Today, I had to say something very difficult to my daughter. While I wholeheartedly believe it needed to be said, I could barely let the words escape my lips.
You see, my daughter has been going through somewhat of a “princess” phase lately. Despite our best efforts to divert her attention elsewhere, it’s hard to stop the pink train. So, we’ve decided to let her ride, but with our supervision and guidance along the way.
Lately, she’s been obsessed with wearing dresses. “Princesses don’t wear pants!” Ugh. This morning, she said something to me that made my heart break a little. Frustrated that she wasn’t able to put her necklace on “just right,” she sneered at me, “You’re not pretty! You’re not wearing a dress.” Ouch! While it didn’t hurt so much that she’d insulted my appearance (kids are good at that), I was heartbroken that despite all of my efforts to positively influence her internal digestion of media messages, I’d failed. She believes that princesses reign, pants are passé, and pink is the only color worth picking from the Crayola box.
So, I did the one thing that I knew would be the most effective. Despite the fact that I truly didn’t feel it in my heart, I grabbed her by the arms (gently), told her to look into my eyes, and proudly proclaimed these words to her face: “I am beautiful. Your mother is beautiful! ” She stuck out her bottom lip, and reminded me, “But you’re not wearing a dress, you’re wearing that.”
The “that” she was referring to was my “Adorkable” t-shirt (Klout perk from New Girl) and faded jeans. Again, I assured her, “Mommy doesn’t need a dress to be pretty. Or makeup, or jewelry. I am pretty on the inside, and that’s what matters most.” She apologized, and gave me a hug before she scampered off to continue her princess role-playing. I’m not sure that what I said will make any difference to her, but I know from years of studying the media’s influence on young girls, it was the most meaningful thing I could have done.
Yes, you can shelter and protect your daughters and sons from all of the nastiness in the media (and you should), but in the end, what they’re ultimately watching is you. Moms, do you pass a mirror and mutter, “Blech! My butt looks ginormous in these jeans.” Dads, do you openly ogle beauty-blessed women and downplay/ignore other important traits (intelligence, humor, etc.)?
During my tenure as advocacy project manager for Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland, I was fortunate enough to have met both Katherine Schwarznegger (Rock What You’ve Got) and Peggy Orenstein (Cinderella Ate My Daughter) when we brought them to Kansas to spread their message of improving the media landscape for girls. If you’re the parent of a young girl, I would highly recommend that you read their books. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the recommendations or opinions, I feel strongly that parents should be informed and ready to help their daughter navigate through this harsh media landscape. Even if that means doing some serious self-evaluation of how you feel about your appearances.
I’m hopeful that my daughter will outgrow her “princess power” phase soon. And as difficult as it may be, I know it’s up to me to show her that true beauty lies within. No disparaging remarks about my weight, lack of hairstyle or mundane wardrobe (at least not in front of her). Perhaps I can try actually complimenting myself when I pass a mirror. “Hey momma, lookin’ good in those jeans!” Who knows? Maybe the more I start saying it aloud, the more I’ll believe it. Maybe.