Every morning, as I get ready, my daughter stares at me while I do my makeup. She stands next to me while I put on mascara, with one eye closed and my mouth open (because everyone knows that it’s a natural reflex to have your mouth open when putting on mascara) and some days, she asks me, “Mamma what’s that?”, and I say “Makeup” and then she says, “Why are you putting that on your face?”.
What’s an appropriate answer?
“To hide Mommy’s raccoon eyes and gaping pores”?
“Cuz Mommy looks like a drunken sailor today so let’s do our coworkers a favor and save them from having to look at this atrocity”?
“To look pretty”?
“To look better than I would without makeup”?
I never know what to say so I give her the most sage and motherly answer I know: “Because”.
I am probably overthinking this because she’s only three and still believes me when I tell her I put daddy in my pocket when she can’t find him. But I am astutely aware of body image and all the fun baggage it comes with. And I am also aware that it starts young.
I grew up with a mother who is beautiful in an unusual way and carries herself with grace, sophistication and a sense of style. However, she never put enough stock in her own attractiveness. She equated confidence in her beauty to narcissism. A way to protect yourself. Call yourself ugly before someone else does.
And this body image was handed down to me.
If you have struggled with this as a teenager, hell, life only gets more fun after you have a kid.
There are days I look at myself in the mirror and recognize the changes my body has gone through after childbirth. Before I had a baby, I had a heavenly bod. Jaws dropped, traffic stopped, men howled and dogs stared everywhere I went. Or at least that’s my memory of it. It may be foggy and hyper inflated now.
A female body before childbirth is like freshly made pizza dough; it’s smooth, firm and supple and when you poke it, it holds its own. Let it sit on the counter for an hour and it’ll have increased in size, have ripples on its skin from all the stretching, and when you shake it, it’ll jiggle. It’ll be a bit…looser. That’s a woman’s body post childbirth.
But the fact of the matter is, this jiggly body has achieved something remarkable. It transformed food into a human being, carried around an over sized watermelon for a good portion of a year and then sustained the aforementioned watermelon by turning itself into a food factory.
And the pregnancy and post childbirth phase wrecks havoc on every woman’s body. It’s the least sexy thing you can experience. You are hot, heavy and uncomfortable. You are wearing clothes 2-3 sizes larger than your normal size. Your hands and feet are swollen. You have grown so much in certain areas that you own some delicates in your closet that can substitute as earmuffs for a baby elephant. You should hang onto those unmentionables because one day, you’ll be stuck on a boat in the middle of an ocean and will need to collect rainwater to survive and that bad boy will do the trick and store enough water for 30 days. If you are ever thrown off a cliff, it can be used as a parachute. You catch my drift.
So after going through all of that, if this body of mine can still look attractive on some days, that is freaking awesome.
While I struggled with self-confidence and body image, I have had 30 years to master it and have learnt to understand what’s beautiful about me. I’ve learnt to dress for my body, choose styles that are congruent to my personality, and carry myself with an ease that only comes with having lived in your body for a few decades.
But when you have a daughter, a positive body image isn’t just a personal trait to strive for, it’s a responsibility. I want my daughter to have confidence in the way she looks without making her believe that somehow, that’s the most important thing.
I want her to understand that feeling beautiful is more important than looking beautiful.
And I take special caution to what I say and do in this regard.
If she’s around when I step on the weighing scale, I try to keep the disappointed face concealed and F-bombs under control.
I wear makeup but only enough to look polished and clean.
She sees me enjoying and scarfing down poutine and pizza but then also biking (occasionally), hitting the gym (seldom), working up a sweat (rarely.)
I make an effort to dress up when we go out for special occasions but will step out for errands without a smudge of concealer on my face.
If I am having a bad day and feeling low about my body, I try to keep the belly pinching and body-part shaming demonstration (using a laser pointer), limited to my husband.
But I know that I can try and try but I’ll fail if I can’t genuinely respect what my mama gave me.
Some days the spawn will look at herself lovingly in the mirror and say, “Aww, I look beautiful!” Then I wonder if I am on the right path to teaching her self-confidence or (vis-a-vis my mother) in the process of creating a ready-for-endless-selfies, narcissist.
But I am probably overthinking it because she’s only three and told me yesterday that if she doesn’t put on socks, her ears are gonna hurt.
For now, I am working on coming up with a solid response on why I need to wear makeup everyday but why she can’t use my lipsticks.