Let’s be clear about something right away. I’m NOT posting this because I want people to tell me I’m beautiful. I am posting this for a lot of reasons, but that is not one.
It’s bedtime in our house and I am going through the ritual with my daughter. We are talking about her highs/lows for the day, tucking in her stuffed animals, and deciding whether we will sing “piggies” by the Fab Four or “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Then, without fail, she looks at me with a discerning vibe and says, “You still look like a boy, mom.”
She’s right. It hurts to admit how much this bothers me, but I’m putting it out there. I had a brave face when I let my husband finally shave my head 10 months ago during chemo. There were tears, but it was necessary. I rocked hats through the winter months post transplant as I never could quite get the scarf thing right. It was relieving for a bit as my hair grew in and I didn’t have to do anything to a close-cut pixie ‘do. But now, it’s not.
And I am ashamed. Not of my hair, but of how much this hair bothers me. I tell myself,
- I should be above this
- It’s just hair
- I am a feminist and embrace beauty in all of its forms
Still, each and every night when that little voice talks to me, in the most non-judgmental and matter-of-fact tone, I want to just cry. Because even if I don’t want it to matter to me, it does.
How do we teach our kids about beauty?
Truthfully, this issue takes up a fair amount of my head space. If you look around you or inside of you, you might realize that we all are less than psyched about some aspect of our physical appearance. If you are not, then I applaud you. And I fully admit that you are more psychologically advanced than I am.
So what do we do with this?
There has certainly been awareness over beauty and acceptance over the past few decades. Heck, Dove has even put this discussion on commercial television. It seems like many people are at least becoming aware of not talking so negatively about their appearances, and other’s appearances, in front of their kids.
So every time I sigh when I am doing my hair in the mirror, or joke with friends that my hair in its current state is like Fight Club (“rule #1: we don’t talk about Fight Club.”), what am I teaching my kids? Probably not what I am hoping they learn.
I’m not sure it is really about beauty.
For me and for others I have talked with about this, the beauty issue comes down to control and acceptance. I want to have control what I look like, and am concerned that I will not be accepted or admired with this Q-tip style hair. And that I don’t accept it myself.
People want to change things about themselves-their hair, their body, their skin. Even someone like myself who tries not to let typical societal ideals influence her is subject to these beliefs. And that is what I wish for my daughter to avoid. To feel good in her hair, her skin, her body, her clothes, but to also be accepting of other people’s rights to feel good about themselves no matter what they look like.
A Story about mirrors and mascara
A few weeks ago I decided to wear mascara for my first day of working at my new job. In between work and picking my oldest up from his after school activity, I took a quick bath. When I got my son two hour later, his first remark was to question why I had “black like TB12” under my eyes. My mascara ran, but I hadn’t even looked in the mirror for hours because I avoided seeing my hair.
This definitely bothered me, but there was something positive, too. I had spent an hour with my kindergarten daughter and son before picking up their big brother, and neither of them mentioned those black marks. It’s not that they didn’t notice them (I later asked), they just didn’t care.
Yes, my hair looks like a boy.
For certain there are days I don’t recognize myself. But just as laugh lines are supposedly symbolic of a life well lived, these baby soft curls that now grace my head are a symbol of rebirth.
It’s not enough to shield our kids from thoughts of things we find ugly about ourselves. Kids learn by observing and mimicking adults. If I really want my daughter to weather the storms of the internal “am I pretty?” storm, I better start walking the walk, too. Not just celebrating her beauty, but celebrating mine, too.
The means looking in the mirror, taking off the hats, and owning it all.
Tonight, when my daughter says I look like a boy,
I will say, “Yes. And what a beautiful boy.”