Raising girls so far has been this incredible experience that has taught me more about myself than I ever dreamed was possible. I don’t mean that to sound selfish, if anything I am grateful to my daughters for forcing me to ask tough questions about my own shortcomings as a mom and as a woman. Lately the most glaring example of this has been in the beauty department. We all hear non-stop stories in the media of the rapid decrease in our girls’ levels of self-confidence. We blame magazines, television commercials, and society as a whole for making our daughters feel less than, and as if there is something about their appearance that leaves something to be desired. But the other day I was doing my makeup in front of Cora and she asked me a question that put me in one of those corners that only parents can understand. The conversation went something like this:
“Mommy, why are you putting that on your face?”
“So I can look nice.”
“Can I have some?”
“No, baby, you don’t need any makeup.”
“Because you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
Now, that was enough to satisfy Cora and her three-year-old mind, but it got me thinking about what sort of message that was sending my daughter. Essentially I was telling her, “You’re beautiful, but I’m not.” You don’t need to change anything about yourself, but I do. You’re perfect the way you are, but I need some work. And maybe, just maybe, she is picking up on the message that some day there may be something about herself that needs to be different for her to feel better about herself.
This doesn’t just apply to makeup either. I can remember when Cora was about 18 months, looking at the gorgeous amber brown shade of her hair and hoping that she never felt the need to dye it. And yet I would look at the same hue on my own head and feel the need to “improve” it. What kind of example am I setting for her and Issa? Am I teaching them to love themselves, just as they are, or am I showing them that your best self is the one that’s as far away from your original version as possible? How can I expect them to have a positive self-image if I don’t have one myself? If they have no clue what my true hair color is, why would they be satisfied with their own?
This isn’t an easy discussion to have, and it’s something that I’m grappling with a lot lately as Cora continues to ask inquisitive questions, and Issa blossoms into her own personality. I want them to have a healthy relationship with their bodies and their self-image. I want them to look in the mirror and love what they see, makeup or not. But aside from just cutting it out of my life completely for their sake, how do I teach them to have a positive inner dialogue? I think, as with most things in life, I need to start with myself.
From here on out, when Cora asks me about my makeup, I want to make sure she knows it’s just for fun. I want her to see me without it on, without my “flaws” all covered up. I want her and her sister to know that it’s ok to have freckles, wrinkles, and dark circles. But on the flip side, I think they should also know that having fun with makeup is just that: fun. It’s a way to express yourself, but it shouldn’t DEFINE who you are. And I’m going to stop saying I use makeup to feel “pretty” or to look “beautiful”. I use makeup for fun. Period. It’s not something I’m going to do every day in front of my daughters, because I would hate for them to be raised thinking that’s what life is all about.
No one wants to screw up raising their kids, but I think I feel extra pressure raising my girls because they are sensitive, impressionable little people that are looking to me for cues on how to tackle this cold world. And it is a tough place to be, especially since I want them to hold on to that sensitivity and tenderness for as long as humanly possible. I can’t control how Cora and Issa will feel about themselves as they get older. But I can control how they remember their mother feeling about herself. And that might just be the most powerful tool of all.