A few months ago, one of my aunts was visiting from out of town. She was staying at my mami’s house and they were heading out for a day at a local park since they were bored with staying home. I took the opportunity to tag along so baby girl could have some fun at the park and get to know her Tía better.
Before we left, my Tía changed her clothes, and upon her return from the bedroom, my daughter noticed. Tía asked her, “How do I look?” to which my girl responded, “Good!” My Tía proceeded to pat her belly in that manner we adults often do when we’re indicating we need to lose weight. But, my daughter stared at her blankly. I spoke up and let my aunt know that baby girl had no concept of what she meant. “We don’t really point out things like that at home. She has no clue what you mean by that.”
Before entering her dance class last night, baby girl asked me if they would be able to wear make-up during their upcoming performance. (It’s going to be her first showcase since she started taking lessons.) I told her that no, she would not be able to wear make-up and that make-up is not something little girls wear.
At the end of the dance class, her instructor turned towards the parents and said, “I’m not a believer of putting make-up on babies, so for Saturday’s showcase, there’s no need to put make-up on your girls. They’re beautiful just as they are. You can just leave that stuff for the other studio.”
This morning, baby girl turned the TV on while I finished getting myself ready. I had forgotten that I left it on the food channel last night, which shows infomercials in the early morning. A couple of minutes later, baby girl runs into my room and proceeds to explain to me:
“Mommy, this man found this melon and they take the melon and make it into some type of cream you can then use to make yourself look younger and pretty!” She waves her hand around my face as she says this.
“Really?” I say. “And looking young is what makes you pretty? Would I not be pretty if I looked older?”
“Oh no mami! You always look pretty.”
“Thank you baby. So, why do we need to look younger, then? We’re fine the way we are, aren’t we?”
A bit puzzled, she pauses, thinks, then says, “Yeah!”
“Those people on TV are trying to trick people into thinking they don’t look pretty and thinking they need to look younger so that they can then buy what they’re selling.”
“Yeah, because they want more money!”
“That’s right. They are selling something and they want people to buy it. So, they make people think they really need it and trick them into thinking it will help them be better. But, that’s not what makes people pretty, mama.”
Feeling incredibly hypocritical, I said, “Make-up doesn’t make you pretty either, sweetie. It’s just something older women wear when they want to dress up and look a little different. But, it doesn’t make them pretty. In fact, if you wear too much make-up, it can make you look bad and takes away from what you really look like.”
These are some examples of the daily struggle that it is to raise a girl. Regardless of how much emphasis you put on positive self and body image, or if you purposely refrain from showing negative examples (such as patting your belly or other areas of fat), the images make their way into your household and child’s mind in one way or another. Whether it’s another family member, TV, or some other external influence, you still end up having to curb the perceptions created.
When my Tía did what she did, she didn’t think of how her actions would be perceived. She did what many of us do. She pointed out a flaw in her body.
When baby girl’s dance instructor said what he said, I felt like applauding. This was one of the reasons we chose that dance school, because when we researched other ones in the area, many had photos of students in fancy outfits and wearing make-up on the homepage of their website. For us, that was an immediate turn-off. We wanted her to learn the art of dance and provide her with an outlet for socialization besides preschool. We did not want her to be part of a spectacle.
When I explained to my girl that make-up is not what makes you pretty, I had trouble coming up with the right words as to why women (myself included) do wear it. Because, let’s face it, when we put make-up on, we do in fact “feel” prettier.
So, as parents, how do we overcome these perceptions and continue to provide positive examples for our children? How can we curb the outside influences? And as women, how do we avoid sending mixed messages by telling our girls one thing, yet doing another?