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Beauty is hard to define, but it is one of those things that society knows when it sees it. However, in the US, our society is so diverse that it’s hard to give one solid definition of beauty that every person can accept. As a black woman raising two little girls in a culture where the beauty culture is still predominantly defined by white people, I am worried that I am unable to make them realize that their skin and hair is as beautiful as anyone else’s.
Currently, this is really bothering me because my daughters are obsessed with Cinderella, Tinkerbell and Barbie. My oldest daughter wanted to dress up as “yellow [hair]” Barbie for Halloween this year; the youngest dressed as Tinkerbell. Although they have brown-skinned Barbie dolls that they adore, I am still worried about what is going on in their little minds?
My youngest daughter, Jo-Jo, is 2.5 years-old, and she loves Cinderella. She is now going through a phase where she doesn’t think she is beautiful or pretty unless she is wearing a dress and shiny “tap-tap” shoes. Even with constant reassurances of her intelligence and beauty since she was born, she will still cry
“I not beautiful” if she’s in pants.
Dew, my oldest daughter is a little more reasonable, but also feels prettier in a dress. I don’t know if it is because they’re living out some type of princess fantasy or if they truly believe they’re ugly if they’re not dressed like a 12″ fashion doll. I try not to overreact (which is really hard since I am an over-reactor), because I don’t want them to think that this a big deal or create some type of neurosis.
But, admittedly, I am sending mixing signals. I wear make-up and adore wearing sparkly accessories. I don’t feel less beautiful when I’m not made up or wearing my costume jewels, but it is obvious that I feel better when I do. My daughters like to watch me get ready for work. They want to be like Mommy. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I’m looking at 70-pounds of flattery every day.
My oldest is more into my routine than my youngest, because I used to sit her on my bed and put on make-up before I got pregnant with her younger sister. At just 16-months, Dew would help me rub on my scented lotion. Dew, now 4, likes it when I allow her to wear bit of my lotion or perfume because they “smell beautiful like Mommy.” (Insert here, me reassuring Dew that she smells beautiful even without Mommy’s lotions. She’ll chime in “you too, Mommy!”)
Dew and Jo-Jo like to take the brushes and swirl it around their faces. They really like putting on lip gloss, and look forward to Mommy painting their toe nails. It’s hard to explain to them at this age that I like to this because it is like playing dress-up everyday, not because I’m not beautiful without it. They see it as part of being a grown up woman–something that has to be done when they’re adults.
There’s also the matter of hair. Black women have issues with their hair that has been passed down to their daughters like it was built into our genetic code. From the moment hair spouted on their heads, I’ve always brushed it while whispering the kind words that their hair was beautiful. Dew’s hair is thick, coarse, and can hold a style. Jo-Jo’s hair is thick, soft, and can’t hold a style. Some Black folks would call Jo-Jo’s hair “good hair,” because it is soft and can be combed with minimal effort. (I don’t let these folks speak that way in front of my kids.)
I am a natural hair woman. I’ve never had a chemical in my head to straighten it. My mom was adamant that she didn’t want me to have one. Besides the hot comb, the world of Black hair care was a near mystery to me. All I knew is that it required lots of products, trips to the beautician, and you shouldn’t admit to having a weave. (Well, back in 1986 it was still taboo.) In college, I learned a style that I could maintain that was natural, and I cut it off once I became a mom. Although the double strand twists that became my trademark was easy to maintain, it took a long time to do.
Recently, I tried to trim my medium-sized Afro and ended up bald (long story) and now I am wearing a wig that mimics black, relaxed & curled hair. My wearing a wig, or “pretend hair” as my daughters call it, has caused another level of stress for me. Dew, from what I intimated from her simple vocabulary, is upset by my bald head for it is more closely cropped than her father’s. This morning, I dared to go to the laundry mat in just a hat without the wig, and she freaked out.
After a firm yet sensitive Mommy-daughter chat, she revealed that my wig was “more fun” to look at and that I should wear it all of the time. Not wanting to upset her any further, I made her a promise that I would wear my wig whenever I go outside and a pretty scarf on my head whenever I was in the house so she wouldn’t have to see my head until the hair grew back. This made her happy. I was the “bestest” Mommy again, but I was also a disappointed Mommy on the inside. This could have been a prime time to introduce a conversation about the sin of vanity, and make a declaration to embrace my Capt. Picard ‘do in and out of the house by tossing down the wig. But, after weeks and weeks of trying to teach my girls that everyone is a beauty despite what is judged as acceptable, I ended up teaching them that you should cover up parts of yourself that may offend others’ sense of what is beautiful.