing her brother’s ripped t-shirt and her hair was bunched into a knotty knob on her head.
“That’s a pretty dress, Mama.”
Her eyes shone when she looked at me, tiny mirrors that reflected my face back to me in rainbow colors.
I shimmied out of the dress and tossed it on the growing heap of not-quite-right outfits.
“Thanks, honey. But pretty clothes aren’t what’s important, right?”
“What is important, baby?”
Her chin jerked forward. Her eyes sprung to life. She knew this one.
“Being smart and kind and strong.”
“You got it.”
What an extremely fabulous mother I am, right? I was able to fight our culture of materialism and unfair beauty standards and teach my daughter that it’s all bullshit.
Before I had kids, I’d see other mothers primp and frill their little girls into perfect pink princesses and I’d swear to myself that I’d never do that. I’d never let society teach my daughter to value herself by her appearance, never let advertisers turn her into another cog in the marketing wheel, never allow anyone to make her feel that little girlhood was just some big dress rehearsal for nabbing the perfect prince.
My daughter’s favorite thing in the world is to immerse her whole skinny little self into a crater of mud. Some days I dress her in her brother’s oversized t-shirts and hole-y jeans and sometimes in flowery summer dresses. She doesn’t care either way. She’s too busy making up songs and chasing after her brothers and losing herself in a world of magic and make-believe that very seldom includes princesses.
Kids learn by example, right? So, in order to raise that kind of girl, I must be the kind of woman who dresses plainly, never wears makeup, and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.
Except, here’s the thing. I’m not.
What I am is a lying, cheating, vain hypocrite.
I wear make up and flattering clothes. I take hundreds of selfies until I get it just right. I think about plastic surgery at least once a week (just a little tweak or two to tighten things up).
One day, when the haze of childhood clears away, my daughter will see me for who I really am.
But there’s another side to this. One that I don’t like to admit. I was a grubby little kid, too. In fact, well after the other girls were wearing lacy bras and Cavaracci jeans, I was still mucking about in Bugs Bunny t-shirts and Kmart pants. Boys ignored me. Girls made fun of me. I was lonely and miserable.
I tell myself that those years built my character. That they taught me not to rely on other people’s opinions to form my self worth. That they made me independent and free spirited and strong.
I still believe all those things to be true. But, I also believe that the minute I learned how a sexy top and just the right shade of lipstick could matter, the world opened up to me in ways that I never could have dreamed of. Boys asked me out; girls sought my advice. Hell, I even passed my driver’s test because the instructor thought I was cute.
These things are not right. I know that. I want my daughter to know that. But right and reality are not always the same thing. The truth is that looks are important… Being attractive brings opportunities, draws people to you, opens up the world.
Looks are important.
Maybe the sooner I teach her that, the better?