Wednesday, May 20, 2015

loving it while it lasts

I recently participated in a discussion on a friend's Facebook page. She was relating a conversation she overheard in the coffee shop on her college campus, in which a young woman bemoaned the weight gain of her best friend, who had become "so fat" she had begun to wear a size medium.  My friend, a once-again freshman who averages a decade of seniority over most of her classmates, had remarked that she was grateful to not be 18 anymore, to be beyond the stage of skin-deep friendship that comes with a transient, childless existence.
                I think it's an important issue, the tendency of women to succumb to fulfilling the stereotypes of a culture that refuses to judge us on anything other than our appearances (not hyperbole—just Google "Miss America Pageant"). This kind of commentary, unacceptable at any age, is all too common in the media and our everyday lives. But I'm not feminist. In fact, I've always prided myself on not being a feminist. I like it when my husband does things for me, opens doors and carries bags, and I even let him pay my bills once in a while. But in this new role I've been given as a mother of a daughter, a little baby daughter who still is presumably young enough to be molded and taught things, I can't help but wonder how and how early we learn to do this. How young are we when we are taught these things? And how can I teach her?
                The answer to the first question is clear on a Monday morning at story time at the Loveland Public Library. Mostly girls, the audience and participants comprise a who's who of local fashion role models under two feet tall. I'm still adjusting to the shock that the baby I had thought for nine months was surely a boy came out to be a girl, and I'll be the first to admit that dressing my daughter has become one of the unexpected joys of motherhood for me. There's just nothing more fun to do with a baby girl than to dress her up in cute little clothes. Why should we care about the message it sends to our daughters when some of their earliest social interactions are preceded by a significant amount of fussing over the way they look? Aren't the matching polka dot tutus worth it? Aren't the leather jeans and cowboy boots? I've seen a necklace on a baby and thought it was adorable. And then there are the tiny pink sparkly Tom's shoes small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. I'll say it one more time to let the cuteness sink in: pink sparkly Tom'ses small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. In a world of sequined headbands, puffy shoulders, ruffled butts, and teddy-bear-eared hoods, doesn't the adorableness of it all outweigh any permanent scars we may be inflicting on our yet impressionable children?
               The answer to question two is a little more troubling. As moms, we want to give our kids the tools to deal with adversity. We want to teach them how to cope with the way the world works. Should I teach my little girl how to judge and be judged? Should I remind her that her best friend has really chunked up in the last few months, or warn her of the dangers of being friends with an eighteen-month-old who wears a 2T? Should I point out that the bald look is very last-season and so a hat is probably the best choice and that she should have done more tummy time last summer because now she’s going to have to run a few laps around the yard before lunch? Should I not use words like "pretty," "beautiful," and "cute" when I'm talking to her over breakfast or getting our nails done? Along with that, should I avoid objectifying other children by Googling things like "hipster babies" (if you haven't done this yet I highly suggest you devote to yourself the 15 minutes of pure joy and amazement it will bring)? Or is there a better way? Should we instead teach them to love their bodies while it lasts, because once their own kids are born they had better have something else to fall back on, if you know what I mean?  Should we tell them, over and over, how beautiful they are? Because seeing is believing means one thing but when you hear it and know it, it becomes a part of who you are. That's what's so great about story time at the library—every little girl is beautiful in her own way. The little girls don't notice one another's outfits, only the other moms do (we'll leave the psychology of how and why moms try to impress each other through their offspring for another day). After all, is it really so bad that tiny humans are adorable and that we celebrate that, that we fall in love with our babies based, in part, on how they look? Leave the scarring and emotional analytics for a later time, once your kids start to get older and lose some of their cuteness. Luckily, I won't have that problem; I'm the mother of the most beautiful girl in the world.

An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of The Fourth Street Chronicle, Loveland, Colorado.

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