When I overheard a friend talk about how beautiful our daughter was on New Year’s Eve, she looked at me like it was an affliction. “She’s more than three-year-old cute,” she said, the whites of her eyes large with pity. “She’s classically beautiful.”
Oh dear. Not the classically beautiful daughter. We all know where that’s heading. She won’t develop her wit. She’ll be a nightmare teen with a platoon of boys hanging around. She won’t push herself intellectually because she’ll charm her way into everything. She’ll get really fucked up about her beauty thinking her feet are too big. Or something.
It’s a tough road being a girl. We need a good sense of humor to laugh about anything that’s not perfect. Or anything that is.
Parents say that talking to daughters about self and body image is more terrifying than the birds and the bees these days, for fear of saying the wrong thing. For starting a dysfunction.
Lisa Bloom suggests the way we talk to little girls is not helping. We focus on how they look, not what they think or do which makes them focus on how they look.
Last year, ABC News reported half of three to six-year-old’s worry about being fat. I didn’t miss the one there; it’s no longer 13 and 16, it’s under 10. There’s a girl at Bob’s school who won’t eat lunch because she’s trying to get skinny. Like Mom. She’s five.
It’s scary. All I want is to get it right because the mothers are always blamed for getting it wrong.
I think of my lovely daughter – to me she is utter perfection, like Bob – and I can’t bear the thought of her dysfunctioning. Hating herself. Or any part of herself. I want her to love who she is as a whole person, not as a physical classification system. And discover big feet are fantastic for kicking balls and cycling down really large hills. And to learn well-tuned wit gets just as much attention as long eyelashes.
As I’m about as sporty as a flamingo we decided on soccer and ballet lessons: grace, speed and teamwork.
The ‘Dactyl chose a shocking pink tutu we bought at the Boonville Fair for her first ballet class, with black footless tights and a green and purple top. She loved her outfit until we got inside and saw all the other 3–5 year old girls in soft pink leotards with floaty skirts over white tights and ballet shoes. Never having done ballet I did not know it would be so serious.
As the class began, she would not let go of my leg and the only way to get her to DO anything was for me to DO it too. Stretching, I lamented wearing long bold stripey socks under my boots which were being waved about like candy canes. I also wished I had not worn pigtails that day.
The other ballet moms sat lined up like a judging panel at the end of the room. None of them had pigtails.
The next week, with the right ballet outfit on, I hoped it would be better but the ‘Dactyl would not get off my lap. Together we had to trot, prance, plié, point our toes in first position and leap through another forty-five minutes. I dropped my basket a few times and could not get my ribbon to twirl. Un-coordination in a three-year old is adorable. In a 42-year-old it’s just agonizing.
She cried the subsequent weeks and did not want to go. Starting to dread ballet lessons myself, I talked to the Dimple about it.
“I want her to grow up enjoying what her body can DO, not how it looks.”
He pointed out she’s only going to enjoy her body doing something that she enjoys. “And,” he said, “She hates performing.”
In my eagerness to get it right I was ignoring who she is. The ‘Dactyl refuses to hit piñatas at parties because she has to whack the stupid swinging thing IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. At her recent 4th birthday party we bought out the cake, camera at the ready, but there was no birthday girl as she was hiding under the table. We sang Happy Birthday to an empty chair. That’s our darling girl. Classically beautifully bashful.
“We might screw her up by forcing her into classes,” said the Dimple.
Not to mention the mother.
I suspect upcoming soccer season will require me to pretend I have dribbling skills to get her on the field.
For now we’re having dance parties at home.
On Mondays she works with Dad in the forest while I take Bob to school. That, the Dimple assures me will keep those beautiful feet on the ground.
Last week the ‘Dactyl put on her favorite (completely hideous) dress and asked if she looked bootiful. I was dying to say YOU LOOK LIKE A MARSHMALLOW CAKE but I’ve listened to Lisa Bloom and concur, talking about how girls look All The Time messes up their sense of self.
I answered with a question. “Where are we most beautiful?”
She put her little hand over her heart. “In here mummy,” she said, which made my own heart prance, plié and leap all around the room.