the my-little-pony post

What a sweet, normal-looking pony. (image by seller “carolmcniel” at ebay.)

Yes, I had a bunch of important and meaningful things to write about today and the list just keeps getting longer.  But I’ve found myself inadvertently sucked into a strange new world and, to avoid using any kind of willpower whatsoever, I’m going to indulge in and blog about my latest obsessive-compulsive side tour, all thanks to the wackiness that is ebay.

Here’s what happened: Sola discovered My Little Ponies at the YMCA’s child center. She’s probably especially taken with them because I haven’t bought her any new toys in her first 2 1/2 years amongst this consumer-driven culture we’re part of. (I’ve gotten her some dress-up clothes and tutus, which I count as something….)

So, before going to the Y, she’s been making do with the boys’ old train set, a basket of Hot Wheels, and a tub of dinosaurs. Don’t get me wrong; she seems to enjoy them well enough, and we have other things: art supplies, dance music, and sometimes I give her empty toilet paper rolls. She sleeps with a couple of baby dolls her grandparents gave her, but I’ve never seen her play with anything like she plays with these ponies. She loves the ponies. She lines them up, carries them around, gets very sad when we have to leave.

I guess this is sort of like air-brushing? (image: ponylandtours.com)

So I looked into getting her a few My Little Ponies to have at home. And, for those of you who haven’t been My Little Pony shopping since 1984 (or EVER), let me tell you: the new ones are pretty slutty-looking. It’s disturbing, really. They have these longer, leaner legs, Angelina Jolie alien-eyes, and their hindquarters (they are HORSES, after all) are raised up and bumped out in a way that seems more appropriate for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue than the “ponies” section of Toys r Us.

Okay. Call me old-fashioned, but I refuse to board slutty-looking ponies in my home. I did a search to find out where I could get the originals I played with as a girl, and of course ended up on ebay. This is where things get emotional. I had forgotten, until the past few days, how much I LOVED my My Little Ponies when I was young. When I started weeding through the options for Sola and ran into their names—Bowtie, Blossom, Bluebell—it all came flooding back. I remember now which ones I had and which ones I wanted; the way my sister and I got lost in Pony Land for hours; the way we lined them up and carried them around and cried when we had to put them away, just as my daughter does now.

And I don’t mean to offend MLP collectors out there, but…well…I thought I was a bit obsessive. Some of these people not only know the names of the ponies, but the year they were produced, whether they are “flat foot” or “concave foot,” and disclose whether they have “tail rust” in the seller description. (Even after spending gratuitous amounts of time looking at images of plastic, pastel pony-butts, I have yet to understand what “tail rust” is.)

And then I came across this description:

THESE ARE VINTAGE PONIES ALMOST 30 YEARS OLD!! IM NOT GOING TO NOTE EVERY TINY LITTLE SPECKLE, WE SHOULD BE GLAD TO FIND THEM IN GREAT CONDITION THESE DAYS

SOME MIGHT SHOW THEIR AGE MORE THEN OTHERS…HEADS MAY OR MAY NOT TURN…some might rattle..ALL PONIES ARE SUBJECT TO HAVE A VERY VERY SMALL DOT SIZED SPOTS /MARKS, RUBS, OR STAIN…

ALSO I DO NOT COUNT FACTORY DEFECTS AS FLAWS SINCE YOU’D GET THAT EVEN IF THE PONY WAS NEW OUT OF THE BOX!

So now I’m feeling a little self-conscious. After all, these were MY toys. My manufacture date precedes theirs. (By how many years, I’ll never tell.) (Three.) If they are vintage, I am vintage.

Some might show their age more than others. Some may rattle. Some have flaws that you’d get even if they were new out of the box.

And, the best? We should be glad to find them in great condition these days

Well, what am I gonna say now? I bid on Peachy and Tootsie and got them for a steal, and with combined shipping, to boot. Sola—my NEW little girl, in EXCELLENT condition—is looking forward to getting them in the mail. I’ll keep in mind that the further from the manufacture date we get, the more valuable we become….and now I’m going to go check my backside in the mirror for tail rust.


the beauty-thing, part 1

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.)

We were sad to see her slimming down.

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.

a beautiful letdown

I’m not going to try and cheer you up by telling you you’re good at all those things you feel like you’re not good at right now (even though you are very good at them). That never works—not for me, at least. Instead, I’m going to engage you one of your favorite things: good, old-fashioned feminist theory: pop-culture style.

I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of beauty, especially as it concerns our bodies. (“Our bodies” as in EVERYONE’S bodies, not just “our bodies” as in yours and mine. Cuz everyone knows yours and mine are smokin’.)

Undoubtedly you’ve heard about Samantha Brick, the crazy British woman crying about being so damn pretty. (If you haven’t because you’ve been buried under a pile of your own clothing, here’s the link. ) I don’t want to defend her. If you read her piece, I’m sure you’ll agree that she’s a little delusional and whiny and perhaps a bit too eager to be the “Internet sensation” this has made her. Her point in that way-too-long article is that being beautiful is not all it’s cracked up to be, and she has all these trials and wah, wah, wah. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

On the Today Show the other morning, Ann Curry asked Brick point blank if she realized how arrogant she sounded in her article for calling herself beautiful. And though I am usually a fan of The Ann Curry, that bugged me. (Not as much as it bugged me to see a clip from The View—which, for the record, always bugs me—in which Barbara Walters, like a bratty teenager, remarks that Brick isn’t beautiful at all.) Both of these instances involved empowered, educated female journalists saying things that seemed… I don’t know… lame?

I don’t know when it became arrogant to view yourself as beautiful. If you think you’re smart or capable, that’s not necessarily arrogant. Parents teach their children confidence, smart self-talk, and kind words for both themselves and for others. But if you think you’re pretty, and you actually admit it, you must be a total bitch.

There is some part of me that absolutely rails against this. Lots of parts of me, actually. The high school teacher part. The writer part. The woman part (we’ll just agree that phrase sounds funny, have a little giggle, and move on with being serious, okay? Cuz this is serious and we are all serious people here, not immature junior high kids who will laugh at anything. Especially “lady business” jokes. Right? Did you see that episode of Up All Night?). The mother part. The Christian part.

I was taught to believe that I was made in the very image of God. And then I turned on the television, or went to school, or started talking to people, or glanced through beauty magazines, or basically went through life in this world. And the idea that I was beautiful up and disappeared.

I think I’ve gradually gotten it back. Partly. I try not to be really, really hard on myself, at least.

The problem is that beauty, in the way our culture perceives it, is a game that no woman can ever win. Some people aren’t pretty enough. Some people are too pretty. Some people are probably only pretty because they’ve had work done. Some people are not pretty enough because they don’t work hard enough at it. Some people are pretty, but only because they work too hard at it. Some people need to wake up and realize that being pretty is what it takes to succeed in this world. Some people age gracefully, but they still look old. Some people grow up too fast. Some people are so pretty that it’s probably bad for their health. Some people look so bad that it’s probably bad for their health. What a nightmare.

Here’s an article by Ashley Judd who is, I think most people agree, at least some degree of beautiful. It’s a thoughtful post. It has to do with how our standards of beauty and our measurements regarding the worth of a woman are way the fuck off. (Sorry I wrote fuck, Mom.)

But all anyone has been talking about is whether or not Ashley Judd should whine about being judged for her puffy face. And then they go back to wondering if she’s really had work done or not. Ironically, these discussions prove her point.

I don’t want to go on too much longer, even though there is much much more to say. Perhaps you have thoughts? I’ll end with this:

Genevieve has always been in the 95th percentile when it comes to weight. She’s six months old and is already larger than at least two one-year-old boys in my circle.

When people hold her, they often remark on how chubby she is. This is okay with me. In fact, I love all those rolls and dimples. I sink my face into them and pretend to eat them and massage them when she’s on her way to sleep.

A few people will remark on her chubbiness and then apologize. This makes me sad.