Monday, June 27, 2011

Red nails, being beautiful, and being a princess

Ari and I spent some time today at Grandma’s with my brother and his 4-year-old son, the infamous ‘primo,’ Spanish for cousin!

At one point it got quiet. You know what that means! It turns out Ari was in Grandma’s bedroom painting her nails with a red marker. When my mother told me, I decided to wait it out in part because I thought it was kind of funny that she was doing a unique original project, if you will. Also, I wanted to see how Ari was going to handle it when she got discovered.

Fast-forward a few minutes… Ari came out of the bedroom and showed me, without any prompting. I think I said something like “That’s silly. Next time, please write on paper.” She said something like “I paint my nails because I want to be a princess and be beautiful.” If you know me, you know it went downhill from there. I reminded myself to not take her words too seriously, but, frankly, they made me a bit sad. My child isn’t even four yet and she is already thinking about being a princess and being beautiful.

For me, this silly three-year-old episode went from being just that, a kid doing something impish, to me getting all sorts of thoughts about how girls are told, starting very early on, that they are princesses, that they need to dress to be beautiful, wear their hair a certain way, that they need to do their nails, makeup, you name it… Frankly, this really drives me nuts for many reasons.

I have written on here about how our child is exposed to both “girly” and “boy” things. She has fairy nightgowns but she also has Thomas and Friends pajamas. Her two birthday celebrations last year had Go Diego Go and Thomas and Friends themes because that is what she was into at the time. This year it looks like it will be Dora. Why me?! Another post for another day!

Back to my anti princess efforts! She dresses “girly” when she wants to. On other days, she leaves with nothing on her hair. She goes outside and checks out bugs, ants, and all that “boy” stuff. I try to give her opportunities to explore what she is interested in, regardless of whether the activity is stereotypically for boys or girls.

So, why am I so anti princess? I want my child to be herself, to do what she wants to do. I don’t want other girls, women or the media to heavily shape her self-worth and self-esteem. I want my daughter to know that she is beautiful because she just is, that she does not need tons of makeup, fancy nails or any of that stuff. No, I am not anti makeup or anti nails. When she is old enough, she can do all that if that is what she wants. I just feel very strongly that it is important for her to know that she does not need all that, that that is not what really matters in the end.

So, how do I get there? I tell her that she is beautiful. But I don’t want to say it constantly and, without meaning to, send the message that she is the prettiest girl ever. My instinct tells me to be low key about it, to tell her, occasionally, that she is beautiful, and not to overanalyze it. “Your hair is beautiful,” regardless of whether it is done up or if she just got out of bed.

My hope is that if we start thinking about these things when she is very young and letting her know, in different ways, that she is beautiful, regardless of what she does to her body and that there is no need to be princess-like, that she will not have the typical self-esteem struggles that teenage girls often have.

What do you think? Anything that your parents did when you were growing up that turned out to be very helpful? What do you tell your girls, if you have any? What would you tell your daughter, if you had one? Any suggestions?

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