Oy. Talk about White People Problems. Beautiful women complaining about how beautiful they are? Actresses, who have chosen to put themselves in the public eye, complaining that the public isn’t always nice? Two healthy, educated women with healthy, chubby girls spending time trying to make sense of it all? Isn’t there a major humanitarian crisis occurring RIGHT NOW that we should be focused on instead?
But that’s not what I really think.
It’s some sort of automatic reflex for me to acknowledge that many of the issues I explore through writing are superficial, in the Grand Scheme of Things. I understand that in The Grand Scheme, I live a privileged life: not many people in the history of the universe realize their full potential by being anti-depressant-taking bloggers who get overwhelmed just by going to a grocery store. Bloggers in the Dark Ages didn’t even have grocery stores.
But all that being said, I’m going to explore this issue. Because I can and I have lots to say.
Kate, as you indicated in your post on our impossible standards for beauty, the judgment a woman faces if she dares attempt to meet those standards, and how Evie’s chubbiness fits in, it’s pretty impossible to think about your daughter’s self-image without thinking about your own. It’s hard to articulate all the ways having kids changes your life, right? Some are for the better, some are for the worse. Some are just sticky and tangled, the way our lives become once we have tiny beings in our care. That’s part of why this subject is so complicated.
It’s also complicated because we’re talking about Beauty here. It’s like saying we’re gonna do a quick blog post about Love or God.
But, oh yeah. We do that, too.
I remember specifically how this topic came into the forefront for me. Shortly after having Sola, Chris sent me this article, by Lisa Bloom. In “How to Talk to Little Girls,” Ms. Bloom (who is quite easy on the eyes, ironically, in all of the blond, coiffed, made-up ways Americans love) encourages the reader to refrain from the impulse to tell a little girl how pretty her dresses and curls are. She suggests, instead, asking Little Girl about her mind. What’s her favorite book, for example. I liked this for several reasons, the most prevalent being my emotional reaction to growing up feeling valued for my physical appearance. (To be further whined about in Part 2.) The article also opened me up to habits I take for granted as norms and ways I might want to change. And, having just had a newborn, I was all optimistic that a new baby meant a new start for me as a mother: like she’s a fresh lump of clay that I can mold perfectly after all the indents I (and the rest of the world) have been leaving on her brothers. I thought maybe I could raise the first American female who was so secure in her very being that she wouldn’t even know what physical appearance was.
Then reality happened and I was reminded that I can’t control everything. Fast forward two years and I’m sitting next to a little blondie who only wears things that billow when she spins, clomps around in heels I don’t wear anymore, and asks “Do I look beautiful?” (What am I gonna say: No? Of course she looks beautiful.)
Cultural and gender-studies people could help me out here, but my reaction to that question based on who is asking is little mystifying to me. I don’t want my daughter to be preoccupied with beauty, but I encourage it in my sons. When the boys were toddlers, they went to a progressive, university preschool where the teachers discouraged stereotypes. Sure, the boys played with trains, got messy, and wrestled, but they also played at the toy kitchen, wore dresses from the dress-up chest, and got pink and purple shirts for Pinkalicious Day. (I still don’t quite understand what was going on with Pinkalicious Day, but you choose your battles, no?) One Halloween, when the boys were dressed as a ghost and witch, both wearing long, flowing cloth, they would twirl and ask, “Am I beautiful?”
“Yes,” I said. I was thrilled.
Maybe it’s because Sola seems to absorb different behaviors than the boys did at her age. She watches more closely when I dress. When I brush my hair. When I look in the mirror, she is watching. She notices if I put on lipstick or earrings. The boys see these things, say “You look like a girl,” and then continue battling with their light-sabers. But Sola is watching.
I’ve often stopped the kids on a bike ride or hike to look at flowers and sunsets. Taj has fallen in love with eggs lately, for their beauty, and walks around holding them and looking at them. (Parenting tip, from experience: make sure all eggs in your child’s reach are hard-boiled if he’s going through an “eggs-are-beautiful” stage.) And we all indulge Sola’s quest for beauty.
So, you’ll know if you’ve seen what Sola wears and talks about, I’ve lightened up on the whole we’re-not-gonna-acknowledge-physical-appeareance-thing. I asked a friend I trust and admire what she thought. I wanted her opinion for a few reasons: she’s an artist and mother of girls and happens to be the kind of drop-dead gorgeous that stops you in your tracks and makes you secretly wonder if she’s ever modeled while suddenly feeling shorter and clumsier yourself.
Her response: “What’s wrong with celebrating beauty wherever you find it?”
This reminded me of a post I read, written by another artist-mom. (If you have time for only one link today, let it be this one.) In “The Spiritual Quality of Beauty,” Lauren Kindle encouraged me to find beauty in the places I fear make me superficial or self-absorbed: in my home, in my writing, in myself. And when I say “in myself,” I don’t even mean “inside my being,” I mean, in the mirror. My face, my body. In the mirror. Beauty.
If you were hoping for a great, conclusive wrap-up to all of this, you aren’t getting it here. I’ll stop for today, encourage comments, and take my ruffled daughter to the grocery store. And I think I’m going to put on some make-up, too.