My daughter is only 4 1/2 and yet she is already very interested in her appearance. She is meticulous about her clothes—coordinating headbands, jewelry, and McDonaldland toys with her daily ensemble. Never good at fashion myself, I am amazed by her seemingly innate ability to come up with a unique and pleasing “style.” To be fair, she loves running around the house naked when she is supposed to be getting dressed for school, but other than that, most people have noticed how, “That girl, she knows how to dress.”
She also knows how to take a compliment, offering up a coquettish smile any time someone exclaims, “Oh my, you look so pretty today!” Similarly, any time someone tries to snap a picture, she puts her hand on her hip, tilts her head to the side and poses, like she is walking down the red carpet. Once I walked into the bathroom to find her standing on the toilet seat, precariously balancing in 2 inch patent leather clogs, so that she could see herself in the mirror to apply lip gloss.
Where did she learn these things? As far as I know she has never seen an episode of Access Hollywood. And while I have nothing against wearing make up or looking good, these are not habits I engage in with any regularity. I probably shouldn’t admit this but, my daughter is the one setting the example here. On several occasions I have changed my clothes to “dress up” to match her effort. (Mind you, this means replacing my yogurt-stained sweat pants with a clean pair of sweat pants, but still.)
For the most part, I am charmed by this “girlie” side of her, which seems to have sprung up spontaneously. And I do feel a little pain for my own mother who could never get me to wear a dress without a fight.
But I am disturbed by it, too, of course. It is dangerous to be too focused on one’s “good looks” whether or not you actually have them. And not just because you could fall off the toilet seat an break your head. Feelings get hurt. A lot of time gets wasted. You might be tempted to invest in plastic surgery and end up looking like all these skinny ladies with fat lips who look surprised that their faces turned out that way.
I understand that I am supposed to teach my daughter (or, alternatively, I should excoriate myself for failing to teach my daughter) that “pretty” is nice but not everybody is pretty and those who are, aren’t pretty for long. “Beauty” is fundamentally scarce and temporary, so it is best not to focus too much on it. It is my job to nip this “pretty” thing in the bud.
As it turns out, though, I had the wrong idea about “pretty.”
My daughter and I were on the bus, traveling cross-town on 57th St. She was looking out the window and I was digging around my purse for my cell phone when she said, seemingly out of nowhere, “That girl isn’t pretty.”
My heart sank as I assumed she was talking about one of our fellow passengers. Looking up I was relieved and surprised to see that this was not the case. She was talking about the “girl” staring at us from an advertisement posted in the window of the Rolex store. I was surprised by her comment as this “girl” was a model who likely made her living looking pretty.
“You shouldn’t say things like that,” I told her, reflexively.
“She can’t hear me,” she said.
“Right.” I said, acknowledging that she was talking about a five foot face on a poster. “But still, that is not a nice thing to say.”
Looking at that larger-than-life, air-brushed depiction of what I considered the epitome of gorgeousness—clear skin, penetrating eyes, and youth youth youth!—I wondered what my daughter could have been thinking. This face might not be the one to launch a thousand ships, but clearly, someone thought it gorgeous enough to compel serious impulse spending.
“Well what do you mean that she is not pretty?” I asked.
“She is not wearing any jewelry, ” she explained. “And she is not wearing anything pink.”
“Oh.” I said, stopping to think for a moment. “So she would be pretty if she were wearing pink earings and hair clip?”
With the inflection of a teen exasperated with her mother for being so “dense,” she replied, “Uh, yea-ah!.”
While I didn’t appreciate the sassy tone, I realized she was making an interesting point about what it means to be pretty. In her world, being pretty is something any girl can achieve. You need about three dollars and a mother willing to take you to Claire’s. What a concept! How great would it be if it could always be this simple.
Of course, I assume my daughter won’t always feel this way. As she matures, I imagine her concept of “beauty” will mature as well. That said, her current definition of things does seem a little more “grown up.”
For my part, the next time I am tempted to try botox, I might just invest in a sparkly tiara instead.